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New Jersey Herald - September 22, 1892 issue



Two Locomotives Collide while Running in Opposite Directions—The Men on the Locomotives Jump for Their Lives—Fireman McPeek Caught Between the Cab Platform and Tender and Squeezed to Death—A Coroner’s Jury Summoned.

One of the first collisions and most serious accidents that ever occurred on the Sussex Railroad took place on Saturday afternoon last on the meadows below Newton about 3:30 o’clock, which resulted in the death of William McPeek, the fireman on the construction train. When the news of the accident spread up town over two hundred people assembled at the scene in a short time. For nearly one hour the greatest excitement prevailed until the unfortunate man was released from his horrible position.

The employees on the train were very reluctant about giving any information concerning how the accident happened, and it was difficult at first to ascertain anything in reference to the matter. We have, however, gathered the following particulars: On Saturday Foreman Moses Quackenbush and Engineer Ezra McPeek, with his brother William McPeek as fireman, had been sent out with a construction train with orders to wildcat between the time of the running of regular trains. In the afternoon they left Franklin with four flat cars loaded with railroad iron and a caboose attached. As they were coming down across the meadow east of Newton, Joseph Devore, engineer of No. 9, with Mahlon Slack as fireman, and Mr. Devore’s little boy, after having put his train away in the depot yard, started down the track to the “big spring” to take water. As they went down the track Devore and his little boy were seated on the engineer’s side, and Slack was at the tender brake. Just after passing through the cut below where the stone crusher is located, Slack turned as he applied the brake and saw the smoke stack of McPeek’s train. He says he gave the break two or three turns and then sprang from the locomotive. He did not see Devore or the boy until after he had jumped, when he saw them standing alongside of the track. Devore says that the throttle was closed as they went down the grade, and as soon as he saw that a collision was inevitable he reversed his engine and jumped from the locomotive with his boy.

McPeek’s train was coming on under good headway, although he had reversed his engine and whistled down brakes. The two locomotives came together about one hundred yards from where Devore jumped. The crash was a terrible one, the tender of No. 9 was raised high in the air and then settled back on the track. When the two ponderous 38-ton engines came together, Engineer McPeek called to his brother William to remain at his post, as he was going to. William was then standing between the cab and tender, which came together at that instant and caught him about the limbs just below the waist. In this horrible condition he remained for nearly an hour before he could be extricated, although Patrick J. English, Marcus Wright and George Davenport, all practical machinists, strained every nerve to release him. His brother Ezra, who remained at his post, escaped injury.

It was a terrible sight to those who witnessed it to see the unfortunate man wedged in between the cab and tender all helpless in their efforts to release him until the engine could be jacked up and pulled away from the tender. Several present were unable to look upon the scene, and returned to town. Physicians were at once summoned, and Dr. L. D. Miller was the first on the ground, who did everything in his power to relieve the sufferings of McPeek. Later Drs. Hood, Voorhees and Morrison, who were detained at the Court House, arrived at the scene and render such assistance as was in their power. The poor man was conscious throughout the terrible ordeal, and requested that his wife be kept in ignorance of the accident. After being released, he died almost instantly. His remains were then removed to his home on Railroad avenue.

William Campbell, a track hand, was slightly injured by jumping from the locomotive, as was also Moses Quackenbush, who jumped from the tender of the construction train.

After the two locomotives had come together, engine No.9 started back up the track and went down by Merriam shoe factory at about sixty miles an hour. Some of the employees say it was impossible to make out the lettering on the side of the engine. The locomotive ran as far as the stone quarry switch, this side of Andover, when the steam became exhausted. It was brought back to Newton by a wrecking train. The tender of No. 9 was a complete wreck, and had to be removed for the track and thrown down the embankment. The engine was also badly damaged, the cab being wrecked and the braces twisted and broken as though they had been pipe stems. The front of McPeek’s engine (No. 5) was torn away. The headlight was broken and large pieces of coal from No. 9 lodged in the smoke stack and headlight, the pilot was completely torn away and the heavy, solid braces beneath the boiler were cracked in several places. A wrecking train from Port Morris arrived in Newton Saturday evening and assisted in clearing the track.

That there was a very grave blunder or carelessness on the part of some one seems quite evident, and it is a matter that should receive a thorough investigation. Engineer McPeek claims that he had orders to run his train so as to keep out of the way of all regular trains, and that when he reached the "Big Spring" and entered the yard limits, he sounded his whistle for at least a minute, which statement is verified by parties living a the foot of Trinity street, and by railroad men in the yard at the Newton station. This signal of alarm seems not to have been heard by Engineer Devore or his fireman, and that first seen by them was the smoke stack of the approaching locomotive. It has long been evident that the running of locomotives to the spring for water was a dangerous one. Only a few days ago several trackmen were coming into the station on a pump car from the meadows. As they were coming up the grade an engine going to the spring came around the curve on them, and they were compelled to jump for their lives. The pump car was struck by the engine and completely demolished.

That the matter may be thoroughly investigated, Dr. J. S. Newman, Coroner, on Monday summoned the following jury of inquest:
Jackson Cole, Isaac Savacool, Levi L. Vought, Henry C. Stoll, George Cummings, W.S. Black, Thos. Murray, John Q. Wharford, Samuel Hill, Jr., Geo B. Case, Jacob Snyder, J.C. Andress.
The jury viewed the body at 9 o’clock Monday, and afterwards repaired to the scene of the accident . Coroner Newman then adjourned the inquest until Wednesday next at the Court House.
The funeral took place at the Newton M.E. Church on Tuesday, and was largely attended by the employees of the railroad company and members of the O.U.A.M., of Newton of which he was a member. He was 42 years of age, and had a life insurance of $800.


Gratefully typed in by T.D.