1905 L&N Wreck Illustrates Just How Dangerous Cabooses Were

A caboose on display at the Clarksville, Tenn., train depot in November 2012. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

The caboose was a dangerous place for railroad workers, and the train crew on a Louisville & Nashville near Clarksville, Tenn., learned this in September 1905.

Near the St. Bethlehem community, a freight train crashed into the rear end of another freight train, throwing a locomotive 50 feet from the track and turning a caboose into splinters. Miraculously, no one died in the wreck.

It seems the cause of the wreck was a misunderstanding of orders, according to a newspaper account from the time.

An extra freight train, No. 500, left Guthrie, Ky., at 6 a.m. Its orders were to meet the northbound passenger train in St. Bethlehem. The northbound passenger train passed Clarksville at 7 a.m.

A few minutes later, a second southbound freight train, No. 121, departed Guthrie with orders matching those of the first freight train: Meet the northbound passenger train in St. Bethlehem.

The second freight train turned into the same siding as the first train and rear-ended it.

The engineer and the fireman of train No. 121 leapt to safety as their engine was about to plow into the first freight train. The conductor and a brakeman on train No. 500 did the same.

“The caboose was torn into splinters, while four other cars, one loaded with apples, another with merchandise and two others with coke, were piled upon each other and almost completely demolished,” the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle reported on Sept. 25, 1905. “The engine was thrown fifty feet from the track and will, it is thought, be a total loss.”

The wreck blocked the Louisville & Nashville’s Memphis Branch for some time. The railroad called in a wrecking crew from Paris, Tenn., to clear the tracks.

“A large force of men is at work clearing the track and cleaning up the debris, and there will be no further delay in trains,” the newspaper reported.

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About Todd DeFeo 374 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.