Two Sections Of a Circus Train Crash at Durand, Mich.
Posted by The New York Times 8/8/1903
Many Persons Injured and One Elephant and Two Camels Dead – Engineer Says Air Brakes Would Not Work.

DURAND, Mich., Aug. 7 – While the first section of WALLACE Brothers' circus train was standing in the Grand Trunk Railway yards here early to-day the second section, running at fifteen-mile-an-hour rate, crashed into it, killing twenty-three persons and injuring more than a dozen.

The engineer of the moving train says the collision was caused by the failure of the air brakes to work. The Superintendent of the road, however, declares they were not applied.

The circus travels in two trains of about thirty-five cars each. After last night's exhibition at Charlotte the two trains left for Lapeer over the Grand Trunk Road, the second section leaving a half hour after the first.
It was 3:45 o'clock when the first section pulled into the west end of the Grand Trunk yards here. A red light was hung on the rear car to stop the second section.

Engineer PROBST of Battle Creek, who was running the engine of the rear train, says he saw this light and applied the air brake. To his horror it refused to work. He reversed his engine, but the momentum of the heavy train behind was too great, and with a crash that aroused all of the town near the yards, the two trains met.

Three cars of the stationary first section were telescoped, and the engine and five cars were demolished. The rear car of the section was a caboose, in which the trainmen were sleeping, and the next two were filled with sleeping circus employees. The greatest loss of life was in the caboose.

One of the wrecked cars of the second sections was occupied by five elephants and several camels. One of the elephants and two camels were killed outright, while the other animals and their trainer escaped. With the exception of this car none of the menagerie was wrecked, the other demolished cars containing canvas or wagons.

As soon as they recovered from the first shock the trainers rushed among the cages quieting the beasts that were excited. The elephants in the wrecked car behaved with surprising calmness, and were led out of the wreck without trouble.

The escaping steam and screams and cries of those pinned in the wreck made a horrifying spectacle of the gray of the early morning, when the trainmen in the yards and the aroused townspeople first reached the scene. Many feared at first that some of the menagerie had escaped, as several of the animals could be heard crying. The fire whistle was immediately sounded and the whole town aroused.

The rescuers could see unfortunates through the tangled wreckage, and went vigorously to work to extricate them without waiting for tools. A wrecking crew is kept in the yards here, and it was on the scene in a very few minutes, bringing tools and equipment in plenty.

All the physicians and trained nurses in town were sent for, and those in near-by places were rushed to the scene on hand cars. The Hotel Richelieu was converted into a temporary hospital, and scores of volunteers with stretchers were in readiness to carry the injured there as fast as the workers could rescue them. Express and farmers' wagons were used as ambulances.

The dead, many of them so mangled that identification seemed well-nigh impossible, were carefully laid on the grass a short distance from the scene. By 6 o'clock a corps of twelve physicians was operating on the injured and dressing their wounds in the temporary hospital. Four of the injured died at the hospital before 8:30 o'clock. Trainmaster JAMES McCARTHY and Chief Special Officer A. W. LARGE of the Grand Trunk, Special Officer FOLEY of Detroit, and Foreman of Locomotives J. HAZEL were riding in the caboose. The first two were killed outright, and the others were seriously injured.

Engineer PROBST, Fireman COLTER, and Head Brakeman BENEDICT, who was also on the engine of the second section, all agree that if the brakes had worked there would have been no collision. Fireman COLTER and Brakeman BENEDICT, when they saw that a collision could not be averted jumped.

Engineer PROBST remained at his post, vainly trying to get the brake to work, until his train was less than a hundred feet of the section ahead. Then he, too jumped when he was within but a very seconds of sure death in the crash. At the time the collision occurred Train No. 2 was running probably fifteen miles an hour.

In the official report of the accident issued this afternoon by Superintendent W. G. BROWNLEE he denies the engineer's statement that the air brakes failed to work. He says:

“Engineer PROBST states that his air brakes worked all right at Lansing, where he took water, and that he had no occasion to use it again until he was flagged west of Durand, where he found that the train was not charged with air. The five sleepers in the rear of the second section were found standing about two coach lengths from the end of the train after the accident with the drawhead in one of the cars jammed in, indicating that it had been broken apart by the accident and rebounded when the train stopped, which is evidence that the brakes were not applied. The air brakes in the train have since been tested and found to be in perfect condition.â€

The circus performers were on the rear of the moving train, and escaped injury. WALLACE Brothers say that their loss will be very heavy, but have given no estimate of it as yet. This is the second wreck that the WALLACE shows have suffered within a month.

The circus people have pitched their tents and camped near the scene of the wreck.
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