From the "Odessa Record."
This Week In Odessa History
December 13, 2012
When BNSF trains going in opposite directions pass each other there
appears to be perfect synchronization as one train eases onto the Odessa
sidetrack and the other speeds by.
One hundred and one years ago,
before radio control and electronic switching, engineers of the steam
locomotives relied on telegraph messages they picked up from one station
to the next along the rail line to determine the positions of other
trains on the track. Railroad operations weren’t as smooth then as they
The Odessa Record, in its issue of December 15, 1911,
reported this head-on collision within Odessa of two Great Northern
passenger trains, one the Oriental Limited, just west of today’s Birch
Street crossing of the BNSF:
Eastbound passenger train #44 and
westbound train #1, the Oriental Limited, met in a head-on collision in
the local yards Monday morning. The engineer of #44 had orders to take
the siding at Odessa for #1 to pass by, but his train was running late,
and #1 had pulled out from the station and was waiting near the switch
in the west end of the yards when the other train rounded the curve
about 200 or 400 yards beyond.
The engineer of #44 was trying to
make up time on the straight stretch of track extending for three miles
west of town and when he attempted to set the air brakes to slow up for
the curve the apparatus refused to work and his train rounded the curve
at a speed estimated at 40 miles per hour.
The engineer of the
Oriental Limited saw #44 as the train came around the curve and
realizing something was wrong reversed his engine to try to get out of
the way, while one of the brakemen attempted to reach the switch and
throw #44 in on the sidetrack. But the flying train was upon them in an
instant, and the two trains came together with a crash.
of impact skidded the Oriental Limited along the rails for 200 feet or
more. Neither train left the rails, but the front portions of both
locomotives were demolished and the front end of the baggage car of #44
was crushed in. The front wheels of the Oriental Limited were pushed in
half the length of the car. The mail car itself was pitched up into the
tender (the car carrying the coal for the steam engine) of the
locomotive in front of it.
The engineer and fireman jumped before
the trains struck, but the engineer of the Oriental Limited stayed with
his locomotive and was pitched headlong out of the cab window.
Passengers on both trains were thrown from their seats when the trains
came together and several received slight injuries, though none was
A hobo who had been stealing a ride on #44 was
put off at Irby and is believed to have tampered with the brakes. After
the accident, an examination showed that the valve on the pipe through
which the air passes to set the brakes had been shut and the supposition
is that the tramp kicked the valve shut when he leaped from the tender.
The brakes had been operating normally when the train slowed up for
Traffic was delayed only a little more than two hours by the
wreck, the coaches of both trains being carried toward their
destinations by the next scheduled passenger trains in each direction.