Boiler Explosion a Reminder of Railroads’ Perils
By Todd DeFeo
The Pennsylvania Railroad mogul locomotive, “drawing a long train of freight cars,” just passed through Metuchen, N.J.
Having left Jersey City, it was about 1 a.m. on March 11, 1907, when the Philadelphia-bound locomotive’s boiler exploded, sending “white-hot pieces of iron” in every direction while scalding steam burned the engineer and fireman, killing both along with the head brakeman, who was also in the cab, according to a report in The New York Times on March 12, 1907.
Two buildings — one that was apparently 300 feet away and another 700 feet away — were set ablaze, but didn’t do much damage, a newspaper report indicates. Apparently, town residents thought the explosion was an earthquake.
“A piece of iron hurled through the air broke the ankle of a trackwalker several hundred feet down the road,” The New York Times reported on March 12, 1907. The engine’s boiler shot into the air and landed 300 feet away, then bounced in the air again, coming to rest another 30 feet away.
The rails beneath the locomotive at the time of the explosion were torn from their roadbed. While the locomotive’s tender remained on the tracks, the five cars behind it came off the rails.
After the wreck and before his death, the fireman apparently kept repeating: “We couldn’t fix it.” The newspaper article indicates the locomotive’s injector failed, keeping water from entering the boiler. Once an obstruction was removed, cold water made its way into the superheated boiler, leading to the explosion.
Apparently the ticket agent who lives in the station slept through the whole affair. That is until his wife awoke him.
Source: The New York Times, March 12, 1907
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