The Most serious accident that ever happened on the P&R Railroad occurred yesterday afternoon, when the Engine Gem exploded, killing five persons and injuring from to fifteen others.
The Gem was one of five dummy engines used by the officers of the road for their official business. It was about half as long as a passenger car, was placed on low wheels, and was fitted up with an engine room in one end and a parlor compartment, with chairs for four, in the other. It was rebuilt in 1864, weighed eleven tons, and was the special engine of J.H. Olhousen, Superintendent of the lateral roads from Shamokin to Tamaqua and Pottsville.
He was riding in it yesterday, and had just arrived at Mahanoy Plane, remained there a few minutes and boarded his engine again, when he decided to send a dispatch on some business of the road, and went into the telegraph office for that purpose.
Note: The explosion occurred outside the Mahanoy City Passenger Station, not the Mahanoy Plane Station where Olhousen had been earlier.PTC
That act saved his life. He had not written, more than a half a dozen words when the engine blew up with a tremendous report, and he was knocked down by the shock. He escaped, covered with dirt from the shattered walls and ceiling, but without a scratch. Others however, were not so fortunate.
The engineer, Frank Brosius, of Mahanoy Plane, was blown into the air and shot over the roof of the depot against a bank beyond. He was instantly killed and the clothing stripped from his body. Jacob Trout, of Tamaqua, conductor of a coal train, was in the act of stepping out of the door of the telegraph office. He was struck on the upper part of the chest by a missile and pieces of him were blown away, with the contents of his body scattered on the platform. Singularly enough what caused his death saved the lives of one, if not two persons.
The explosion started by the steam escaping out of a stay bolt, and steam rushing out of the grate and made a hissing, made for a second or two before the noise of the explosion came. Trout heard the noise and started for the door to see what it was. Michael O’Connor, the telegraph operator was attracted by it and glancing out of his window he saw that something was wrong. He instantly dropped on the floor, and escaped uninjured, though his office was wrecked.
The same noise attracted the attention of the fireman of the Gem, John Finley, and he jumped to the ground; but had not time to run more than a step or two when the explosion came, hurling him forward some fifteen or twenty feet against a truck. His only injury was a slight bruise on the head, but when a the bystanders rushed up to ask if he was hurt he seemed utterly dazed and realized that something knocked his hat off and he was looking for it
. Around the engine were several boys looking and admiring it, and it burst right in amongst them. Calvin Lutz was instantly killed. George Hagenbush and Willie Wenrich were so severely hurt that they died in a few hours and Charles Conrad, Harry Hagenbush and several others whose names have not been ascertained, were wounded more or less severely.
A young man named Mader, of Patterson, near Middleport was on the depot platform, with a friend, waiting for a train. He was struck over the eye by a missile of some kind and badly scalded by escaping steam, while his friend who stood beside him was uninjured. Mader was cared for by friends in Mahanoy City, and is today reported to be dangerously hurt.
The explosion did a great deal of damage to the depot buildings- the roofs of the depot proper and the telegraph office, which stood about 10 feet away. All the windows were blown in and the wires were twisted and wrapped around each other. On the platform stood a couple of barrels of coal and whale oil, and these were burst open, their contents flowing over the victims, and covering the platform with a horrible mixture of oil, blood and brains.
The scene was, and is yet, sickening in the extreme; although the dead and wounded were removed as quickly as possible, and at this writing the disabled engine has been taken away, and the damage repaired as far as practicable.
The cause of the explosion has not been ascertained and perhaps never will be. There was so little steam in the boiler when the engine reached Mahanoy City, that the engineer had trouble keeping ups its speed. By the time it reached the station, however, it was making steam rapidly and had accumulated a heavy pressure for the ten minutes it stood there. The fireman says the boiler was full of water, and his theory is that the safety valve became dislodged in some way and held in the steam until it reached the bursting point. He thinks the engine was trying to get it loose when the explosion occurred. The explosion made a horrible gap between the boiler and the fire box on the engineer’s side, destroyed the upper works of the Gem, but did not injure the running gear, nor even tear up the floor of the passenger compartment which was situated over the boiler.
All the clocks at the depot stopped at 3:13 p.m., the precise moment of the accident.