Friday, January 11, 2008

The Story of The Train Wreck at Great Falls, Montana, 1900



Conductor Bingham Tells How His Train Was Ditched.


Switch Thrown Was the Only One Unguarded — Two Carloads of Perishable Freight Caused the Attempt.

The Great Northern passenger train wrecked at Great Falls at 10 o'clock Wednesday night arrived in Anaconda at 3:35 yesterday afternoon. Conductor Frank Bingham was in charge.

Shortly after the arrival of the train Mr. Bingham was seen by a Standard reporter. In speaking of the affair he said:

"It was a miraculous escape and the wonder of it all is that it was not attended by some loss of life. I had all along looked for trouble, but hardly thought that strike sympathizers would resort to such a dastardly trick. Before we left Havre we were threatened with trouble. There were two carloads of perishable freight to be taken through by us, a car of mineral water for Goodkind Bros., Helena, and a carload of beer for John Caplice of Butte. Before we coupled these cars onto our train we were warned. In fact, one of the strikers went up to one of my brakemen, George Alexander, and told him that if he dared to couple those two cars of freight onto the train he would be brained with a link. When I heard this I assumed the responsibility of this work myself. One of the strikers came to me and said: 'Bingham, you would not take the bread and butter out of our mouths, would you?'

"I answered that it had cost me 12 years of hard, steady work to get my present job, and that if perishable freight was attached to my train and I was ordered to take it out, I most certainly would do so. As the brakeman was afraid that some one of the strikers would carry the threat to brain him into effect, I went forward, coupled the cars onto the engine and coupled up the air myself. No one attempted to interfere and we pulled out of Havre without further incident. Our run to Great Falls was made without any trouble, and we got into that place five hours late. It was feared there that there might be some trouble, and deputy sheriffs had been stationed at every switch to prevent any attempt that might be made to ditch our train.

"We were just about clear of the yards when a man rushed out and, after the engine, the two cars of freight and the baggage car had passed over, threw the only switch that was not guarded. I was standing in the front part of the smoker, and when the switch was thrown the car I was in and the day coach went crashing into heavy ore cars standing on the track next to the main line. The sides of the two passenger cars were crushed in and several of the passengers were thrown on the floor, but luckily no one was injured. One of the brakemen saw the man who threw the switch, but I was inside. Had I been on the platform and seen the fellow when he made the attempt to murder us I should certainly have taken a shot at him.

"I see by the papers that the strikers state that they were attending a meeting when the switch was thrown. This may be true, but by a singular coincidence a number of people were seen to climb up on cars, and all were watching us as we pulled out, and appeared to know that something was going to happen just when it did. As soon as the wreck occurred three engines and a crew of wreckers were set at work and the spot cleared as soon as possible. We were five hours late when the train was ditched and about 12 hours more was consumed in clearing the wreck, but we finally pulled out and I delivered the two carloads of freight. that occasioned the trouble, to their destination."

"What will be the effect of the strike and what merit is there in the strikers' side?"

"It will he over in a short time. I have a personal acquaintance with a number of the men who went out and some of them are good fellows, but they went at this matter in the wrong way. There is no strike and none was ordered. The men simply refused to work under the new schedule, and they quit. That is all there is to it. They are no longer in the employ of the company and if they do not return to work other men will be brought in to take their places."

Locally the strike has been of no effect. Passenger trains are running as usual and freight is being received for points along the line as though nothing had happened. A great deal of freight is being congested at Woodville, the northern terminus of the Butte yard limit, but it is expected that by to-day sufficient men will have been received to man the trains abandoned by strikers, and that trains will be moved as before. All along the line scores of deputy sheriffs have been sworn in to protect company property, and for the first few days trains will he run under the protection of armed men.

—The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, May 4, 1900, page 4.

Note: In the fourth paragraph from the bottom the original article says, "I delivered the two carloads of freight. that occasioned the trouble, to their designation." Designation, not destination. I don't know if that word works, but I changed it anyway.

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