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.
Ottawa Citizen 1 April 1941
Three dead, six injured.
Fast moving freight jumps tracks, plows into passenger train
Inkerrman, 40 Miles South ot Ottawa, Scene of Worst Kailway Disaster in District in Years. Two Smiths Falls Railwaymen and South Mountain Section Foreman Killed While Six Other Men Injured. Freight Cars Filed High in Mass of Wreckage. Some War Materials Carried in Cars Are Damaged.
Three railwaymen were killed and six other men injured early last night in a spectacular collision between a freight train and a passenger train on the C.P.R. line at Inkcrman, Ont., 40 miles south of Ottawa. It was the worst railway disaster to occur In the district in many years.
Engine Bowled Over.
Widespread destruction was caused when the fast-travelling C.P.R. freight train jumped the tracks and crashed into the passenger train engine knocking it over on its side right into the Inkerman station doorway. Upwards of 20 freight cars left the tracks and piled up in a huge mass of wreckage, thirty feet high at places. Some war materials were included in the articles earned in the freight cars and were badly damaged.
The Dead are:
F. Plate. engineer, Smiths Falls
W. Plunkett. fireman, Smiths Falls.
W. Maxwell, section foreman, South Mountain.
E. Tennett. station agent, Inkerman. a patient in the Civic Hospital, suffering from painful burns; H. Guppy, conductor on the passenger train. Smiths Falls, head injuries; H. Slack, mail clerk, Smiths Falls two broken ribs; Asa Hants, section hand and mailman. Inkerman. injured back; C. Riley, trainman on the passenger train. Perth, head injuries; D. MacDonald, transient, Montreal, head and left leg injuries.
Crushed to Death.
Two members of the passenger train crew. Engineer Fred Plate and Fireman Wallace Plunkett were crushed and scalded to death In their engine cabin.
William Maxwell of South Mountain. C.P.R section foreman, who was in the Inkerman station when the engine turned over on its side in the station doorway, died at 1.15 am. today in the Civic Hospital. He was badly scalded by steam escaping from the engine.
Civic Hospital authorities said that the condition of Edward Pennett, Inkerman station agent, who was in the station with Mr. Maxwell. as serious, but not critical. He suffered severe scalds to his face and hands, and was cut about the right arm,
The freight train was an extra travelling from Smiths Falls to Montreal while the passenger train, known as the Perth local, was on its way from Montreal to Perth and Smiths Falls. There were about 25 persons on the passenger train, most of them from the Perth and Smiths Falls district. The passengers suffered from the terrific shock but escaped uninjured.
Broken Axle Blamed.
A broken axle is believed to have been responsible for the accident. Railway officials announced that full investigation will be conducted immediately to determine the cause of the derailment. The bodies of the two dead railwaymen were extricated from the wreckage and taken to the Lorne Atmstrong funeral home at South Mountain where Dr. T. A. Hamilton of Brinston. district coroner, opened an inquest today.
Making Scheduled Stop.
The passenger train was about to make its scheduled stop at the Inkerman station at 7.30 p.m., D.S.T.. and was pulling slowly into the station when it was struck by the speeding freight train. About half of the freight train of 66 cars had already passed the station when a journal broke on one of the cars. The freight car broke loose from the front part of the train and jumped the tracks into the westbound passenger train.
The engine of the passenger train, which was directly opposite the station at the time, received the full force of the blow. It was turned over on its side, the smoke stack poking through the main statian door. Dense clouds of steam from the engine boiler as it burst filled the station and enveloped the station master and section foreman who were both inside. They were able to make an exit through a window at the rear. Thry suffered painful burns and were later taken to the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
Smashed Like Matchwood.
Hurtling freight cars telescoped into the car which left the track and piled into a huge heap ot wreckage 30 fert high. Some of the box cars splintered like matchwood while others were thrown against the station, freight sheds and storehouses. Most of the cars piled up into the storehouses on the south side of track, opposite the station, and twelve tons of grain which was stored in the granary was scattered in all directions.
