The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 24 Aug 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
As valuable as the railroad has been to Bullitt County down through the years, it has taken its toll in injuries and deaths. Our story today is about one of those times.
T. C. Coleman, a Louisville businessman with ties to the railroad, had been responsible for getting a small railroad station located near his home in Bullitt County. Because of its location between two knobs, it bore the name "Gap in Knob."
Two days before Christmas in 1899, Coleman, now in his mid-seventies, was seated in the very rear of the last coach of the evening passenger train that included three coaches, all seats filled, with numerous folks standing in the aisles.
The elevation at the gap required that trains approaching the station from either direction had to climb a rise to reach the gap. Additionally, the track north of the station curved around the side of the knob, reducing visibility, especially in the late afternoon near sunset, and especially on this cloudy evening with a mist of rain falling.
As the train slowed to a stop at his station, Mr. Coleman rose from his seat and offered it to Miss Susie Simpson and Mrs. Cora Carothers.
Cora Carothers, daughter of W. I. and Dorcas Samuels, had married James M. Carothers barely a year earlier, and they looked forward to a happy life together.
Her brother, Leslie Samuels, managed the family distillery. The T. W. Samuels and Son Distillery began operations in 1844 when T. W. Samuels, with his son W. I., converted their farm into a distillery. After both father and son died in 1898, Leslie took over the operation. Leslie's son, T. W. "Bill" Samuels would later found the Maker's Mark brand.
But getting back to our story, the train lost a bit of time at each of its stops, with passengers and packages disembarking at each one. Now at Gap in Knob, Mr. Coleman and a few others stepped down from the train and received their packages from the porters.
Meanwhile, a freight train with 49 cars was making its way southward. It left the Louisville station about eleven minutes after the passenger train, and had been slowly gaining on it.
John Davis, engineer of the passenger train, stood looking back for his signal to proceed, and saw one last passenger, a young lady named Ora Shepherd, standing on the coach step, apparently waiting for assistance.
Then Davis saw the headlight of the freight train rounding the curve behind him. At the same time, a gentleman who had gotten off the train saw the freight, and called to Miss Shepherd to jump off. She did not understand him, and he jumped up on the step of the car, caught her, and pulled her off.
Davis quickly opened his throttle and his train began to move forward. It had moved about two coach lengths when the shock came.
As soon as George Chestcheire, the freight train engineer, caught sight of the passenger train, he shut off steam and applied his brakes to little avail. The freight engine struck the coach with considerable force, smashing the rear end, and knocking out the lights as well.
The jolting passed through each of the coaches, creating considerable panic and confusion. Ed Croan suffered whiplash, injuring his neck and back as well as his lower body which was battered against the fruit basket in his lap. Mary Richmond received injuries to her shoulder, arms, and side. W. D. McClain was thrown from the coach in which he was sitting out upon the track, falling upon his back. Several others received injuries including John Sharp and Joseph Thompson of Louisville, as well as Miss Simpson whose hand was slightly injured.
But Miss Simpson's injury was forgotten as she stared in horror at her seat mate. The rear panels of the coach, splintered and jagged by the force of the freight train, had caught Mrs. Carothers and crushed her against the seat in front, where she was bound as in a vice. Death came instantly.
Cora Carothers was not the first to die along Bullitt County tracks; and regrettably she would not be the last.
As a footnote, many of those involved in the wreck sued the railroad for damages. One was Cora's husband, J. M. Carothers who was awarded $15,000 by the court. Nearly three years after the accident, James married again, this time to Edna Miller. They would have two sons, Alfred and Marion. After living in Nelson County for the better part of three decades, James moved the family to San Diego where he died in 1942.
Like many other small stations along the tracks, the Gap in Knob station would later close down, leaving only its name as a memory. Ironically, at least three of its passengers, Alice May (Pulliam), Ben Talbott, and Judge Frank Daugherty, would find themselves in a far greater disaster just before another Christmas 18 years later, when the train they were riding paused briefly at the Gap, just before moving down the tracks to Shepherdsville where it became part of the worst train wreck in L. and N. history.
I spoke recently with a gentleman who works as a conductor for the railroad today. He just shook his head as he described some of the chances he has seen people take along the tracks. He cautioned that it takes a fully loaded train as much as a mile or more to come to a halt, and yet some people seem bent on taking chances at crossings and along these tracks.
Something to think about.
Additional information about this wreck and the people involved may be seen on this page.
Copyright 2014 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.