The Thurso and Nation Valley Railway had generally managed to stay out
of the limelight. The exception was on October 14, 1958 when the
Ottawa Journal carried the following headline:
33 LUMBERMEN HURT
TRAIN JUMPS TRACK
BEAVER DAM COLLAPSE RIPS CULVERT
By the 5 o'clock edition this had been replaced by other news but the newspaper account is worth relating in full.
Duhamel: A one car passenger train jammed with 85 holidaying woodsmen hurled 15 feet off a crumbling embankment Monday, that gave way under the force of what was described as "a beaver-built rush of water".
Thirty-three passengers, all employes (sic) of the Singer Manufacturing Company Limited, were injured. Twenty-one were taken to hospital at Buckingham, two of them in critical condition.
The crash occurred 12 miles north of this company town on Singer's twisting rickety private railroad line at 7.30 a.m. Duhamel is 37 miles northeast of Thurso and 50 miles northeast of Ottawa. (the word "rickety" had been deleted in later editions)
The train was bound from Thurso to logging camps in the Singer limits. Some of the men had boarded at Thurso, and others at Chêneville, Ripon and other stops along the way.
Officials said that if the wreck had occurred on any other day than Thanksgiving many of the 85 passengers on board would have been killed. On nearly all runs several flat cars - used for the transportation of logs trail the passenger car. But, because yesterday was a holiday, members of the company rail line - the Thurso and Nation Valley Railway - were not working, only the lumberjacks. Consequently, the flatcars were not transported into the woods.
Beaver Dam Collapsed
Rounding one of the countless tight curves of the line, engineer Albert Desgagnes, 54, saw that a sand embankment crossing a 50 foot wide gully had been undermined by a great rush of water coming down from the nearby hills. A beaver dam had given way and turned a small lake loose.
The resultant wave, described by Singer officials as high as "six feet", had ripped out a small culvert in an embankment shouldering an abandoned spur line, and hammered through the main line embankment.
Engineer Desgagnes slammed on the brakes but it was too late. The 44 ton diesel engine, toppled into the bog below and ran halfway up the other side of the gulley.
The passenger car telescoped through the top right hand side of the cab of the locomotive, hurtling the 85 passengers and a pot bellied stove into the front corner, a shouting struggling mass of humanity.
Desgagnes managed to crawl out of the cab, his face streaming with blood, but otherwise unhurt. Two other men in the cab were less fortunate.
Pierre Blais, 55, a camp foreman, struggled out of the right hand window of the cab as the engine was plummeting, only to be struck on the "catwalk" by the telescoping passenger car. He had not been X-rayed at St.Michael's Hospital in Buckingham this morning, but was conscious and said to be out of danger.
Jean-Louis Faubert, 38, a crane operator tried to follow Blais out of the window but was too late. He was trapped in the crushed cab but was also "out of danger" in hospital this morning.
Bedlam set in.
In the passenger car there was bedlam. "We were all sitting on long benches one second", said Leonard Dion, a scaler, "Then we were flying all over the place".
"I landed in the corner of the car...there were about five guys on top of me and when I came to in five seconds or so, everybody was shouting.
"The ones who could run were tearing up to the back of the car over everybody and I was running over a few guys in the corner too".
When the healthy ones got outside to safety, they regrouped, then went back inside to carry out the dazed and injured who couldn't move.
Engine catches fire.
Then the locomotive caught fire. Faubert, who was hopelessly trapped in the cab, was crying for assistance as the flames crackled closer and closer to him.
Lumberjacks, finding several buckets in the passenger car formed a bucket brigade. They doused the fire before it reached Faubert.
With the injured lying all over the ground, 12 miles in the wilderness, help had to be found in a hurry.
Desgagnes ran up the track two miles
Quick rescue action
Jobin, a former sailor and veteran of the Murmansk runs, jumped out of bed and swung into action. In the next twenty minutes he had rounded up two doctors, two priests, two nurses (one of them Jeanette, his pretty bride of three months), stretchers, first aid equipment and two bottles of liquor. He also phoned for five ambulances from Montebello and Thurso.
Now all he needed was an engineer to man the company's other diesel engine to the scene. He found his man - a CPR engineer who was hunting near Duhamel. The engineer who came through with flying colours, departed after his mission was accomplished, in anonymity.
Jobin and his rescue crew reached the scene and converted a small dilapidated shanty nearby into a first aid station.
Theo Fournier, 38, of Duhamel, who was writhing on the ground with a broken leg, face lacerations and internal injuries, told the doctors:
"Never mind me", he told them. "Go and help the boys who need it more."
Woodsmen using crowbars finally succeeded in wrenching Jean-Louis Faubert free from the twisted cab, one hour after the wreck.
Two railroad motor cars called "Kalamazoos" made relays from the scene with the injured to Duhamel, where they were whisked away by waiting ambulances.
Injured had to wait.
By noontime all the seriously injured were in the hospital.
The physicians who treated the injured at the scene were Dr. J. Bourgeault, district coroner and Dr. H. Chagnon. The three doctors who cared for the victims in St. Michael's Hospital were Drs. Jacques Joubert, P.E. Belisle and Gerard Rochon, all three of whom worked tirelessly to attend everybody.
The priests who administered the last rites of the church to the most seriously injured were Fathers Clement Marcial of Duhamel and Jacques Bélanger of Chêneville.
Beaver - Enemy of woodsmen
In the wake of yesterday's train wreck 12 miles north of here, lumberjacks, scalers, cooks and clerks were unanimous in one contention.
The beaver is the most dangerous adversary in the woods.
It was the work of these industrious creatures that caused a tidal wave, a soft embankment, that resulted in the wreck that injured 33 passengers on yesterday's return trip to the lumber camps north of here.
In addition, Singer Manufacturing Company officials believe that damages might be as high as $100,000. The 44 ton diesel engine was wrecked and the passenger car was badly damaged.
Company officials fear that an embankment two miles north of yesterday's crash site will suffer the same fate soon.
The beavers' engineering ingenuity near the next potential washout site has resulted in two three-mile long lakes being merged into one six-mile long lake who's level is rising steadily.
"One of these days" said a lumber jack in yesterday's wreck, "the beavers will lose their damming race with the rising water level. There'll be another tidal wave and heaven forbid perhaps another wreck."
With the beaver menace teaming with heavy seasonal rains and soft terrain, the thirty year old company railroad has been hit in the past with periodic derailments, washouts and other hazards. But nothing in the past was as serious as yesterday's mishap.
What's to be done about the beaver, the number one headache?
"The only solution appears to lie in shooting them" a veteran lumberjack stated.
But Québec law forbids shooting them.
"We do our best by trapping as many as we can."
The 52 mile railroad that stretches from Thurso into the near-impassable wilderness 20 miles north of Duhamel, will be severed 8 miles from its northern terminus for probably a week, Singer officials said.
Job for Welders.
Welders will have to carve up the demolished engine and huge cranes will have to work near the collapsible sides of the gully, to pick up the pieces. Skeleton crews are still operating in the four lumber camps where yesterday's passenger train was headed at the time of the wreck.
Only fifteen continued on to their destination, afoot. They were the ones who escaped with the slightest of bruises.
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