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CAMBRIA COUNTY, PA
12 Aug 1916
21 Killed In Head-on Collison
on Southern Cambria Railway
Injured rushed to Johnstown. Ambulances and fire trucks used to transport them to hospitals; nurses and doctors hurried to scene of disaster. Fourteen persons killed outright and from 40 to 50 injured when two ebensburg cars on the Southern Cambria Railway collided head-on between Echo and Brookdale at 10:45 o'clock this morning. Seven persons have since died of injuries. The cause may never be positively established and only explanation obtainable is that motorman Angus VARNER, of this city, lost control of his car. This conclusion is based on the fact that the car dashed through Brookdale, the point at which it was scheduled to stop and wait the approach of the Ebensburg-bound car, at not less than 35 to 40 miles an hour. The car which left Johnstown at 10 o'clock was crowded with people on their way to the DISHONG-RIBBLETT reunion at Woodland Park, near Ebensburg, or to a picnic of the BURKHART Sunday School at Monday's. Most of the killed and injured were in the reunion party. A large number of persons bound for the reunion left shortly before the car that figured in the accident. Employees of the Southern Cambria Railway stationed at the Brookdale barns were startled when the city-bound car dashed past without stopping. Conductor Andrew MCDEVITT, with rare presence of mind, pulled the trolley off the wire, but the momentum of the car was so great that is speed was not perceptibly slackened when it crashed into the outbound car.
The bodies of four men and one woman are at the C.O. DIAMOND undertaking rooms in South Fork. The other bodies, 11 in number are at the establishment of George BROTHERS in South Fork.
Great exictement prevailed in Johnstown when news of the accident reached the public. The Tribune's bulletin board was besieged by hundreds eager to learn about the disaster, and the telephones were kept busy by those who had relatives or friends among those who left on the 10 o'clock train.
The DISHONG and RIBBLETTs who were holding their annual reunion at Woodland Park, have hundreds of relatives who were unable to travel to Woodland Park and these are frantic to learn more. There are few among the members of these well-known clans who did not have relatives among the dead and injured.
The wreck was attended by scenes of a heart breaking character. Bodies were strewn among the wreckage and the cries of the injured rose above the frenzied shouts of those who had escaped injury and went about the task of rescue. Early reports reaching Johnstown were that no one had been killed but further investigation revealed was not true.
Of the gruesome sights which greeted the rescuers was the headless body of the little LENTZ boy, which lay beside the tracks. The child's mother and father were also killed.
The impact of the cars was so great that both were telescoped into each other by about six feet and most of those killed were in the forward part of the cars. Both cars remained on the tracks.
A car containing 15 dead bodies reached South Fork shortly before 2 o'clock this afternoon and the bodies are now in the morgue there. It is thought they will be held there for identification. Among the number are those whose names appear the the Tribune's list and several unidentified.
A large number of injured were taken to South Fork, on a Southern Cambria freight car wich was transferred to the Pennsylvania Railroad at that place and started for Johnstown.
L. A. MILLER, of Johnstown, a passenger on the city-bound car escaped injury. "It became apparent at Burharts that the car was running away. It was going at least 30 miles an hour when it passed Brookdale. I got out of my seat and stood in the aisle and, I believe, I saved my life thereby."
Mr. MILLER was at Nanty Glo and was returning home. Immediately upon receipt of word of the accident, 8 nurses were rushed to the scene from the Memorial Hospital by automobile.
Scores of physicians from Johnstown and almost every section of the county went to Echo. Among those were Drs. MCANANY, LUBKEN, JENNINGS, ARKINS, John L. & Robert SAGERSON, and LONGWELL of Johnstown, and Drs. MIETHERELL, MARTIN, FICHTNER, and GRIFFITH of Conemaugh.
Practically every physician in the city was at the American House at Railroad and Church streets, where the first car load of injured bearing 20 persons was stopped. The police roped off the street on both sides to keep curious crowds from getting in the way of doctors and ambulance men.
Every ambulance, automobile, and truck that could be secured was impressed into sevice. Ambulances from the Memorial, Mercy, and Cambria hospitals were rushed to the American House to carry the injured to hospitals. Vehicles of every kind lined the streets.