Tracks Torn 300 Feet.
Railway tracks were torn over 300 feet and in several instances the massive train wheels were twisted by the force of the impact. It will be at least another day before the right-of-way is cleared and the track replaced. Meanwhile, passenger trains from Montreal to Smiths Falls will be routed via Ottawa and Bedell, it was announced last night.
Auxiliary trains were ordered from Montreal and Smiths Falls and Superintendent W. C. Beck, Smiths Falls, was in charge of the wrecking crew.
Only the engine and tender of the passenger train left the track but the baggage car was partly demolished. A relief engine was sent to the scene and the undamaged passenger cars were taken to Winchester. The passengers were later taken by automobile to Mountain and continued their journey on a relief train.
The crew of the passenger train. No. 29, en route from Montreal to Perth, was: Engineer F. Plato, Smiths Falls; fireman. W. Plunkett. Smiths Falls: conductor, H. Guppy. Smiths Falls: baggageman, T. Gorman. Perth: trainman. C. Riley, Perth; express messenger, F. O. Forrester. Perth; mail clerk, H. Slack. Smiths Falls.
The eastbound freight train, which was an extra, No. 2804, from Smiths Falls to Montreal, had as engineer, R. Allport: fireman, H. Code; conductor. E. Crate; trainman. H. Merkley. and in charge of the freight. S. Shook. All are of Smiths Falls. There were 66 freight cars in the train.
Dr. C. J. Locke, of Winchester, was on the scene shortly after the crash and assisted in giving first aid to the injured.
Heard the Crash.
Donald Burleigh, employed at the Suffel farm, which is situated about 200 yards from the spot where the accident occurred, heard the crash.
"It must have been about 7.30 (D.S.T.)." Mr. Burleigh told The Citizen. "There was a terrific crash. I rushed over to the station, but all I could see for a minute was dense clouds of steam and dust. As I got closer I saw that the engine of the local (the passenger train) had fallen on its side into the station.
"Ed Pennett. the station caretaker, and Bill Maxwell, section boss, climbed from the back window of the station. They were pretty badly burned from the steam which filled the station, but were able to get out unaided. Wood from the smashed cars was all over the place. It sure was a mess."
Thrown to Ground.
The mail clerk, H. Slack, was standing in the open door of the mail car on the passenger train which had almost come to a stop. The force of the impact threw him to the ground, where he was showered with debris. He was taken to the home of C. Van Allen at Inkerman and treated by Dr. J. Logan, Smiths Falls. C.P.R. doctor, where it was found that he was suffering from two broken ribs.
A Montreal salesman, H. Covens, who was at Mountain when he heard of the crash, drove the postmaster, Mr. Van Allen, to the scene. They removed the mail from the baggage car and took it to Mountain station. Mr. Covens also drove Mr. Slack to Inkerman.
The front part of the freight train which continued on down the track after the latter part of the train broke away, was able to proceed on its way with the cars that did not leave the track. Crew members who were on the caboose at the rear of the train had a narrow escape. Although their car did not jump the track along with the other freight cars ahead, they were thrown about the inside of the caboose like dolls as the cars ahead rolled oft the track, telescoped and splintered.
The foremost part of the freight train was brought to a halt by automatic brakes after the latter part broke away.
Among the Injured.
Three members of the crew of the passenger train were slightly injured. Conductor H. Guppy o! Smiths Falls, was thrown against a seat, and suffered head injuries. Trainman C. Riley, of Perth, who was standing on the steps of one of the coaches ready to descend to the station platform when the train came to a halt, had a remarkable escape from serious injury. He was thrown violently to the platform and escaped with enly a bruise on his left eye. H. Slack, also of Smiths Falls, a mail clerk, suffered two broken ribs when he was catapulted out of the baggage car door, landing on some of the mall sacks, which partially broke his fail. Some of the debris, however, showered down upon him.
