The Dangers of Trains
Railroad expansion boomed after the war that helped bridge the country from coast to coast, but the power of trains still proved to be a dangerous innovation for railway workers and civilians alike. Other than farming or other agricultural related occupations, employment in the locomotive industry seemed to be the most popular vocation taken up by veterans of the 18th, which increased their likelihood of accidents or death. In 1875, Alexander Abercrombie (Co. E) tried to slow a freight train that had lost its breaks from excessive rain. In the process he was flung overboard and passed over by fourteen cars, and amongst several injuries the worst was the amputation of his right arm, but he survived. Working as a brakeman in 1878, Cornelius D. Abers (Co. B) was nearly killed when he fell off of a moving train. He landed first on his head and was insensible from a concussion, but he survived.(1)
Others were not so lucky and quite a few veterans of the 18th met untimely deaths resulting from trains. On October 6, 1876, Charles T. Allen (Co. I) was the conductor of a freight train that he accidentally drove into a passenger train near Greensburg, Indiana. Several passengers were injured, but the only fatality was Allen. Eleazor Van Vranken (Co. E) was killed on February 2, 1880 after being involved in a railroad accident in Whitehall, New York.(2)
Alfred J. Marceau (Co. K) rode the rails frequently as a constable after the war as he went about his business in and around Ogdensburg. On April 20, 1878, the thirty-five-year-old married father of four children returned on a train whose tracks passed his house before its final stop. In an effort to save a few blocks of walking, Marceau grabbed hold of the handrail and jumped to the ground and tried to match the speed of the moving train before he let go, but its speed was too much and he lost his balance. He was whipped into a stone and had his skull crushed. He was insensible for several hours and died the following night.(3)
Henry Titsworth (Co. H) spent the rest of his life employed at the Erie Railroad Station in Port Jervis. In 1899, Titsworth lost a hand from an accident on the job. Despite his injury, he returned to work until another mishap claimed his life. On March 12, 1901, Titsworth was at work at the Port Jervis yard and had just switched a caboose to an adjacent track. As he stood on the platform of the caboose, an oncoming engine failed to come to a complete stop and the two cars slammed together, with Titsworth pinned between. The cars could not be separated fast enough, and the pinch around Titsworth’s abdomen was so tight that he was squeezed to death.(4)
After having suffered several injuries that eventually prevented William Henry O’Dell (Co. C) from performing manual labor, his epileptic fits made it nearly impossible for him to earn any type of income for his family. He eventually found work as a gravedigger. On November 28, 1902, the uncontrollable fidgets ended for the sixty-five-year-old O’Dell when he was struck and killed by a train in Fishkill Landing. On October 9, 1904, the mangled body of sixty-nine-year-old John Dillon (Co. E) was found under the Lackawanna bridge near the Soldiers’ Home in Bath, New York. He had been run over by a train the evening before after having left the institution for a late night walk.(5)
Since 1870, James F. Kirk (Co. K) had been a resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and spent over fifty-two years employed with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. He outlived most of his comrades and became one of the last surviving members of the regiment, and yet one begs to wonder how many years he would have lived had the eighty-year-old not been struck and killed by a train at a Wilkes-Barre crossing on June 3, 1925.(6)
1. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C - Pension Records, Alexander Abercrombie; The Evening Gazette (Port Jervis, N.Y.) November 5, 1878.
2. Richmond Independent (Richmond, Indiana) October 14, 1876; NARA – Compiled Service Records; NARA – Pension Records, Eleazor Van Vranken, widow Margaret Van Vranken.
3. The Ogdensburg Journal (Ogdensburg, N.Y.) April 22, 1878.
4. Tri-Weekly Journal (Susquehanna, Pennsylvania) March 14, 1901.
5. NARA – Pension Records, William H. Odell, widow Olivia Odell; Ithaca Daily News (Ithaca, N.Y.) October 11, 1904.
6. The Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) June 4, 1925.