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Union Station in Nashville (circa 1900)
Locomotive Maintenance Crew (Photo courtesy of Denise Malek)
Pullman Car
Interior of Pullman Car
Wooden Passenger Car
 
 
 

Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad Train Number 4 was scheduled to depart Nashville at 7 a.m. Tuesday, July 9, 1918 headed for its destination of Memphis with stops along the way. Pulled by Locomotive Number 282, Train Number 4 departed Union Station in Nashville at 7:07 a.m. In addition to its locomotive, it was pulling a mail and baggage car and six wooden coach cars. When leaving the yard, train Number 4 would follow a section of double tracks until reaching the point where the track merged back into a single track at a point called Shops.

Inbound from Memphis was Train Number 1, pulled by Locomotive Number 281. The locomotive was pulling one baggage car, six wooden coaches and two Pullman cars that were constructed of steel. It was running behind schedule with an estimated time of arrival (ETA) of 7:10 a.m. in Nashville. It was a rule that outbound trains yield the right of way to inbound trains; therefore Train Number 1 had the right of way.

Each train was crowded with passengers. America was at war and many of these passengers were in the military or worked for civilian companies doing business with the government, such as the Dupont Corporation which had a busy gunpowder producing facility near Nashville.

Aboard Train Number 4, Mr. William Ferris, a well-known local businessman stood in the crowded train car. A young man offered his seat to the elder Mr. Ferris, who thanked him and politely accepted the chance to sit down.

Nashville resident, Milton Frank, president of the National Bag Company boarded the crowded train, but could not find an empty seat in the front cars. He proceeded to the rear cars to sit down just as the train began to move.

An unknown jewelry salesman boarded the train after having checked his luggage, a trunk containing a $30,000 inventory. The trunk, with its valuable contents, was loaded on the mail and baggage car. He took a seat in one of the rear cars.

Former Confederate soldier, Josiah L. Shaffer boarded the train with his son-in-law, William Knoch. They were going out of town on a fishing trip.

As the train started to pull away from the station, S.P. Dannel, who lived at the Commercial Hotel and was employed at the alcohol plant in Lyle, Tennessee went to the smoker car to have a smoke.

Leland Moore seated himself with a friend on one of the rear cars and was engaged in friendly conversation when Number 4 started moving out of the station. He had planned to go to the smoker car for a cigarette, but his friend was telling a funny story, so he decided to put off the trip to the smoker for a few minutes.

The experienced engineer of Train Number 4, David Kennedy pulled his train past the yard tower. At 7:15 a.m, tower operator J.S. Johnson made a note of Number 4 leaving the yard, then gave him a green flag, meaning all was clear. But then Johnson realized that there was no note of Number 1 having ever arrived and it could very well be closing in on Nashville! Immediately he ordered an emergency warning whistle to be sounded, but there wasn’t a railroad employee at the back of the train to hear the whistle.

As the train rumbled along a stretch of double tracks, conductor J.P. Eubanks of Number 4 was so busy taking tickets he ordered his subordinates to keep watch for Number 1, which should have been inbound at just any moment. A small cut of cars, pulled by a switching engine was mistakenly identified as Number 1. Mr. Eubanks was too busy to look up to verify this for himself, he took the word of his workers.

Train Number 1 rumbled across the Tennessee countryside at near full power. This was to be Engineer William Floyd’s last run before retiring. He, like Kennedy, was a respected engineer with an exemplary safety record. He just wanted to get this last run safely behind him so he could start enjoying retirement.

Aboard Number 1 was eighteen-year-old passenger, George Scott, who had accepted a job with the Dupont gunpowder manufacturing facility in Old Hickory, near Nashville. Throughout his overnight trip, his first time away from home, he had a feeling that something terrible was going to happen. It could have been the fact that he had never before traveled at such a high rate of speed. He couldn’t rest, so at about 6 a.m. he moved to the next following passenger car, sat down, pulled the shades and waited – for the uncertain, unidentified doom his feelings seemed to have been predicting!

Brakeman Robert D. Corbitt of Train Number 1 was at his usual position in the locomotive, when he suddenly became almost overpowered with the need to see the back of the train! He left the locomotive and started making his way toward the end of the train to see if there was anything unusual there to be found. The remainder of his life he would wonder what it was that made him check it at that exact time.

Number 4 came to the end of the double tracks at Shops and set out along the single track that ran for approximately ten miles. Engineer Kennedy applied more power, hoping to make up for the lost time. Meanwhile, Number 1 was already on the single track from the opposite direction! Ahead of them lay Dutchman’s Curve! Neither engineer could see around the curve.

© Copyright 2009 Wilson Jay