Bullitt County History

Shepherdsville Train Wreck, 1903

The following article was printed in The Courier-Journal, on Wednesday, November 4, 1903. It describes a crash that occurred at the south end of the railroad bridge in Shepherdsville.

Collision Between L. and N. Freight Trains
Occurs at Shepherdsville.
Fifteen Cars and Engine Sent Down Bank.
An Explosion of Gasoline
Starts Fires That Threatens Destruction of Two Trains - Help Called From Louisville.
Heavy Loss to Railroad

Two Louisville and Nashville freight trains, entirely obscured by a dense fog from Salt River, crashed together at the south approach to the bridge at Shepherdsville yesterday morning at 4:40 o'clock. Two trainmen were killed, and Engineer William Farrar was severely bruised. One engine and fifteen freight cars were ditched and the debris was piled to the height of twenty or thirty feet at the embankment. The signal tower which stands on an abutment at the river bank was knocked three inches out of line by the wrecked freight cars, and came within a few inches of being precipitated into the river, a distance of forty-five feet. Traffic was resumed at 1:15 o'clock in the afternoon. The dead trainmen, both of whom lived in Louisville, are:

Fireman William Brown, of the northbound train.
Brakeman "Lucky" Brown, of the northbound train.

The injured men, who also lived in Louisville, are as follows:

Ed Riney, brakeman, burned by gasoline explosion.
William Farrar, engineer, bruised in following his engine down twenty-foot embankment.

The trains which were in the wreck ran without orders on the double track portion of the Louisville and Nashville. All trains depend on the block signal tower at Shepherdsville for instructions to cross the bridge, which is double-tracked, but does not admit of two trains passing at the same time, owing to the fact that the rails are laid close together, and the engines as well as the cars that follow them will lap on the approach a short distance before reaching the bridge proper. The red light signal was displayed and should have stopped the northbound train before it reached the bridge, but the fog prevented the signal from being seen even at the distance of ten feet. The southbound train had right of way and was side-wiped just before leaving the bridge.

Farrar's Fatal Mistake

Engineer Farrar saw the southbound engine as it passed his cab, but he had lost his bearings on account of the fog, and thought that he was passing the signal tower, which is made of glass to a great extent, and in which the reflection of an engine is readily seen. He mistook the southbound engine for the reflection of his own, and, under the impression that he was passing the tower in safety, he crashed into the train of Engineer Corkey, causing one of the most disastrous wrecks that the road has experienced in a number of years from the point of material loss.

The cars of coal, merchandise and other freight, including a car of gasoline on the southbound train were splintered and sent thundering down the incline on the brink of the river. Brakeman Ed Riney at once began a search among the debris for his fellow trainmen, of whose safety he had every reason to be fearful. The gasoline car had been wrecked near the signal tower, and several of the cans burst, saturating the splintered box car and the other cars with the inflammable liquid. He accidentally overturned his lantern, which quickly set fire to the fragments of the car, and the horrors of a conflagration were added to the ruins of the collision. A coal car took fire and gave substance to the flames.

Signal Tower Trembles

Operator Harvey Lively, who was in charge of the tower, was in darkness, the impact of the wreck having shaken the light building from its foundation and left it on the brink of tumbling down the embankment of forty-five feet. His lamp globes and shades were shattered and the tower was quaking on the verge of overturning. At this moment the conflagration on the outside appeared, and he had no way of escape from his station. The steps had been splintered and destroyed by the blow from the car, and on the other side the river was rolling, too far away to be seen in the fog. Between fire and water, the operator determined to stick to his post until the danger came nearer, and for more than an hour he watched the rolling stock burn. By that time the fire was under control and the greatest danger was passed. The burning cars were not entirely extinguished, however, until the middle of the afternoon.

None of the cars of the south-bound train, on the bridge, were thrown from the track, the wreckage being scattered on the approach of the bridge and not on the structure itself. The confusion which reigned suggested that both trains might be in danger of burning, and the Louisville fire department was telegraphed for aid. Engine Company No. 12, with full crew and reel, was sent from Twentieth and Madison streets at 6:30 o'clock on a special train which had been made up by the Louisville and Nashville. Maj. Fill Tyson acted promptly, but the greatest danger had passed when the company reached Shepherdsville, though it was in time to help greatly.

