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1892 - Bluffton's worst railroad accident

This story includes the complete Bluffton News version

and several photographs of the accident

Imagine an out-of-control and fast-moving freight train colliding into the rear

of a mixed passenger and freight train stopped at a station.


That scene describes Bluffton’s most horrific railroad accident and it happened here 130 years ago, in 1892.

The accident killed one person, and causing damages in today’s money amounting to nearly $800,000, it almost forced the railroad out of business.

One Bluffton resident, Andrew Klay, took photos of the accident, which are part of this story.

Another, I.N. Heminger, editor of the Bluffton News, wrote a detailed account of the accident. His story is the earliest article in the newspaper to provide specific on-the-spot details of any event in the history of this community.

The complete story follows.

Note: Initials P.A.& W. stand for Pittsburgh, Akron and Western Railroad. This line eventually became the now-abandoned Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railroad, which passed through Bluffton, just north of the Buckeye, from Delphos to Pandora toward Jenera and on to Akron. The depot mentioned is an earlier structure, and not the building standing today near Main Street.

Initials L. E.& W. stands for Lake Erie and Western Railroad. This line eventually became the Norfolk Southern Railroad, which exists today, passing through Bluffton from Lima to Findlay.

Story published in the Bluffton News (Ohio) Saturday, Oct. 8, 1892.


The P.A. & W. experience

A Disastrous Freight Wreck.

Section One of Local No. 17

Telescoped by Section Two


Full Details of the Affair – The Engineer’s Story

Interesting Notes

Railroad wrecks have come to be an almost everyday occurrence, yet we always expect them to happen in some remote part of the country and no one is ever on the lookout for a wreck at home.

However, on Saturday evening, at about 6:15, standard time, the citizens of Bluffton given an opportunity to witnessing the awful destruction incident to the collision of two trains within the corporate limits of their own village.

At the hour named section two of local freight No. 17 crashed into the rear end of section one of the same train, which was standing on the main track, with the rear end just two car lengths east of the depot, or opposite the water tank.

Section one had pulled in several minutes previous and being very long, had cut in two at the Main street crossing to allow teams to pass.

Agent Hesser had climbed into a box car used as a caboose, and was handling out some freight to Conductor Gorry, when he heard a train whistle and thinking it was a stock train on the L.E. & W. which was to take a load of stock off the transfer for him, inquired of the conductor regarding it.

The conductor looked up and the sight of engine 23 pulling section two and bearing down upon his train at a high rate of speed, met his eyes. He grasped his lantern and ran toward the oncoming train signaling it to stop, but as was afterwards learned, the engineer was unable to control it and on it came.

At the first word of warning agent Hesser leaped to the platform, which he no sooner struck than engine 23 crashed into the rear end of the passenger coach.


The force of the collision was such that the passenger coach was driven entirely through the box car immediately in front and partly through the next one. The other cars in section one were driven forward and the gap at Main street was closed with such force that two flat cars loaded with stone were almost demolished and the engine pushed several hundred feet forward, although uninjured.

The engine of section two came to a stand-still about one hundred and fifty feet from the point of contact, with its nose hard against the rear end of the passenger coach, but still on the track.

The first car back of the engine and tender was a stock car containing 66 hogs, 44 sheep and 2 calves. The momentum of the 16 loads and empties, of which the train was composed, back of this were so great that when the collision occurred, the rear end of the tender was elevated and it shot back over the floor of the stock car, or rather the floor of the stock car shot under the tender and the tender being low and narrow, it was completely enveloped by the stock car, which rested with its forward end against the engine cab.

A box car loaded with lumber following the stock car, was derailed opposite the depot and landed on the platform, crushing it down and knocking the depot off its foundation, moving it about four feet.

Following the box car was a flat car loaded with Berea stone. The forward end of this was derailed and the trucks torn from under it. The westside of the track was torn up for two rail lengths.