Four cots were rigged in the big Swank Hardware Company delivery truck. The police patrol and large trucks from Ryan-Correll, Johnstown Grocery Company, Brown's Grocery and other business houses, were filled with cots and blankets and used to haul injured.
The woman who died on the street car while being brought to Johnstown was not identified at John PENDRY's establishment up to 3:30 o'clock this afternoon. She wore a brown waist and white skirt with black stripe, had light hair and was about five feet two inches in height. On one of her hands were two rings, one of which contained a diamond chip. Her head was crushed at the base of the brain.
The bodies sent over to undertaker LOEBRICH had not been identified up to 3:45 o'clock this afternoon. The woman, who was about 50 year of age, wore a blue coat and a white waist and skirt. The man was about 65 years old and wore a brown suit and had a light mustache.
Joseph RIBBLETT, who had been reported killed, was later reported to be at Woodland Park and was uninjured.
14 Aug 1916 (Article No. 2)
Records show that the runaway car
had never given trouble.
Motorman VARNER Had Stopped The Car At Ogden On Down Trip
From statements made by passengers on the south-bound car which figured in the disastrous wreck on the Southern Cambria Railway Saturday, it is learned that the trouble began after the car left Vinco Road. It left Ebensburg according to the record of Conductore MCDEVITT at 10:00 o'clock and made stops at two points. It had made two round-trips during the day and the conductor says no trouble of any sort was experienced. The car was inspected before starting out and everything was found to be satisfactory.
The best information obtainable is to the effect that when the speed of the car began to appear dangerous, Conductor MCDEVITT went forward and aided the motorman. They applied the handbrake and the speed of their car decreased perceptibly. The conductor returned to his post in the rear. Just at the time the handbrake was released and the car again began to gain speed. The conductor went forward and aided in applying the brakes.
Johnstown, With Its Real And Improvised Ambulances, Shows How It Can Meet
An Emergency -- Spirit Of Mercy Aboard When Injured Come To City
Scenes of the wildest excitement took place when the first carload of those injured in the wreck at Echo was brought to Johnstown. Every ambulance in the city and every truck or auto within hailing distance was pressed into service. The city police took a hand immediately and despite their best efforts the press of the crowds who jammed the streets all but got beyond their control. Ropes were loine along several blocks of Railroad St. where the cars were relieved of their shattered burdens.
As fast as one truck or ambulance had received its quota, its place was taken by another. With the utmost dispatch the injured were rushed to hospitals. Two Southern Cambria cars brought the wounded to the city, the first car carrying 20 and the second bringing 18. The Pennsylvania Railroad rushed to the aid of the rescuers and a special train brought nine more of the injured to Johnstown.
It was about 1 o'clock when the first Southern Cambria trolley arrived in the city. It was stopped at Railroad St. near the American House. About three-quarters of an hour later, the second trolley rolled into Railroad St. About 20 minutes after the arrival of the second trolley car, the Pennsy special steamed into the Center St. yards having broken every existing record between South Fork and Johnstown for an ordinary engine.
A Score or more of the autos, trucks, and ambulances waiting at the American House for the arrival of the second trolley, were sent on the wildest of goose chases to the P.R.R. passenger station. A telephone call from the station carried the news that the special was due to arrive within a few minutes at the depot. Strung over 2 blocks, the big machines crashed along, through the crowded thoroughfares to the station. It was a thrilling ride piloted by the big auto fire truck from Engine Company No. 6. With the unloading of all the first aid paraphenalia, stretchers, etc. at the depot, came the news that the second trolley was swinging down Railroad St. There was another wild rush and a big ambulance pulled up alongside the trolley as it came to a full stop at the corner of Railroad and Adams St. Despite the charge to the station and return, not a moment was lost. Police cleared the streets, the injured were carried out, places in the big trucks and ambulances and started on their journey to the hospital.
The trolley had scarcely rumbled down the highway, relieved of it load, when a Pennsy special chugged into the railroad yards. Nine of the injured had been loaded into one of the Southern Cambria baggage cars. An agonized to the South Fork offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad brought help. The big freight engine that shifts freight cars etc. about the South Fork yards, was dispatched on a journey of mercy. A short distance below South Fork, it switched to a spur running into the main line of the trolley tracks. It was sent rumbling over the trolley tracks to the scene of the accident, where the baggage car was waiting for its arrival.
