The community of Guthrie, Kentucky, was a vital railroad crossroads starting in the 1850s with the completion of the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad, and it remains one today.
But, on June 29, 1957, the railroad crossroads was the scene of a collision that left six dead and roughly two dozen injured.
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad’s Chicago-to-Miami Dixieland Flyer passenger approached the junction at Guthrie at about 4:30 or 4:45 p.m. on June 29, 1957. The train slowed to throw mail from the train to the station.
Simultaneously, a westbound 29-car freight train, No. 121, heading toward Memphis and pulled by two locomotives, approached the at-level crossing. However, instead of stopping safely and short of the passenger train, the freight train passed two red blocks, possibly because of brake failure.
The train continued toward the Dixieland and crashed into the train’s baggage and dining cars. The passenger train may have been traveling at about 30 m.p.h., while the freight may have been going 10 m.p.h.
“It should have stopped,” The Associated Press quoted W.R. Winkler, superintendent of the Louisville & Nashville’s Louisville Division as saying.
John C. Boone, the freight train’s brakeman, jumped from the freight, followed by George T. Smith, the fireman. Engineer Walter L. Raspberry stayed at the controls, riding to his death.
“The engineer didn’t have a chance,” The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted Boone as saying. “When Raspberry put on the brakes and the train kept going, I saw we couldn’t make it. I yelled to Raspberry ‘I’m going to jump.’ Smith jumped as I did.”
Five people on the Dixieland died in the wreck.
Conductor Making His Last Run
The conductor of the Dixieland, Pat Coleman, was making his last run.
He was connected to the Illinois Central before joining the Louisville & Nashville and worked for railroads for more than 50 years.
“I was counting tickets. I felt the jar,” The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted Coleman as saying following the wreck. “The first thing I knew, I was on the floor. I was dazed and tried to get out and somebody pulled me out.”
Chaos at the Scene
Following the wreck, spectators caused problems trying to catch a glimpse of the wreckage.
“They were continuously moving, pushing over the guard ropes, clogging the streets, getting in to see any way they could despite the danger of getting hurt in the repair operations,” The Associated Press quoted Todd County, Ky., Sheriff J.R. Mansfield as saying at the time.