The crew of section two consisted of Engineer D.B. Morey, Fireman Jackson, Conductor Hudley and Brakeman Fred Rollinson. The fireman jumped just before the collision, but the engineer remained in the cab until the engine struck.

When all was over, he found himself back on the tender covered with debris, but unhurt. He wrenched himself loose and called for help to extricate Brakeman Rollinson, who, when the collision occurred was either sitting on the rear end of the tender or forward end of the stock car.

When found he was badly mangled about the hips and groins, having been caught between the tender and the roof of the stock car. A hole was cut in the roof and the unfortunate boy lifted out and carried to the American house as tenderly as possible.

Medical aid was summoned, but the injuries were of such a nature that any attempt at an operation would have been folly, and the physicians only allayed the pain by the administration of opiates. He died at 9 o’clock.


Rollinson was only sixteen years of age, although when employed he claimed to be 21. He was returning from his third round trip when the fatal accident overtook him.

From the post mortem statement was in learned that he had gone to the road against the desire of his mother who lives at Delphos. His father met his death in a similar manner fourteen years ago.

The engineer’s story

Engineer Morey, in relating the story to a News representative, stated that he whistled for down brakes and cut off steam at the usual place east of the L.E. & W. crossing and that under ordinary circumstances his train would have stopped at the crossing.

But having only one brakeman on a train of twenty-four cars and a slippery track down a heavy grade, he soon discovered that his train was increasing in speed instead of decreasing. He applied the emergency brake and reversed his engine but the heavy train crowded down upon him with an ever accelerating speed.

It was an accident he would be unable to stop for the crossing and he began to realize that a collision with section one, which he knew was ahead of him was unavoidable. He remained at his post, doing all in his power to stop his train, but all to no avail. Mr. Morey says he has been a locomotive engineer for fifteen years, and in all that time says he has never injured a man until this time.

The cause

The direct cause of the wreck was the failure of Engineer Morey to stop his train at the crossing, but in view of circumstances as related above the matter of placing the blame is a difficult one and only a thorough investigation by the acting coroner will suffice to determine upon whom it rests, if upon anyone. The coroner has not yet concluded his investigation owning to a number of the witnesses having gone away and have not yet returned.


The loss will amount to $25,000 or more, which the company can ill afford to lose.

Agent Hesser had a narrow escape but his fleetness of foot carried him beyond hanger.

The wreck was visited Sunday by hundreds of people from the country and neighboring towns.

It is impossible to realize the force with which two trains comes together until one sees the effect.

Fifteen hogs were killed and a few others injured. The sheep were uninjured, as were also the calves.

Master Mechanic Marshall, of Delphos, was running the engine of section one, the regular engineer being sick.

Nearly every visitor carried away a piece of the debris and the railroad men had hard work keeping them from carrying away the engine.

The brakeman on section one was on his first trip, and resigned without ceremony, taking then next train home at the east end of the route.

Persons desiring photographs of the wreck can get them of A. Klay for twenty-five cents. You can get your choice of the different views. Over 200 already sold.

The remains of Fred Rollinson, the deceased brakeman, were taken to his home in Delphos Sunday afternoon on a special train, his step-father and brother having come up this morning.

A son of Commodore Miller was driving across the track just as the two trains stuck. The team started to run and boy was unable to check them until they reached the Dray farm. No damage done.

Two stock dealers, from Jenera, shippers of the wrecked hogs, came over Sunday dressed in their Sunday clothes and the people mistook them for the managers of the road and followed them all over the commons in their search for their stock. It was amusing to say the least.

Engineer Moray desired us to extend the gratitude of the train crews for the aid and sympathy rendered them, and for so kindly caring for their injured brakeman. He says he was never in a town where the people did so much for a crew similarly situated.

Conductor Gorry, of section one, skipped out immediately after the accident and was not heard of until he appeared at James Lee’s, east of town and got his breakfast.

He stated that he was afraid the engineer of the second section would kill him if he caught him.

He had slept in a straw stack all night and he was going to Ada and from there home.


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