Inkerman - 60 Years Ago
By Duncan du Fresne
Inkerman is a small village in eastern Ontario, 33 miles east of Smiths Falls. At the time I'm writing about it, it was located at mileage 91.1 on Canadian Pacific's Winchester subdivision. Nearly 60 years ago Inkerman was made famous, on an international scale, by its junior hockey team, the "Inkerman Rockets". That team, and succeeding ones for the next decade, were the talk of the hockey world, but that's not the reason why I'm writing this Tid Bit. The year 2001 is the 60th anniversary of a terrible train wreck that took place at Inkerman back on March 31, 1941.
Canadian Pacific passenger train No. 29, known along the Winchester sub. as "The Perth Local", was on the westbound side of the double track main line on its way to Perth, Ontario, from Montreal behind light Pacific No. 2658. The local had slowed down to make its station stop at Inkerman at about 6:30 P.M. There would be a few passengers and the ever present milk cans, now empty, to unload after their shipment earlier in the day on train No. 30 to various Montreal dairies. As the local was about to make its station stop an eastbound 68-car freight train, making good time, was passing the local on the eastbound track, - and then it happened. A broken axle (according to the Ottawa Journal and the Winchester Press) on a car well back in the freight train resulted in 24 cars of the freight to start piling up. Of course some of the cars ended up on the westbound main line, sideswiping the 2658 in the process. This resulted in the 2658 rolling over on its right side right in front of the station. The local's engineer, Fred Plato, and fireman Wallace Plunkett, both of Smiths Falls, were killed. Inside the station were two C.P. employees, William Maxwell, a C.P. Section Foreman from Mountain, Ontario, and Edward Pennett the Station Agent. Both these men got out of the station, which was physically moved and structurally damaged by the impact. Maxwell and Pennett went through two windows to escape. Unfortunately, both were seriously injured, Pennett losing a lot of blood from a bad cut in his arm and suffering also from burns and shock, while Maxwell, who was badly scalded, was also suffering from burns and shock as the station was immediately filled with smoke and steam from the overturned locomotive. Pennett, taken to Winchester for medical treatment, lived through the ordeal, however. Maxwell, who was taken to the Ottawa Civic Hospital, died the following night from his injuries. Apparently Plato was seen trying to get out of the cab of the overturned engine but just couldn't make it and died in the scalding steam.
In the meantime the crew in the van (caboose) on the freight train got bounced around pretty good but the van remained upright so they got out more or less unscathed. Train 29's conductor, H. Guppy, and brakeman C. Riley suffered minor injuries, but nothing worse - lucky!
There were two other people whose number hadn't yet turned up that evening. One was Asa Hanes of Inkerman, a mailman who was standing on the station platform waiting to collect mail bags off train 29. Hanes, who had bent over to pick up his mail bags, was thrown over by flying ballast as the engine and rolling stock starting flying around. A military truck from a flatcar went right over Hanes' head and he lived to talk about it! Another individual who escaped with his life was Danny McDonald, a 50 year old hobo who had climbed onto the back of the tender of No. 29's engine at Chesterville hoping to ride to Smiths Falls in search of a job. McDonald escaped the wreck with severe bruises to one of his legs and required medical attention. Seems ironic that McDonald was subsequently charged with vagrancy and spent 10 days in a Cornwall (Ontario) jail cell.
There was an eye witness to this terrible affair. He was George Suffel. George lived and worked on the family farm adjacent to the track and was only 35 yards from the station building when the wreck occurred . He and his family had been listening for the local train to arrive, a habit common to farm folk in those days. Usually George would have been at the station to help unload their milk cans but on this particular occasion it wasn't necessary as they hadn't shipped any milk out that morning on No. 30. This might very well have saved George's life. George remembered seeing Maxwell and Pennett running away from the station. Both were covered with black soot and were obviously in need of medical attention. George and his father ran to the wreck site along with their hired hand, Donald Burleigh, to give whatever first aid they could. George remembered putting a tourniquet on Pennett's arm and removing clothing to relieve the pain from scalded wrists and hands.
Other crew members on the train were A.J. Slack of Smiths Falls who was the mail clerk and Fred Forrester of Smiths Falls who was the C.P. Express messenger. Slack had a fractured rib and Forrester was uninjured. About 25 passengers on the local were also uninjured.
It was the best part of a week before the wreckage was cleared and the track rebuilt. In the meantime Toronto - Montreal passenger trains were rerouted through Bedell, utilizing the Prescott sub. and passing through Ottawa. About 75 yards of main line track had been torn up and wrecked cars and lading were scattered all over. Two auxiliary cranes, one from Smiths Falls and the other from Montreal, were sent to the site for the cleanup. Thirty yards from the point of impact one freight car crashed through the platform of a feed storage building, reducing the platform and building to kindling wood. According to the Winchester Press in 1986, the old station, which had been rebuilt, was sold off a few years later and moved to the village of Mountain to be used as a private residence. It was still extant in 1998, on County Road 1. This rebuilt station bore little resemblance to the one in the wreck, however. Its order board was removed (along with its operator), the bay window was gone, as was the extended front roof over the platform.As a P.S. to this story, all you (ex-CP 4-6-2) 1201 fans out there will be pleased to know that four or five years after the tragedy she was the regularly assigned engine on train 29 and 30. She escaped unscathed until the end of the steam era, and beyond.
Tid Bits by Duncan du Fresne, Bytown Railway Society,, Branchline, December 2001, pages 12-13.