When a train derails, you know that there is going to be a big mess, and loss of life, or at the very least, injuries. And you would probably be right, but it would be a whole different situation, if multiple trains collided with each other. That is the exact scenario on January 17, 1929, in Aberdeen, Maryland, when two Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains and a freight train all collided. While the collision was horrific, the loss of life was amazingly less that expected.
On that day, passenger train Number 412, bound from Washington to Philadelphia, struck the freight train, who was also northbound, just after it pulled from a siding, by Short Lane station, near Aberdeen. The freight cars toppled onto the southbound track, directly in front of express train Number 121, from New York to Washington. There was simply not time to avoid the disaster. The wreck killed four trainmen and seriously injured another. Conductors of the two passenger trains declared none of their passengers were seriously hurt. Brakeman, K. A. Klein, on the freight train, and flagman, V. W. Stewart, were both killed in the first crash; and engineer of the southbound express train, A. C. Terhune, and M. Goldstein, his fireman, were killed when their train ploughed into the wreckage.
Bodies of the two from the freight crew and of the passenger firemen were removed and taken to a morgue in Aberdeen, but the body of the express engineer was still under the engine five hours after the wreck. The workmen were prevented from recovering it by outpouring steam. Leon Sweeting, engineer of the northbound passenger train, was badly scalded and was taken to the Havre de Grace Hospital, where his condition was reported to be serious. John H. Lee, fireman on the same train, was in the hospital, suffering from shock.
It is thought that heavy fog in the area, prevented the engineer of northbound number 412 from seeing the tail-light of the freight train right in front of him. Some passengers on the northbound and southbound trains were said to have been slightly injured, but none was reported in serious condition. The triple crash tore up about 150 yards of track and uprooted signal and telegraph poles. Trains had to be re-routed over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks, while relief trains were sent from Baltimore to Aberdeen. While this was not the worst wreck, in fatalities and injuries, I don’t recall too many, if any others involving three trains, and the experience must have been terrifying.
My Great Great Aunt Ida Spencer Brown Nass, married Andrew Alfred Brown on October 1, 1872. They had two sons, Elmer Ellsworth and Andrew Alfred. It is unknown what happened to Ida’s first husband, but she later married Sjur Johannesson Nass, who went by Samuel, and they had two daughters, Ellen and Ethel.
Ida and Andrew’s son Andrew Alfred, who usually went by A.A. Brown, married a woman names Emma Caroline Haessler. Their marriage was filled with love, and blessed with ten children, Gertrude Flora, Alwyn A, Emma Henrietta, John Henry “Johnie”, Bessie, Warren Winston, Elizabeth Ida, Edward Spencer, James Robert, and Fredrick Valden. While their lives were happy, they were not long. Emma passed away on October 31, 1918, leaving Andrew to raise their seven children…a difficult task with small families, but much harder for a man with seven children. Andrew was doing quite well with the task, even though his oldest daughter, Gertrude, who had most likely been a big help, was married on April 20, 1920, leaving him with one less helping hand around the house. Their son Alwyn had preceded his mother in death on June 10, 1918, as had Johnie on September 12, 1905 at 3 years of age, and Bessie on September 10, 1905 at 3 months of age.
On January 29, 1921, tragedy would again strike the family, when Andrew was killed in The Great Olympic Blowdown. The storm, which was one of the worst in Washington state history, came in off the coast at around 8:00 am on January 29, bringing with it, hurricane force winds estimated at 125 to 150 mph. The Forest Service estimated the loss of timber at several billion board feet. The loss of life was one, Andrew A Brown, who was an engineer working at the Anderson-Middleton Lumber Mill in Aberdeen. He was killed instantly when a sudden gust blew down a smokestack pinning him against a broken steam pipe and scalding him to death.
Once again, a grieving Gertrude, who had married Patrick Mint House, stepped in, taking the remaining six children into their home and raising them as their own. Emma was 21 years old by then, so I don’t know if she lived with her sister or not, but the rest of the children ranged in ages from 4 years to 14 years. The littlest ones would most likely not even remember their parents very clearly in the coming years. Their parents hadn’t shared memories of their childhood even with their eldest daughter, Gertrude, so the memories the younger children would have would only be what little bits and pieces she could tell them of her childhood years with their parents. I have to commend Gertrude and Patrick for their heroic and selfless act of taking in her siblings. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for them. In looking through the genealogy records, I can’t find any evidence of Gertrude and Patrick having any children of their own. I don’t know if that was because they were unable to have children or that they had a ready made family. Either way, I find that very sad, because I think they must have been wonderful, loving parents. I imagine that it was an enormous job to take on six children…especially when one is only 23 years old herself. Still, they were family and she loved them. She could not bear to have them go to an orphanage, so she and her husband did what they had to do, and raised her siblings in a happy, loving home…an act of kindness the children never forgot.