We didn't break any high speed records for speed engines, said a member of the train crew, after its arrival in Johnstown, Our engine isn't built for speed ... It's constructed for strength but you can bet your last dollar the very last one on the bottom of your pile, that that old buzz cart buzzed along faster than it ever did in it's long and useful life. There isn't a freight engine on the whole system that ever went faster than this baby did today.
Johnstown's entire resources were thrown into the breach. It was a striking demonstration of how Johnstowners can meet an emergency. Everyone wanted to help. The Cambria Steel Company sent its First-Aid Corps with their stretchers etc. they line along Railroad St. waiting for the sorrow-burdened cars to come in. Their work was quick, efficient, and without fuss. As soon as the cars stopped, they boarded them, helped to move the suffering inmates to the big trucks and rode along to the hospital with them, making the wounded ones as comfortable as possible.
"Here" called out a big chap as a rather diminutive and young-looking chap boarded the car to help. "Get out". The young man, he was in fact a big overgrown boy, did not get out. "I'm a boy scout" was his quiet reply. He helped the same as the other. Cambria Steel loaned its entire ambulance corps. Their big cars made a number of trips to the hospitals. Milt PICKING, South Side delivery man had his big white ambulance car right on the job and was there personally to see that it gave all the help possible. It made an overland trip to the accident and rushed several injured to the city. It made trip after trip to the trolley cars and the Pennsy special.
Schwirt??m Bros., Swank Hardware, Nathan's, Scholars Ice Cream Works, Foster, Henderson Cleaning Works, Ryan-Corell, Johnstown Grocery Company, Penn Traffic, and a dozen other firms dispatched their trucks to Railroad St. to do ambulance work. There were two score automobiles there ready to help.
There were touching scenes by the score as friend recognized friend. One big stalwart chap squeezed his way through the crowd as the first-aid men and police were unloading the injured from the Pennsylvania special at the railroad yard. He thought he had recognized a familiar face being carried out of the car. Everyone was startled by his exclamation "By h--, it is Bill". Bill was stretched out on a cot. His face was bathed in blood. His bared right leg was held between two stout boards, tightly bandaged. Blood oozed from a deep wound on his kneecap. Each motion of the first-aid men sent a shiver through his entire body and brought an occasional groan. "Yep its me. for the love of God give me chew" he got it, a most peculiar request from a man with a compound fracture of his leg. The big chap simply could not talk. He wouldn't give his name and all he could say was "poor Bill".
"I'm quitting." said one man. He had been helping to unload the injured. "That was too much for me." He had just carried out the bleeding form a of a little girl. She was just a tiny bundle of bandages and crimson rags, her dress having been shredded when the two cars crashed. Strong men wilted under the strain. They turned their backs on the cot-loads of suffering, broken humans, withdrew from the crowd and went home.
The work of the police was magnificent. Every man that could be reached was pressed into service. The patrol did ambulance duty with Jimmy ADAMS at the wheel. A half dozen or more, without their uniforms, swung their maces at the Railroad St. crossing and kept highway clear of traffic and pedestrians. A half dozen or more assisted in unloading the injured. More were commandeered and placed on duty at all corners leading to the Railroad St. unloading point. the Police had a colossal job on their hands, helping with the work, keeping the streets clear and the crowds back at the same time.
Johnstown firemen did their share. They helped rope off the streets, assisted in the careful work of unloading cars and did everything they could see to do, and that was a whole lot. It was a fearful job for strong men but, Johnstown arose to the emergency.
From the offices of the Southern Cambria Railroad Company the following statement was made this afternoon:
"The Ebensburg car was in charge of Conductor MCDEVITT and Motorman VARNER, two experienced employees. The car was heard approaching the car barn by employees of the office and it was evident that it was beyond control. Motorman VARNER waved his arms and Superintendent NICHOLS immediately rushed to the power house to shut off power. Before this could be done the cars met a short distance from the power house. Owing to the condition of conductor MCDEVITT, who is badly injured, it is impossible to determine how the motorman lost control of his car."
More on this event - courtesy of DiAnna Goughnour - (w/photo) can be found at the following URL: