Train Accident at Northern Bight 1943

Reprinted from All Aboard! Volume 2, by Bill Baggs, 1977

Click on image to enlarge. (Photo courtesy Glennis Stoyles)

Pages 30-32

January, February, and March of 1943 proved to be terrible winter months. Almost every day there would be a snow storm, with very strong northeast winds. This caused the snow cuts to be long and very high between Clarenville and Placentia Junction.


After the main line was opened and trains began to move, a westbound freight train pulled into Northern Bight (Mileage 116.21, station NB), with the steam locomotive running short of water. The engineer was Frank McGrath from St. John’s. The train had a lot of work to do, so they decided they would cut their engine off and go west to the water tank at Mile 121 close to the tunnel. While they were watering their engine, another train was approaching Northern Bight with a snow plow. When the engine took on its supply of water, they went back to Northern Bight to pick up their train. When the conductor got off the locomotive looking for his two trainsmen who were doing the work while he was gone, he noticed half of his train had derailed. The caboose was badly damaged and the plow was in by the station. A rear-end collision by the snow plow train had taken place while they were gone to the waterchut. It was snowing and drifting at the time and visibility was nil.

The snow plow struck the caboose and demolished it, killing telegraph linesman Warren from Chapel Arm who was travelling in the caboose. Constable Jack Anthony, who was stationed at Clarenville for many years, jumped to safety just before the plow struck. With the impact, engine crew W.D. Stone and Lawrence Stanley, who were dead-heading from the Rotary trip, were thrown under the engine and badly injured. When the plow struck the caboose, it derailed and went very close to the station. Station agent James Stoyles was working at his desk when he thought the plow was coming in through the station window. He jumped from his chair and ran out into his kitchen (the station agent and his family lived in the station). It was not a good thing to see, one of the wooden snow plows chasing you in through the window and you not knowing where it was going to stop!

The plow struck the station building and went over and took the shores out from underneath the loading platform on the fright shed. At the time there was a half car load of smoked herring kippers on the platform awaiting transport to St. John’s. The kippers belonged to merchant Kenneth Smith who had a fair-sized business in Southport, Trinity Bay. When the plow struck, the wooden boxes all burst open and kippers went flying in all directions. The people who lived in the area had enough kippers to do them for the whole winter.

A lot of people thought it was funny for one train to run into the trail-end of another train that was stopped at a station, especially one with one of those old-time wooden snow plows. The trainmen might have their flagmen out, but that was still no good if it was stormy. If the wooden plow exploded torpedoes, the engineer could not hear it, and, with the snow blowing around, he could not see anything. When the engineer picked up one of the wooden snow plows on the front of his engine, he would be living in constant fear and expectation until his run was over. There were not that many rear-end collisions, but the ones that did happen were caused by stormy conditions or with one of the old time wooden push plows. As my good friend locomotive engineer William Cashin from Curling used to say, “You don’t get killed for things that you know about, you get killed for things you don’t know about.” I liked that quote: it was very true.



Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, January 2016
These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.