Note: The following was taken from Weekly Courant - Randolph, New York - January 27, 1881
Five Men Burned to Death.
Train 12 on the Erie Railroad Wrecked and Burned.
Express train 12, bound eastward, passes this station at 2:21. On Saturday last it passed here nearly on time. At Salamanca, it is transferred to the Erie track, and if no accident befalls it it reaches New York at 7:25 the following morning. It is a continuous train from San Francisco, and leaves there about five day previous to passing this station. The fall of wet snow on Saturday made the track heavy, and by the time the train reached Elmira it over two hours late. At Tioga Centre [sic] it was two hours and a half late and was moving at a high rate of speed, when the box on the driving wheel of the locomotive broke and threw it from the track, almost completely capsizing it. The postal and baggage cars were jerked up close to the disabled engine. Before the passengers in the last coach had fully recovered from the terrible shock sufficiently to realize what had occurred the postal car took fire. The wildest confusion prevailed through all the day coaches and sleeping cars. As the light of the burning cars in the front flashed along the windows and became visible upon the inside of the car the consternation increased. Women screamed and fainted and men turned deathly pale, numbers hurrying from the sleepers in their night clothing. Many others sat motionless in their seats as if paralyzed from terror. The excitement seemed to increase every moment, notwithstanding the fact that none of the passengers was injured as was learned in a few minutes after the first shock. For fear the fire should extend back to the coaches, they were hastily vacated by the excited passengers, who thronged about the scene in a dazed manner.
Daniel Seybolt, Joseph Reidinger and George Ingham, postal clerks, were in the postal car when it took fire. They were unable to get out and were suffocated and burned to death. In the express cars were messenger Henry Brewer and a mail weigher or express agent named Fox who were roasted alive. Some of the men in the burning cars were seen, but the heat being so intense and the men perfectly helpless no assistance could be rendered them. A baggageman named Perry escaped with a dislocated shoulder. The locomotive was No. 423 and was in the charge of Thomas Dewitt.
The train consisted of thirteen cars, one postal, two baggage, two express, three day coaches and five sleepers. Five cars were thrown from the track and burned, including the postal, express, baggage and smoking cars with contents. One passenger car was also burned.
An investigation of the disabled engine of the wrecked train 12, Erie road, near Owego Sunday morning, shows that the axle of the first drive wheel snapped off near one of the wheels. According to the statement of the Elmira Advertiser, the locomotive then left the track, struck two coal cars on a siding, completely demolishing them. Every car of the train was jerked from the track. After going a short distance the mail and baggage cars capsized on a small embankment and instantly took fire from within. The flames burst out in an incredibly brief period. Two of the main clerks were supposed to have been killed before the cars stopped. Henry F. Brewer of Elmira [sic], in the express car, found himself imprisoned in the car. A hole was cut through the end door, which had become barricaded with express matter, allowing him to put his head through but before the willing hands at work could further extricate him the flames crept around him, enveloping his back, burned off his hair and whiskers, and when at last placing his hand over his mouth, with an agonizing look, he sank back into the cruel flames, and was seen no more, literally roasted alive in the presence of those who heroically endeavored to rescue him. There is no doubt that he might have escaped but for the pile of rubbish which pinned his lower limbs like a vice. Five trunks were subsequently taken from the debris and removed to Owego, where an inquisition was held. There were six cars in all destroyed, including one postal, one express, two baggage and two day coaches. Not one of the passengers was injured beyond a few insignificant cuts and bruises, sustained by several persons. DeWitt, the engineer, and Skinner, the fireman, both remained at their posts and escaped uninjured. As soon as the accident was reported a locomotive was sent to the scene and coupling to the rear sleeping car, pulled the remaining seven cars to a distance of safety from the burning ones, notwithstanding that they were all off the track. About $16,000 of bullion was taken from the ashes of the express car. The track was cleared and repaired three hours after the accident occurred.
The New Postal Car
Daily Reporter - June 20th 1881
The postal car built for the N.Y.L.E. & W.R.R. Co. to take the place of the one burned at Tioga Center, was run through this village during last week, on trains 3 and 12. Built with the awful fate of the occupants of its predecessor in mind, it is arranged especially as a safety car. Whether the precautions will be continued in the future is a question, when time shall have blunted the recollections of that horror. The car is described by the Dunkirk Advertiser as follows:
The car is 50 feet in length and nine feet in width inside measurements, and is divided into three apartments. A storage room 9 x 11 feet in each end and a working room in the centre 9 x 28 feet. The car is heated by an improved Baker heater, placed in one of the storage rooms with pipes running through the working room, giving an even heat in all parts of the car. It is lighted by 10 lamps of the Smith & Hicks pattern, using sperm oil of a high test. The working room is provided with a letter case of 310 boxes made in nests of 40 of 50 each and are reversible, giving a capacity of 620 boxes, and only taking the room of half that number. For paper distribution a case of 72 boxes, each holding a sack full of mail, and iron bag racks of improved pattern, with a capacity of 75 pouches, making in all 147 divisions, which is no more than is required. It is ventilated by ventilators placed in the dome covered by wire screens to keep out cinders, also provided with tanks for ice water, clothes, water and oil closets. It is provide with end and side doors, six in number, also has a scuttle in the top which can be used as a means of egress in case of accident. Axes and saws are provided. The car is painted a lemon color outside and finely finished in light wood inside.
The above articles were taken from the archives of "Western New York Railroad Archive" from their Website: http://wnyrails.org and submitted by Mary Rhodes.