The Western Maryland Railroad’s origin dates back to the year of 1852 at which time the Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick Railroad was chartered. The original intent of the railroad was to have their operations build a rail line from Baltimore to Washington County, Maryland.
It was in 1853 when the Maryland General Assembly changed the name of the line to the Western Maryland Railroad Company. After a few delays such as the Civil War, the rail line expansion was halted but it resumed again in 1868 and finally was completed to Hagerstown in 1872 and then finally reached Chambersburg by the early 1880s.
The Western Maryland line had the business of transporting a large volume of coal and other miscellaneous freight and also was able to provide a small percentage of passenger train service within their operations. In operating a rail line you always run the risk of a derailment, collision, and the other related issues that will result in the death,injury, damage, and the destruction of equipment and personal property.
A horrific accident occurred on the Western Maryland line at “Kobeen” near the village of Pinola on October 7th, 1912. Two trains collided head-on, resulting in the death of four and injuring four whom were all employees. I refer to it as the “Tragedy at Kobeen.” You see, this accident occurred on Monday morning at 5 a.m. when Western Maryland Railroad passenger train engine number 313, which consisted of seven empty cars, was heading east to Shippensburg to pick up passengers for an excursion to Baltimore, Maryland and collided with a westbound Reading Railroad freight train engine number 988 consisting of 37 cars.
It was reported that both of these locomotives were traveling at an excessive speed when they met, causing the destruction of the engines and a number of the passenger and freight cars. The accident occurred near the farm owned by George Stewart, leased to William Brake for farm operations, and adjacent was the rail line which had a dangerous curve approximately one-half mile west of Pinola.
This curve at the time was considered to be the most dangerous of the rail line. Witnesses believed that the personnel on each steam locomotive were unable to see the trains approaching each other until they were within a short distance of impact and at that time the steam whistles from both engines were sounded.
It was obvious that at the speed these two trains were traveling, they couldn’t be stopped in time even though the emergency brakes had been applied. Upon the impact, the two locomotives appeared to be interlocking from the tremendous force.
It was noted that the farmhands of Mr. Brake stated there was a heavy dew and the air was cool and they had heard the steam whistles before the incident occurred. Upon the impact, the fire box of the Western Maryland steam engine was ejected backward upon some of the passenger cars resulting in a large blaze.
It wasn’t until around 8 a.m. that a Western Maryland locomotive was requested from Chambersburg to proceed to the accident scene and hook to the four remaining passenger cars that were spared from damage and fire. The slow response for aid was attributed to the telegraph wires and poles being torn down at the time of the accident.
Onboard the Chambersburg engine going to “Kobeen” were doctors W.F. Skinner and J.C. Gordon. After examination and treatment they were placed in the last passenger car and taken to Chambersburg arriving at 830 a.m. where the injured were transferred to the Chambersburg Hospital.
Doctor E.S. Berry from Shippensburg was summoned to the accident and Doctor T.D. White from Orrstown was traveling to Pinola to board the empty passenger cars going to Shippensburg for the remaining passengers that were heading on the excursion.
The Western Maryland wrecking crew didn’t arrive at “Kobeen” until 10 a.m. and the deceased railroaders then were taken to Chambersburg. Two were taken to the Sellers Brothers and two to Kraiss Brothers funeral homes where they were prepared for internment.
Even though the accident occurred at 5 a.m. the news had traveled extremely fast as the local newspaper reporters were present to gather the information for their next story. Individuals were seen at the accident scene taking pictures of the mishap. One local and extremely well-known photographer of the day was Clyde A. Laughlin from Shippensburg who had arrived shortly after the accident and was able to take some extremely clear closeup photographs of the head-on accident.
Within a short period of time, Laughlin went on to produce a set of five real photographic postcards that today, 108 years later, remain just as clear and detailed as the day they were taken.
After you had been to the accident or perhaps you had heard about it you naturally would ask I wonder what happened? Well it was very clear during the investigation that the crew of the Reading Railroad freight train engine number 988 had disobeyed their orders of dispatch to lay over on the siding at Lurgan and to keep clear of the Western Maryland passenger train engine number 313 heading east to Shippensburg. The investigation hearing was held on October 11th, 1912 at Hagerstown, Maryland in the Superintendent’s Office of the Western Maryland Railroad.
The original dispatch order book and the signed orders were presented as evidence and were accepted at this time regarding the accident at “Kobeen.” The meeting held in the Superintendent’s Office was private and only railroad representatives were permitted along with a representative from the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Pennsylvania Commerce Commission. It was decided that any disciplinary action against the railroad employees would be handled by Superintendent H.H. Berry of the Western Maryland Railroad.
M.L.”Mike”Marotte III is an Author and Historian who writes about the History of Franklin County. Read more of him at www.vintagefranklincountypa.com.
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