1875 Runaway Train Collision

From Carsonpedia

On January 16, 1875, a collision occurred between a train pulled by the V&T Engines Comstock and Humboldt, and three runaway freight cars that had escaped from a train in Gold Hill. The three cars rolled backwards past Scales and American Flat, and nobody was able to warn the oncoming train. No lives were lost, but the two engines were badly damaged.

News Report

This report of the crash is from the Territorial Enterprise, January 17, 1875.

A Railroad Collision.

Two Locomotives and Two or Three Cars Smashed - Several Narrow Escapes, but No Lives Lost.

A terrific railroad collision occurred on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad last evening about 6:30 o'clock, at a point about a mile below the American Flat scales. Of J. R. Myers, the well-known newspaper carrier, who visited the wreck, we have the following particulars in regard to the accident: A train, drawn by the locomotive Virginia, was coming up from Carson about the hour named, and had reached a point near the Baltic switch, a short distance below Gold Hill, when a coupling pin broke, allowing the three rear cars to run back on the down grade. The hindmost of the cars that broke loose was a box car loaded with pig iron, the next was a box car loaded with apples, and the third was a flat car loaded with coal. When the train broke in two there were two brakemen on the three rear cars. One of these at once jumped off and ran down the road toward a switch, in the hope of being able to reach and turn it, when the three cars would have been run off on a side-track and capsized. Owing to the depth of the snow the cars passed him before he reached the switch, and


With the solitary brakeman aboard, vainly trying to stop them. Finding that he could do nothing with the brakes, owing to their iciness, and being alarmed at the speed he was beginning to attain, this last man left the flying cars. He looked ahead for a big snow drift, made a plunge for it and landed unhurt. The conductor of the front part of the train cracked on all steam and dashed to Gold Hill, where he telegraphed to the man at the station at the scales to turn on the switch and thus turn the runaway cars off the road. He was anxious to have this done as he knew that another train was coming, a collision with which was unavoidable if the runaway cars were not turned from the main track. He could get no answer from the scales, therefore all know that the collision must come and the worst was feared by every one who understood the situation.


Consisted of nine cars, including one passenger car, and left Carson City at 4 o'clock in the evening. The train was drawn by two locomotives, the Comstock and the Humboldt - the first named engine being in the lead. In the passenger car were quite a number of passengers and several members of the Legislature, who were on their way to this city. Mr. Gifford, engineer of the Comstock, saw the runaway cars approaching when they were yet about twenty rods distant. The runaway cars were all the more readily seen as the read one - now that in front - carried a red light. Mr. Gifford says the cars must have been approaching at the rate of sixty miles per hour. He at once comprehended the situation, shut off all steam, and whistled "down brakes!" The order was instantly obeyed, and at the same instant he cried out for all to


No one stopped to ask any questions. Firemen, brakesmen, engineers, all at once leaped from the train, and almost at the same instant the collision occurred. The car loaded with pig-iron went through its whole length and shattered the tender. So great was the force of the collision that some of the timbers forming the framework of the box car were driven clear through the boiler, following the track of the pig-iron. The smoke-stack of this engine was thrown down the hill to a distance of 100 feet from the track. The engine is so completely knocked to pieces, in its frame and all else, that it will take six months to repair it, if it can be repaired at all. The Humboldt was also pretty badly knocked to pieces, but was not made so near a total wreck as was the Comstock. Its smoke-stack was thrown some distance up hill from the track, and its dome, bell and all similar projecting parts completely swept away. The tender between the two locomotives was completely crushed to pieces and thrown out against the bank on the upper side of the track.


Was heard at Gold Hill, about two miles distant, by those who were on the lookout for it. The pig-iron car was knocked into kindling-wood, and the box car, loaded with apples, was also badly wrecked, but the flat car, loaded with coal, was uninjured. The cars of the up train were uninjured and the jar of the collision was not much felt by those in the passenger car. The two locomotives, badly as they were knocked to pieces, were not thrown from the track. After the collision some frightened passenger threw the brake off the passenger car, and it and a few other cars, being uncoupled by the crash, started on the downgrade for Carson Valley. Some of those on board knew that this would never do, and all the brakesmen having jumped from the train at the moment of the collision, several passengers got upon the cars and succeeded in "setting the brakes up," when the train was stopped some distance below the scene of the wreck.


Was next in order, and soon the Washoe was sent down from this place with a strong force of men, while a train drawn by two locomotives came up from Carson. Soon over fifty men were at work cleaning the track. The passengers by the 9 o'clock train from this city were transferred to the train that came up from Carson, and went on to Reno with but little delay. The track was not torn up or damaged, and by daylight this morning it was said that all would again be clear. Railroad men say this was the most terrific smash-up that has occurred on the road.