Asa Hanes, mail man and section man of Inkerman, suffered a painfully bruised back when stones struck him as they were thrown from beneath the grinding wheels, of the derailed freight train. Hanes was walking along the station platform when the crash took place and, warned by the flying stones as they hit his back, he ran from danger and escaped further injury.
One of the most fortunate men on the passenger train was 50-year-old Dan A. MacDonald, Montreal transient, who boarded the passenger train tender at Chesterville about 10 miles east of Inkerman station.
He was sitting on the tender when it was slammed by the rocketing freight cars. The tender rolled over on its side, and MacDonald was able to climb to safety over a shed near the station as the spurting steam shot out of the passenger engine boiler. He escaped with head bruises and a possible fracture of the left leg.
Civic Hospital authorities stated this morning that the late Mr. Maxwell suffered severe scalds from the steam which enveloped him and Mr. Pennett in the railway station. Pennett, in addition to scalding, also suffered cuts to his arms. His condition is not considered critical.
George SufTel, Inkerman farmer who, with his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Suffel. and sisters, was milking in the barn just outside their farm home near the railroad station, said he saw the first part of the freight train pass the barn door, and then he noticed sparks flying from the rails.
"Immediately after, the freight cars began to pile up, one on top of the other, and they telescoped to a height of 30 feet after striking the passenger engine. Other cars struck our store houses in which were housed 12 tons of grain, end the passenger engine was forced off the tracks into the station.
"Dad and I and the hired man ran for the station and assisted Stationmaster Pennett and Section Foreman Maxwell, who were by then climbing out of windows. Pennett told me he was sitting at his desk going over the books when the engine struck the building.
"We. helped Mr. Pennett and Mr. Maxwell to the house, and then took the former to Dr. II. S. Gross and the latter to Dr. J. J. McKendry at Winchester for medical attention."
Mr. Suffel stated the passenger train was just pulling into the station to stop and unload milk cans and mail, when one of the cars about half-way along the freight train jumped the tracks near the crossing and the cars behind began to telescope on both the north and south tracks.
"One of the freight cars struck the passenger engine, while the front part of the freight train carried on down the track before being brought to a halt , by its automatic brakes."
Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Suffel did not see the actual crash between the two trains but saw the freight cars piling on top of each other.
R. A. Suffel stated it was one of the worst train accidents he had ever witnessed. He and his family did splendid work in aiding the quick transportation . of Mr. Pennett and Mr. Maxwell to doctors, and also did a Herculean effort on behalf of the passengers, who congregated in their home for a short time before being taken to Mountain by taxi, where a relief train carried them on to Smiths Falls.
Transient's Close Call.
Others who found warmth and comfort in the Suffel farm home after the crash was Dan A. MacDonald, 50-year-old transient of Montreal, who had a miraculous escape from death. MacDonald was riding on the tender of the passenger train just behind the engine in which Trainmen Plate and Plunkett lost their lives.
In an interview with The Citizen, MacDonald, who received bruises to the head, and a possible fracture of the left leg. stated he boarded tin tender at Chesterville which is about 10 miles from the Inkerman station, and was trying to get to Smiths Falls, where he hoped to get a job with the Hydro-Electric,
"I was sitting on the tender when it suddenly slammed up beside the freight train. It began to fall toward the station, and I heard the roar of stcam from the passenger train boilers a short distance ahead. I was afraid of being scalded, and I was able to pull myself with some difficulty onto the top part of the tender as it lay on its side.
"As I climbed to safety over the shed near the station, I heard the boiler of the engine blowing something awful."
Asked by The Citizen if he had noticed the engineer or the fireman of the passenger train as he scrambled to safety, MacDonald said that he did not. He said he felt lucky to be alive after such a terrible impact.
MacDonald declared he was only in Chesterville for two hours before he boarded the train, and that he had spent the week-end in Oxford Mills with some friends. He received medical attention from doctors who were on the scene, and later was taken to Winchester, where he is being kept under observation.