24 February 2010

Plowing Through - Full Steam Ahead

It looks like we're in for a few more days of snow - and it's still only February! Considering that one of the worst storms to ever hit this region didn't occur until the middle of March, I'd say we can probably expect another storm or two before we're through. At least we have the televison, radio, and internet to keep us informed. They had none of that during New Jersey's worst snowstorm.

The March 11-14 storm known as the Great Blizzard of 1888 dumped four feet of snow on central New Jersey in just four days. Drifts of the 40 foot variety were common throughout the region as sustained winds of 45 m.p.h. piled up the snow from Virginia to Maine.

Three Lehigh Valley steam engines wrecked in the snow at Three Bridges, 14 March 1888.

Railroads bravely tried to keep running - with disastrous results.

On the morning of March 14, four Lehigh Valley Railroad steam engines coupled together with two wrecking cars containing 100 men set out from Easton, PA in an attempt to clear the tracks eastward through New Jersey. By that afternoon they had cleared nearly 100 snowdrifts, and were feeling confident as they approached a tremendous snowdrift blocking the tracks at the curve between Three Bridges and Hillsborough.

To smash through, the speed was increased. As the four locomotives hit the snow, the first one derailed, and the next two were quickly wrecked. The engineers in the front two engines were killed, along with the conductor of the gravel train. The fireman in the first engine was badly scalded by escaping steam.


Three Lehigh Valley steam engines wrecked in the snow at Three Bridges, 14 March 1888.

This was one of three fatal railroad accidents related to the blizzard in New Jersey. Four coupled engines of the Morris and Essex Railroad ran into a drift near Hackettstown, killing the engineer of the first locomotive. Three engines of the Jersey Central Railroad heading east from Phillipsburg attempting to clear the tracks struck an immovable 16 foot snowdrift. The snow broke right through the front part of the first locomotive's cab, killing the fireman instantly.

In the days before computers, television, radio, and telephones, the railroads were not only vital to our nation's transportation, but also its communication. They were the carriers of the information in the pre-information age. No wonder so many gave their lives to keep those lines of communication open.

No comments:

Post a Comment