Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Train travel treacherous in the 1880s

In the 1800s train travel was the main means of accomplishing long-distance trips, but traveling by rail was by no means without its dangers. Many of the train safety measures that we take for granted today were still in their infancy, or non-existent.

On May 5, 1888, a Pendleton woman and her daughter embarked on a trip to Washington, D.C., that was anything but routine. Mrs. Major Brockenbrough and daughter left on a Northern Pacific train for points east, and a few days later the Major received a letter from his wife saying their trip was delayed. A freight train’s smash-up had left their train detained at Heron (Mont.) Siding, and they were possibly stuck for 24 hours while the wreckage was removed from the tracks.

The next day the Major received a second letter. Mrs. Brockenbrough wrote that their train had succeeded in getting around the wreck within twelve hours, but just west of Bozeman, Montana, another train had smashed head-on into theirs. The accident happened early in the morning, throwing the passengers from their sleeping berths and seriously injuring many people. His wife had received a painful and severe cut on her forehead, about an inch and a half long and clear down to the bone, though she claimed it was not serious. Their daughter had escaped injury. A third letter received by the Major told of a landslide that had blocked the train, frustrating their trip yet again.

The East Oregonian reporter who interviewed the Major ended his piece with the hope that the rest of Mrs. Brockenbrough’s trip would be “serene.”

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