But Travie Short is remembered
another story. Ironically train number 83's return from Smiths Falls as
an extra is involved, as is Fourth Class train number 89 3 another
Ottawa West -
Smiths Falls via Carleton Place job that also handled much of the CIP
production from Gatineau. On the night of March 18, 1950, 83's extra
and 89 were
to meet at Ashton, Ont, The extra had a car to set out at
anyway, on the business siding parallel to the passing track. The extra
planned to pull their train into the passing track, cut off head end
to the one they had to set out, pull out through the east end switch
then back into the business track. It was a bad night, a heavy March
storm with very high winds was lashing the valley. The extra
slowly into the passing track, 89 was west of Stittsville and eating
the time and distance over to Ashton. The crew of the extra had
left their headlight on as they were not "in the clear". The story goes
the wind was whipping the smoke and exhaust, as well as the snow,
the extra's front end. As westbound 89 got the extra's headlight in
the wind caused the smoke, steam and snow to obscure the light, then
up, then obscure it again. In the cab of the onrushing 89 this was
for a deliberate "highball" signal indicating (illegally) that the
was "in the clear". The hogger on 89 opened, up his throttle and roared
past the east passing track switch not knowing that just ahead,
by the flying snow, was the tail end of the Extra, still foul of the
line. Standing on the west switch was a ballast car of rock. The 2624
into it, rolling over in the process, cars piled up in all directions.
little station on the south side of the main was demolished. When all
had ceased, 89's engine crew were dead and her head end brakeinan, Tom
had saved his life by jumping just before the collision. The dead
was George Hannam, - the engineer was Travie Short.
From an Ottawa paper 19 March 1950:
Like the Toys of an Angry Giant (with picture)
Smashed and tossed
by the trenendous impact of tons of steel, the wreckage of CPR
freight No. 83 lies scattered across the main transcontinental line at
Ashton, 20 miles southwest of Ottawa. The broken cars spew
cargo across the snow, the one in the right upper background spreading
hundreds of cases of beer about. Seven cars, the
engine and the tender are spread around in much the same confusion as
would result if a small boy in temper had upset his toy
The early morning collision Saturday of No. 83 with the rear end of
an eastbound freight affected train schedules and connections from
Montreal to Sudbury, while dispatchers rerouted freight and passenger
to by-pass the smash-up in which two crewmen died and two others were
injured. The wreckage was cleared, 250 yards of ripped up
replaced and the line opened for traffic again late Saturday.
either end of the torn right-of-way, the railway wreck-clearing cranes
can be seen beginning the job of working their way to the centre of the
Stittsville/Richmond Region EMC 22 March 2012
Collision of Freight
Trains at Ashton on 18 Mar 1950
Ashton Ontario - March 18 was
unseasonably warm this year, one day in an extended warm period that
has seen most of the snow disappear from the landscape. But March 18
has not always been so lamb-like. Indeed, back in 1950, it was a March
lion, with a blinding snow storm hitting the Stittsville and Goulbourn
And it was in this blinding snow storm that a fatal and tragic
collision between two freight trains happened right at the Ashton train
station. Two of the freight cars were thrown into the Ashton station,
track was torn up for more than 200 yards, the area was littered with
splintered ties and twisted steel rails, and, most tragic of all, two
railway employees died.
This all happened about 1:15 a.m. on Saturday, 18 Mar 1950, with a
blinding snowstorm taking place.
An extra eastbound freight train from Smiths Falls was pulling into the
passing track at Ashton. At the time of the collision, its engine,
tender, and several freight cars were already on the siding but the
remainder of the freight train, some 15 cars, was still on the main
line when a westbound freight train on that main line sliced into these
The impact from the westbound engine slamming into these cars threw two
of them against the Ashton station, after which the engine toppled end
over end, tearing up track.
Two men on this westbound train died in the collision. One was the
engineer who was found half buried in the snow while the other was the
fireman who was found in the wreckage of the cab. Two others were
The contents of the damaged freight cars were scattered about the site.
One had a cargo of beer while another had a load of ladies' sample
shoes, all for the same foot.
A later coroner's jury, held in Carleton Place to look into the cause
of the collision, did not declare any identifiable cause for the crash.
However, confusion in the orders to the crews of these trains and poor
visibility due to the snowstorm were both cited as contributing
And the situation could have been even worse, and possibly more tragic,
had it not been for quick action taken by Percy Illingsworth, the
station agent at Stittsville, that night.
A westbound Montreal-to-Vancouver passenger train had left the Ottawa
West station before news of the collision was received there. It was
thus racing toward Stittsville and beyond that Ashton, with its
operators unaware of the fright cars littering the track there.
Mr. Illingsworth, who had been notified by phone of the situation with
regards to this approaching train, pulled some clothes over his
pyjamas, grabbed a flashlight, and dashed through the snow drifts to
reach the train track. Visibility was poor because of the heavy snow
storm but when he saw the glimmer of the headlight of the approaching
train through the swirling snow, he started signaling with his
flashlight for the train to stop. Fortunately, the engineer on the
train saw and understood the signal and the passenger train stopped.
Had Mr. Illingsworth not taken his action or if his signal had not been
seen, this passenger train would have roared into the Ashton station
and its carnage with who knows what kind of disastrous and tragic
Percy Illingsworth served as the station agent at Stittsville for about
20 years, succeeding the famous A.G. Appleby who was termed "the
governor" for his leadership in the community.
Craig Hobbs was the last station agent to serve at Stittsville, holding
the position from 1962 to 1968. After that, the station was closed, the
land sold, and the building was removed in 1969.
There were extensive tracking systems for the railway at both the
Stittsville and Ashton stations. The station at Ashton was on the south
side of the track, just west of the Goulbourn/Beckwith town line road.
Indeed, the station platform extended to within a few feet of the
There were switches and a siding at the Ashton station as well as stock
yards used by local farmers for when they shipped their cattle to
market. In the early 1900's, horses were frequently housed in these
stock yards as farmers shipped them out west.
The Ashton station at harvest time also witnessed lineups of farmers
with their teams of horses and wagons full of grain, waiting to deposit
their loads in waiting freight cars.
The Ashton station handled both passenger and freight traffic and was
as telegraph office as well.
The train was a vehicle for travel, not only by individuals and by
students attending high school in Carleton Place, but also for groups
such as Loyal Orange Lodge members travelling to special events. In
1872, for instance, just two years after the rail line was opened,
members of the Stapleton Orange Lodge No. 471 west of Richmond
travelled to the Ashton station in order to catch the train into Ottawa
for a 12th of July celebration.
The 1981 book "Remembering Our Railway" by the late Grace Thompson of
Stittsville, which outlines the history of the railroad in Stittsville
and also Ashton, features a cover photo of the 1950 Ashton train wreck
as published in the former Ottawa Journal on 20 Mar 1950. This book,
which can be found in the reference section at the Stittsville branch
of the Ottawa Public Library, remains the most authoritative published
account not only of Stittsville's railway history but also this tragic
train crash at the Ashton station on 18 Mar 1950.