1901 Herkimer, NY Train Wreck

Contributed by Steven Knight

[Note: This article was sent in by regular contributor Steven Knight in September 2001, and recently found on a disk.]

"Sandi Sodolski sent me this news article from the Little Falls Evening Times - 1901 and said it was all right with her if I submitted it to you. I met Sandi when she posted a query about the gravesite of her great grandparents, Johan & Annastasia Soldolski. They're buried in Calvary so I sent her a picture and she responded with this story.

The man in question, Walter Sodolski, is the son of Johan & Annastasia and Sandi's grandfather. The news article explains how her family got from NY to California. I asked her if we could post the article, since we don't want to embarrass any descendants and she said that we could since there are none left in the area that she knows of. She also supplied the additional information about the death of John Sodolski. I'm attaching the info just as she received it from Wayne Durand and have added her additional info about John at the bottom."

Steve Knight

Evening Times
Little Falls, New York
June 10, 1901



It occurred at Herkimer Early Yesterday Morning -- Express Train 31 Which Does Not Carry Passengers, Collided With an Engine and Caboose -- Miraculous Escape of Employees -- Branchtender is Missing, and It Is Feared That He Has Committed Suicide.

It has been many years since the Central railroad company has had such a wreck as that which occurred at Herkimer yesterday morning. A branchtender at that village threw a wrong switch and let an engine and caboose on track 2 directly in front of train 31, the special American express train. Damaged motive power and blocked traffic were the only damage.

At about 1:30 yesterday morning a train of 10 cars of Sipe's dog and pony show was brought to Herkimer from Utica by a train drawn by engine 543, which is used for switching purposes about the Utica yard. Some yardmen were in charge of the train. After the show car had been placed on a siding 543 coupled to the caboose and prepared to return to Utica. Orders were given to the branchtender, Walter Soldolski (Sodolski), to let the engine and caboose from track 4, the eastbound freight track, to track 3, the westbound freight track. Owing to the darkness, or thro absent mindedness, Soldolski also threw the spur leading from 3 to 2, and the tank wheels sprung the upper part of the switch so that 543 landed safely on track 2 instead of track 3. Just as it did so the express train came down thro Herkimer at a fast rate of speed. The train was due in Herkimer at 1:54, and as it was 13 minutes late Engineer John Trumley of Albany was sending 925's drivers as fast as 190 pounds of steam could make then revolve with ten cars behind them. As he rounded the freighthouse curve Mr. Trumley saw the lights of the caboose glaring in his face. As no green light was on the rear end he did not know his danger. The next second, however, he realized that an obstruction was on his track. He shut off steam, but had not the time to touch the air valve before the crash came. What followed can only be imagined, not described. The three men who composed the train crew which brought the train from Utica were about to board the caboose when the impact came. They were sent sprawling in all directions. One of them was knocked under a car standing on a side track about 20 feet away. Had they been in the caboose there is little doubt but that they would have been instantly killed, for the caboose was crushed like an eggshell, and would not have to do much chopping on what remains of it to make kindling wood. The caboose saved the locomotive and their occupants from greater harm that was inflicted. No. 543 was in charge of Engineer Joseph Wiggins. Neither he nor his fireman was hurt. Fireman George Thomas of Albany, who was on 925, was not injured. Engineer Trumley was somewhat bruised about the left side, and he thought at first that a rib was broken, but this proved not to be the case. Conductor Will Anderson and his trainmen and the messengers on train 31 were knocked down and did several flip flaps, but aside from a few bruises were uninjured. Conductor Anderson and his trainmen came down with train 74 last night. The derailed locomotives ripped up the tracks for about 25 feet, and the Utica workgang under Jerry Murray, division supervisor of track, had to work on track 3, consequently both tracks 2 and 3 were blocked about 10 hours. Two of the cars on train 31 were so badly damaged that they could not be run. They were left at Herkimer. A freight train drew the remaining 8 cars to this city (Little Falls), and the engine drawing the Little Falls accommodation took them to Syracuse. A special train which left Albany at 4:30 brought to the scene of the wreck Assistant Superintendent Fripp and Trainmaster Spice of the railroad and Supr. VanValkenburg of the express company. None of the merchandise in the cars was injured.

After the collision Branchtender Soldolski ran down the track toward the depot. One of the crossing tenders asked him if any one was killed in the wreck. "Oh, my God, lots of them," was the frantic utterance of the half crazed man. He then continued running and has not been seen in Herkimer. He evidently thought that his carelessness has been responsible for the death of a number of people and could not bear the thought of being jailed on a charge of manslaughter. Up to 4 o'clock this afternoon no clue to his whereabouts has been found. Every effort is being made by the people of Herkimer to get into communication with him so as to make him aware of the fact that his neglect resulted in no loss of life and that the only punishment, if punishment it be, for him is the loss of his job. He is a sensitive man and the fear is entertained that he has drowned himself in the West Canada creek. He is about 23 years of age, an Austrian, and unmarried. He has been employed by the company for some years. He was regarded as a thoroughly competent man.

Engineer Trumley was off his run at the time of the collision. His regular train is No. 29, the Pan-American express, but when he got to the Rensselaer roundhouse Saturday night he found his trailer afflicted with a hot driving box. As a result engine 2005 with Tommy Greenalch in the cab was sent out with Trumley's train and Trumley was given an extra engine, which happened to be 925. Fatalists will find in the circumstances of the wreck considerable in support of their theory.

"This is Sandi's additional info."

"I was going thru some of the items Ted Waterbury researched for and sent to me about 10 years ago when I was doing genealogy more intensively and came upon an article he had copied from microfilm about another of Johan's sons -- specifically John -- who was killed in a train collision when he was 26yo -- think it was in 1901 -- he was married, living in Utica, and working for the RR......... think the Sodolski's are jinxed where trains are concerned!?!"

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Created 2/15/04
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