A Deadly Explosion on the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville

Around 4 p.m. on February 10, 1870, locomotive No. 9, a Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Norris & Son-built 4-4-0 steam locomotive, was pulling a freight train over the Red River trestle roughly one mile from Clarksville.

Since July 1, 1869, the railroad used the steam locomotive exclusively for its freight service, running a total of 17,431 miles in service during that timeframe. As it was pulling the freight train on this particular Thursday, its boiler suddenly exploded.

The blast sent engineer Thomas J. Bradley “whizzing through the air for some distance,” according to the Feb. 12, 1870, edition of the Clarksville Chronicle. The blast sent him into a telegraph wire, nearly severing his body in half, the Republican Banner reported on Feb. 11, 1870.

Firemen Thomas Campin and Jonathan Cousins “were found, bruised and bleeding, beneath the fragments of the wreck, and conveyed to the National Hotel, where the best of medical attention was rendered to alleviate their intense suffering, but all was in vain. …They were gathered in the cold embrace of death at a late hour that night,” according to a Feb. 12, 1870, Clarksville Chronicle report.

Bradley, who was also the master mechanic at the railroad’s shops in Clarksville, left behind a wife, while Cousins, a resident of Providence, Tennessee, left behind a wife and two children. “We have not learned the cause of this dreadful explosion,—or whether the cause can be laid at any one’s door—which has cast a gloom over the hearts of so many of our citizens,” one newspaper account declared, the Clarksville Chronicle reported on Feb. 12, 1870.

Adapted from The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad: A History.

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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.