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Train Wrecks

by Louise Pettus

At the turn of the century there was a 200-ft. long, 40 ft. high trestle over Fishing Creek in York County. On September 2, 1903, a mail and express train of the Southern Railway was crossing when suddenly, at the mid-point, the trestle snapped and the locomotive plunged downward. The cars fell on top of the locomotive. The noise, which sounded like a strong gust of wind, traveled for miles.

There were a large number of passengers on board, most of them from York, Chester and Lancaster. Seven were killed, including the engineer and the fireman.

Many were seriously wounded. Dr. T. A. Crawford of Rock Hill, the chief surgeon of the railroad, sent a special train to bring the wounded to Rock Hill Private Hospital. Glenn and Allison Livery Stable also sent a "hack" for the wounded.

Another famous wreck occurred on the L and C Railroad between Lancaster and Chester. Leroy Springs of Lancaster had bought the Lancaster and Chester Railroad, better know as the L and C, in 1896 for $25,000. Only 29 miles long, the railroad carried both freight and passengers.

In 1913 the narrow gauge railroad had 3 locomotives, 2 passenger cars, 2 combines, 19 boxcars, 6 flats and 2 coal cars. When there was enough demand for a special, the L and C would borrow a car or two from another railroad. That summer there was a big baseball game coming up with a Dillon nine and the railroad ran 3 coaches for the game -- the largest passenger load in the tiny railroad's history. Elliott White Springs, writing about it in the Springs Bulletin, once remarked that there were more passengers that day than normally rode the line in an entire year.

A couple of freight cars were placed in front of the passenger cars and the entourage headed for Chester. Just as the trains got to Hooper Creek, one of the freight trains leapt the track and plunged into the creek bottom. The passenger cars followed and piled one on top of another.

The Hooper Creek accident of the L and C resulted in five deaths and everyone else either wounded or badly shaken. It took two years to settle all the suits against Leroy Springs. Springs had to borrow money to keep the L and C in operation. He never ran another excursion train.

Three years after the Hooper Creek accident, the Catawba River went on a rampage in the Great Flood of 1916. Every railroad trestle on the Catawba River was washed out. The three span steel bridge that Leroy Springs had built in 1899 to replace a wooden one was washed away.

After trying a detour over the Southern's line, Springs managed to get a ferry in operation. The ferry carried on car at a time across the river. There were some steep hills on the way to Lancaster. The engineer had to split his load, take half of the cars up at a time. Old-timers remember that the process was so slow that if one was in the first set of cars to get up the hill then he could hunt quail or pick blackberries while waiting for the second set to arrive.

Elliott White Springs told about the time (he gave no date) that a tornado funnel passed directly over the L and C while it was moving. The funnel picked up the first boxcar behind the locomotive and deposited it on the right-of-way in an upright position, to the utter astonishment of the engineer. At the same time, the car behind the one that was removed by the tornado coasted forward and coupled with the locomotive. The rest of the crew didn't notice the dramatic even while concentrating on the storm itself. Later, a picture was taken of the boxcar which was still loaded with bales of cotton. The picture and story ran in newspapers across the United States.

When World War II was over, Elliott White Springs purchased a number of U.S. Army diesel locomotives that had seen wartime service in Italy. Springs boasted that the L and C was the first 100 percent diesel railroad in South Carolina.

In spite of wrecks, floods and tornados the L and C has survived, been very profitable, and is still just 29 miles long. Springs used to say that it might not be the nation's longest line but its tracks were just as wide as anybody else's.