Like today, there was actually more news reporting about things that went wrong than about the normal operations of the railroad.
Accidents Reports of cattle and horses killed by trains are quite common.
Fires A number of fires were started by sparks from railroad engines. In May 1897 such a fire in the dry grass near the Pemigewasset Bridge burned 14,000 feet of pine lumber that was stored there. In June 1895, the freight depot caught fire from a passing train, but the fire was soon put out. In December 1916, there was a fire in a box car opposite freight station. In November 1926, fire destroyed a coal shed and damaged a freight car on a nearby siding.
Collisions of Trains and Derailments
September 1886: The White Mountain passenger express ran into a freight train that was pulling off the main line onto a side track in Ashland. Surprisingly, no one was seriously hurt, but two freight cars were wrecked and one engine considerably damaged.
July 1912: The cars on a freight train jumped the track probably due to a broken wheel or journal about a mile north of the station. Eight freight cars were piled on top of each other, completely demolishing some of them.
July 1915: A freight train with two locomotives and 61 (or 65) cars was passing through the Ashland railyard between the freight station and the Squam River bridge when a brake beam broke and derailed 13 (or 15) of them. They crashed into cars on the sidings, plowed up the road bed, demolished the section house, pushed a coal shed off its foundation and over the bank, and wiped out the telephone and telegraph lines, leaving about 100 rods (1650 feet) of devastation with demolished cars, broken ties, and twisted rails, scattered freight, (including shoes, butter, leather belting, and miscellaneous merchandise) blocking the main line and the two sidings. One 60 foot long steel car ended up over the bank, standing almost vertically. Wreckers were dispatched and every available man put to work. The line was opened by the next morning. The wrecked cars thrown off the track were burned in place a week later. There was only one injury, to a telegraph operator Harry Smith, who was apparently walking along the track. According to the Ashland paper that week, he strained the ligaments of a leg jumping down a bank. But, by the time the story reached Bristol, the tale had grown much worse. Smith was reported in the Bristol paper as severely crushed between a car and a building with a broken leg and probable internal injuries. The Ashland paper reported the next week that Smith was back to work on crutches because of his injured ankle.
September 1917: Two gasoline motor cars collided head on south of the station. One rider, a civil engineer, was sent to the hospital with a concussion and an injured shoulder.
July 1923: A freight train partly derailed near the Pemigewasset railroad bridge. Two cars went off the tracks, one hitting the end of the bridge.
The steep paper mill spur seemed particularly prone to accidents.
July 1887: A freight train had gone down the paper mill spur, but somehow the switch at the main track was left open. The southbound express freight train came along and was switched down the paper mill track at almost full speed. The train crew tried to brake the train, but had to jump. The conductor Albert Mudgett hit the bank when he jumped and rolled back towards the track so that the train wheels hit his head, fracturing his skull. The conductor subsequently died of his injuries. The two engines and most of the cars were derailed. The man on the paper mill train in charge of the switch claimed that he had restored the switch to its proper position, but admitted that he did not lock it, which led to speculation that someone else had flipped the switch.
November 1904: The brakes failed on two coal cars coming down the paper mill spur. The cars ran over a bumper, that was supposed to stop such runaways, and through the coal shed, taking out one side of the building.
June 1911: A car coming down the incline at the paper mill got away from the brakeman, then hit and pushed a car loaded with sulphite into the mill pond. Collisions at Road Crossings
July 1920: A southbound passenger train collided with a road oiling truck at the crossing at the station. The train had blown its whistle, but the driver of the truck thought that it had been blown by a freight train waiting at station, so he did not stop. Both men in the truck were able to jump out safely. The truck was carried over 100 feet. When the train came to a stop, the truck was “a mass of junk” as the newspaper described it and then caught fire. The fire department put out the fire with chemicals. The newspaper reported “There were many people at the station waiting for the train and there was some hustle among them to get away from the moving mass of wreckage as it passed in front of the depot.”
In 1921, the B&M RR lost the lawsuit over the accident and was ordered to pay $4000 to the truck owners.
Early April 1929 James Burbank's truck was hit by a train at the Ashland crossing, smashing the rear end of the truck.
