"On A Wild Car - Terrible Experience of Two Men on a Runaway Car."



(nearby McKean County, PA)

Researched & Submitted by Richard F. Palmer

McKean Democrat, Smethport, Pa., April 28, 1893 

On A Wild Car

Terrible Experience of Two Men on a Runaway Car 

    The country between Olean, N.Y., and Bradford, Pa., is very mountainous, and but for the oil productions of that region would have perhaps remained in its primitive state for years to come. The discovery of petroleum in McKean Co., Pa., and Cattaraugus Co., N.Y., necessitated some mode of conveying machinery, lumber, etc., into the mountains.

     An old saying that "necessity is the mother of invention, here came into play as the mother of two. First came what was called the "Peg Leg" railroad, which was constructed on posts, between Bradford and Red Rock, a distance of six or seven miles. It was virtually a railroad with but a single rail. After a few years it was condemned, owing to the number of accidents that occurred. Then the "narrow gauge" road was conceived, and used to good advantage between Bradford and Olean, some twenty miles.

    It was apparently as dangerous as the "Peg Leg," being but a three-foot gauge. However, it proved otherwise and was termed a success. It had shaky trestles for bridges, mud for ballast, and with no fences along the entire route; besides having the steepest grades and sharpest curves known to railroad men. With all that it served the purpose and paid the promoters a handsome dividend.

     The first town west of Olean is "Four Mile"- it is four miles, air line, and seven by rail, from Olean. Between these points the road winds around the mountain sides, through miniature valleys and over chasms, regardless of distance, as long as deep cuts are avoided. The ascent is something like 135 feet to the mile. Now I come to the starting point.

     "No, I don't mind telling you how I injured my arm," said Conductor Murphy, as he sat in my office one winter's evening waiting for orders. "We had a car of rails for Four Mile and was going to throw it on a spur switch there. When I was within a few feet of the switch, I motioned the brakeman to cut her off: after which I attempted to throw the switch. It would not budge.

     "The rails had expanded from the heat of the sun and were fastened together. The brakeman took in the situation at a glance, and set the brake, but the chain kept slipping off the stem. I ran to give him what assistance I could, and when opposite me I climbed up to give him a hand. At the first twist of our united efforts, the chain snapped and the brake was rendered useless. The speed of the heavily loaded car increased in velocity. We could have easily jumped off and let her go, but there was the engine already coming after us to couple on again. The engineer had seen and realized our predicament.

     "At first she gained rapidly upon us, but presently we saw that the car was keeping away, although but 15 or 20 feet separated. Then for the first time we realized  how fast we were going. I cried to the engineer to give her more steam. He stood there bolt upright, looking over our heads down the track, while the cab swayed like a ship in a storm.

     "Again I fairly yelled, 'For God's sake, give her more steam, we are going away from you.' Then Jardwin leaned out of the cab window and shook his head, saying 'Boys, you'll have to jump in the swamp; it is your only chance. She has on a full head of steam now.'  Saying which he shut off the steam and put on the air brake. We were out of sight in less time than it takes to tell it.

     "How the telegraph poles flew by! The rush of wind nearly swept us from the car. The dust from the rails was picked up and whirled in our eyes. Would the car ride it out at such speed? Would we be able to jump into the swamp?  These and many other thoughts rushed through our minds with the rapidity of lightning. We were crouched at the very edge of the car ready for the spring, when,just before reaching the swamp, the car, from sheer momentum, left the rails in rounding a curve, and went bottom up in the swamp. I remember flying through space, and then all was a blank.

    "When I regained consciousness, the boys told me that they had to take a rail off my arm to get me out of the water. Tim Bailey, poor fellow, faired even worse. He was injured internally, and lived but a few days." - [W.A.F., in Callicoon (N.Y.) Echo.] 


Bradford Era, Aug.  16, 1950



Bradford's Old Peg Leg Unique In American Railroad History  


     The old Peg Leg Railway which once operated in this area is still regarded as one of the most unique experiments in railroad history. It was known as the Bradford and Foster Brook Railroad and was incorporated in 1877 with Col. I.A. Wilcox as president, John B. Brawley, M.N. Allen, S.H. Bradley, Roy Stone, George Gilmore and E.W. Coddington, directors.


      The object of this group was to build a railroad from Bradford to Gilmore City on Foster Brook, the gauge not to exceed three feet. Among the stockholders in the group were the officers named and C.W. Staats and T.J. Skidmore. The work of construction was soon commenced and in January, 1878, the road was opened to Tarport, running in opposition to the Olean and Bradford narrow gauge, and was completed on Feb. 11 of that year. Eli Perkins who traveled the Peg Leg  in February, 1878, described the road as follows:


     "The cars run astride an elevated track on a single rail. This rail is nailed to a single wooden stringer which rests on top of the piles. So evenly balanced is the train that passing over the waters of a creek at twenty miles an hour the water is scarcely disturbed.  The motive for building is economy, the price per mile being $3,000 and the cost of a ten-ton locomotive $3,000.


     "The locomotive is a queer looking thing. An Irishman here described it as a gigantic pair of boots swung over a clothes line. The boiler is without a flue, the engine without a piston and the driver without a crank.  I rode with General Stone around corners and up steep grades at 30 miles an hour."


     Eli exaggerated somewhat for this speed was never actually attained, there were no corners and little or nothing in the way of grades. The Peg Leg depots were Bradford, Tarport, Foster Brook, Babcock's Mill, Harrisburg Run and Derrick City.


     Ten double trips would be made daily and an accident was chronicled almost every day. The accident of August, 1878 was a trivial one. It appears that immediately after the two flat cars were pulled out of the depot by the new locomotive, I.A. Wilcox, the timber holding the single rail gave way and the flat cars fell two feet, leaving the engine on the track.


     In May, Hugh Brawley, deputy prothonotary, was appointed conductor. In December he moved to Smethport leaving George Grogan, conductor, John Addis, brakeman, John Vaughan, engineer, Charles Shepherd, assistant superintendent, Mike Holevall, fireman and Thomas Luby, engineer, were killed, with Sterret, Peterson and Gartside injured.


Evening Republic, Buffalo, April 15, 1880

     The Bradford Star says: "The work of dismantling the once famous Peg-Leg Railroad was commenced this morning. A.J. Edgett of Hornellsville, who bid in the road of Sheriff's sale for Mr. Sheldon of that place, is superintendenging the work. The rails and iron fixtures have been sold to the Olean, Bradford & Warren road, and this morning a gang of men were busy at work removing the rails and iron. Old rails, at the present high prices of the iron market, will bring $35 per ton as old iron. The terms of sale are not public. Mr. Edgett has a gang of carpenters tearing down the heavy frame work, and in a few days not a vestige of the Peg-Leg will remain. The timber will be sold at reasonable rates, and parties wishing to build will have an opportunity to buy cheap. Mr. Edgett thinks he can dispose of at reasonable rates. There are standing on the track two cars which could be fitted up for use on the narrow gauge roads.

     "The Peg leg extends from Bradford to Derrick, a distance of perhaps three and a half miles. Since the great accident two or three years ago, in which several men were killed, the road has practically been abandoned. Several attempts were made to resurrect the road, but without success. It is with regret that we part with thee, O Peg Leg.