Description of Wrecked Trains

The trains that were in the wreck were the first section of No. 11, from Louisville, south-bound and third section of No. 20 from Bowling Green, north-bound. The south-bound train was in charge of Conductor Robert Bryant and Engineer Jeremiah Corkery. The north-bound train was in charge of Conductor J. D. Quinn and Engineer William Farrar. The entire crews of both trains were residents of Louisville, though Fireman William Brown formerly lived at Glasgow Junction. Seven of the cars which were thrown from the track were attached to the south-bound train, which the remaining eight and the engine were a part of the north-bound train. Engine No. 231, which drew the north-bound train, was thrown down the embankment, and came to rest with its pilot in the river. On top of the engine the water tank came to a stop, and a coal car was thrown on top of both the engine and water tank, resulting in a smash-up which will require several days to straighten out.

From under the mass of debris crawled Engineer William Farrar, badly crippled and covered with bruises, but with no bones broken. He had followed his engine to the bottom of the bank, and when the rescue party reached the spot they found the engine had been reversed and the full brakes applied. Engineer Farrar did not leave his cab until he had done all in his power to lessen the consequences of the accident though he braved death in a number of forms by not jumping when the first crash came. He is known as one of the most faithful and reliable engineers in the employ of the company, and it is believed that the examining board will exonerate him from blame.

Examining Board to Meet

The examining board, which is composed of Supt. E. E. Snyder, Master Mechanic Sullivan, Trainmaster R. C. Morrison and Chief Train Dispatcher J. M. Scott, will meet in a few days to take evidence on the responsibility for the wreck and to fasten the blame where it belongs. The adjustment of damages will show that the wreck was one of the most expensive that the system has sustained for some time. The loss of equipment and the claims from shippers will aggregate several thousand dollars, though no estimated has been made yet.

The construction of the Salt River bridge presents the only possible conditions under which such an accident could happen. While the track is double all the way across the bridge, the inside rails draw so near together as the tracks approach the bridge that two trains occupying the two tracks at the same time will strike at the distance of about twenty feet from the trestle. The particular style of collision which occurred is termed a side-wipe in railroad parlance, and signifies a glancing contact between two trains in distinction from head-on collisions.

Remarkable Coincidences

The bodies of the dead trainmen were brought to Louisville and turned over to Lee Cralle, undertaker. "Lucky" Brown was known by no other name to the men among whom he works, and he acquired the sobriquet from the narrow escapes which he had made in railroad accidents. He had been in no less than half a dozen serious smash-ups, and each time had escaped by what seemed a miracle. His companions, after his second escape, began to call him "Lucky," and the name stuck to him through his subsequent career, which saw a number of similar experiences to the first two. The charm which the name seemed to possess failed in the Shepherdsville accident, however, and "Lucky" Brown will share no more thrilling experiences on the rail.

Will Brown, the other dead trainman, was the victim of an even more remarkable coincidence. On November 8, 1902, two freight trains were wrecked in identically the same spot, and Fireman Brown was thrown from among the crashing ruins of two locomotives a distance of about thirty-five feet and landed on top of Salt River bridge without injury. He was able to crawl from the top of the bridge unassisted and continue his duties without interruption.

Brought to Louisville

"Lucky" Brown lived at 2821 Fourth avenue with his mother, and William Brown lived at 524 N. street, with his mother and wife. Ed Riney, who was dangerously burned with gasoline, was bought to St. Mary's Hospital, and is resting easy. His burns are serious, but will probably not result fatally. William Brown's body will be taken for burial to Glasgow Junction, which is the home of his family, and his old home.

Sam Long, a flagman, who sustained a slight injury of the hip, lives in South Louisville, and is not badly hurt.

The track was cleared at the Salt River bridge at 1:15 o'clock p.m., and passenger train No. 8 from Nashville passed over at that time, reaching Louisville about fifty minutes late. Passenger train No. 4, due from the South at 8:15 o'clock a.m., was detoured at Elizabethtown and came to Louisville over the Illinois Central. No other train was detoured.

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 12 Jan 2024 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/trainwreck1903.html