September 1923: Sarah Boynton, of Ashland, went for an auto ride with Mr. and Mrs. Morris Blake. Mrs Blake was being taught to drive by her husband, but she stalled the car while crossing the railroad tracks in Bridgewater just above the old Union Bridge. When the Montreal express came along, the Blakes were able to get out, but their passenger Sarah Boynton, described as a cripple 76 years old, was not able to. The train dragged the car 400 feet after the collision. Sarah died of a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken leg. The present Union bridge was built in 1938 at a higher level so that it went over the railroad track and eliminated that dangerous railroad crossing on Route 3 in Bridgewater, where this accident happened.
Flashing lights. In late April 1929, flashing red traffic lights were installed at the Depot Street crossing and at the Bridgewater crossing. The newspaper writer was impressed, describing this change as a major improvement because of the many accidents at the two crossings. The lights were later removed, but were reinstalled at the Ashland station crossing in 2007.
Death and Injuries of Railroad Employees
January 1875: James Rowen was seriously injured, and soon died of his injuries, when the gouger, a type of railroad snowplow, ran off the track trying to go through a deep snow bank near Ashland.
In 1881: Frank Johnson a freight conductor, was caught between two cars while making up a freight train and was seriously injured.
February 1883: J.P. Morrill fell between the cars while working on a train here. His left arm was crushed and had to be amputated by two local doctors.
September 1895: Edward Cloran fell under the cars a little bit above Ashland. Both legs were cut off. He was picked up and taken to Plymouth, but soon died.
In 1936: John Dawson, brakeman from Plymouth. On the paper mill spur, he was on a ladder on the side of a freight car and a Willeys Express truck on the road beside the railroad tracks crushed him against the car. He was so severely mangled that he lived for only an hour. Local Victims
February 1873: George Harris of Ashland got drunk in Plymouth and was apparently walking home along the railroad, when he laid down to sleep next to the track and rolled over in his sleep onto the track. He was killed by a freight train which took off his legs and part of his skull.
July 1883: Leroy S. Heath got drunk and laid down on the railroad tracks. The train engineer saw him just in time and stopped the train within 6 feet of him.
1934 Suicide: Vera Sanborn, of Ashland, suffering from a nervous breakdown, had been in the Plymouth hospital, but wanted to go back to Ashland to attend to what she called important business. When the train arrived in Ashland, the conductor realized that she was no longer on the train. They found her body under the Squam River Bridge. She had apparently jumped off the train while it was going over the bridge, a 50 foot drop that left her dead on the rocks below. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide.
Crime October 1874: There was an attempt to wreck a train by placing planks and timbers in a deep cut south of Ashland, probably in New Hampton. Fortunately, the engineer stopped the train in time. Suspicion fell on William Smith, who had been employed as a section hand for a short time before being fired by the railroad. After the wrecking attempt, he was missing from his boarding house along with several items belonging to other boarders. It was until 1881 that he was found and arrested under the alias of Sam Hill, and taken to the Haverhill jail. In
May of 1882, he was sentenced for obstructing the railroad track to 14 years in the state prison.
May 1871: An early morning break-in at the ticket office resulted to a loss of about $10 in currency.
July 1892: Both the post office and the railroad station were robbed during the night. $250 to $300 were taken. The burglars then stole a handcar to make their escape on, which was later found a short distance above the Weirs.
August 1910: A burglar steals $375 from the railroad station.
May 1924: In a break-in at the railroad station, the only thing taken was a hammer, which was then used to break into the YD Pharmacy, where fountain pens and a small amount of cash was taken. The hammer was left at the pharmacy.
May 1927: There were break-ins at both stations with money taken from the gum machine at the passenger station and the candy and fruit machines at the freight station.
May 1930: A break-in at passenger station saw money stolen from the pay telephone, gum and other machines. Only a few dollars were lost.
September 1934: Another break-in at the station with money taken from the telephone and candy machines.
November 1895: Two boys were tied together and marched through the streets with a sign on their backs “I stole cookies from a car at the freight depot and they caught me.”
June 1894: Newspaper notice from Station Agent W.F. Harris reads: “The small boy is making himself too conspicuous at the railroad station It is a very dangerous thing to be getting on and off freight trains while in motion. It is hoped that boys and loafers will be able to strike some other scheme to amuse themselves. We shall be very busy during the gay season and cannot furnish much entertainment for those who have nothing to do but hang around the depot.”
Part 9: This presentation of The Railroad in Ashland was delivered by David Ruell to the Ashland Historical Society on September 12, 2019 in the Ashland Railroad Station Museum.