Summary of last week’s article:
CNR engine 6058, the eastbound daily ‘Number 2’ scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, 1942 had been delayed by repairs to a bridge near Mile 34.
Over 24 hours late, at last the way was clear on Thursday afternoon.
The Thursday passenger train, CNR engine 5123, a second ‘Number 2,’ followed the first ‘Number 2’ with a 20 minute interval between them.
Fresh recruits for Canada’s armed forces filled the Thursday ‘Number 2.’
Engine 6058 required more water for the boiler after such a long delay and stopped at the Avola Station water tower at Mile 24.8.
Brakeman Kelly stepped off the rear-end to routinely walk back along the gently curved tracks with red flags to ‘protect the train.’
Unexpectedly, one long blast was heard signalling the approach of a train just passing the one-mile board before the station! Kelly started to run, waving frantically.
But the flags were only 10-15 car lengths down the track when the second ‘Number 2’ passed Kelly.
Engineer McKenzie saw the flags, shut off the steam valves, set the brakes and, realizing the collision was inevitable, jumped off.
By Eleanor Deckert
A re-enactment –
Thursday, May 28, 1942, 3:52 p.m. continues
Powerless, Kelly watched the 5123, unable to stop, and heard the horrific crash as it happened.
Looking up, Superintendent Gough saw the oncoming train looming rapidly closer. He jumped clear.
Hearing the approaching thunder, the superintendent’s four companions in the observation car dove out of the windows just before the impact. Three were scraped and shaken, one, Gordon McKenzie, killed.
The noises were deafening. Royce, a half mile away, started to run towards the commotion. Up in the Craigs’ garden, the earth shook. The engine crashed into the steel-framed, passenger car ahead. Glass shattered. Steam screamed out of every tiny crack, high pitched, shrieking.
Confusion rattled the first train as each car rammed from behind passed the energy along to the next car forward. Spilling, jostling, tumbling, each person off balance was thrown forward to a sudden stop.
Destruction ruined the second train as the un-manned engine smashed into the observation car. The fire, the soot, the steam, the weight of the metal and water rushed out as the unstoppable force met the immovable object. The momentum broke the couplings and the tender car flipped onto its side and lay to the left in the ditch. The mail and baggage car, attended by the express messenger W.H. Stout, was shattered as it slammed up against the massive engine.
After the smoke cleared away, Superintendent Gough began looking for the engine crew, fearing the worst. Mr. Stout, crawled out of the wreckage, badly burned. Engineer McKenzie sat to the side, head in hands. The fireman was later found crushed beneath the toppled tender car.
Evening, Midnight, Morning
Telegraph messages to Kamloops sent a train to remove the wounded.
The Avola storekeeper and volunteers set up block and lumber benches and tables and somehow fed the passengers. Ten year old Evelyle Craig helped.
Royce Gibson and his buddies, astonished at the wreckage, discovered fluffy baby chicks set loose when the mail car broke open and also strawberries spilled along the track-side.
CFJC radio announced the accident and called for blood donors to report to the hospital in anticipation of the needs of the injured. Within three hours 63 volunteers had banked enough blood.
Ambulances, including a brand new city ambulance and the one used by the Tranquille sanatorium were summoned to meet the 2:30 a.m. arrival of the train returning to the city with the seriously injured. The hospital prepared 40 beds and 35 patients were admitted. Four days after climbing out of the wreckage, badly scalded by the steam, Mr. Stout, the Express Messenger who had been on-duty in the mail car immediately behind the engine and tender of the second train, succumbed to his injuries. His wife and two sons came to take his remains back to Vancouver.
Reports and Restoration
The June 4, 1942 issue of the Kamloops Sentinel reported this event as the most serious train wreck in the area. Later issues said that the railway company conducted an enquiry. The coroner’s jury also made a report. CNR employees and eye witnesses were interviewed. Lists of the names of the dead and injured were also printed including the name of their home town.
Eventually, Number 5123 engine was restored and Royce Gibson and his buddies watched again as she steamed up the valley.
The tender of Number 6058 needed repairs, too. The forward impact of the accident had punched a hole in the water storage tank. Workmen had used their coats to plug the hole so that the unit could make it to Blue River after the accident.
Small Town – Big News
There is something especially upsetting about a train wreck. The overwhelmingly huge mass of metal, the combined forces of weight and movement are staggering to try to comprehend.
A welcome transportation link for the small town of Avola, the railroad had been in service through the valley for less than 30 years. Every able bodied person was enlisted that day in May to help care for the passengers who were stranded. The soldiers had unexpectedly experienced their first life-threatening event. The superintendent himself was part of the unfolding events. Surely no one who was present will ever forget their own role in the train wreck of Thursday, May 28, 1942.
Readers might enjoy the 30-minute documentary by the National Film Board of Canada, “Railroaders” made in 1958, which can be found on the internet.