Hoosier Dusty Files - February 27, 1921 - Train Disaster At Porter, Indiana - 37 Killed

A Year of Indiana History - 2016
A Year of Indiana History - 2016

February 27, 1921 - Train Disaster At Porter, Indiana - 37 Killed
Train engineer W. S. Long and fireman George Fl. Block disregarded an interlocking signal, derailing eastbound Michigan Central train No. 20 about 6:20 PM. The Michigan Central, going a speed of sixty miles per hour, plowed into the westbound New York Central passenger train No. 151. The New York Central was going about forty miles per hour. People could hear the resulting crash miles away as the trains ground each other to wreckage, spreading carnage in their path.
Interlocking Signal
An interlocking signal is defined as, "An arrangement of signals and signal appliances so interconnected that their movements must succeed each other in proper sequence." The signal's design is to prevent two trains from proceeding through the same crossing at the same time. A signalman sets the device to warn oncoming trains to stop if their signal indicates the warning. If the train proceeds, a derailment device derails the train, stopping it.
The Accident
The Michigan Central operators, either asleep or otherwise negligent, ignored the signal and sped through the interlock at over sixty miles per hour. The train derailed and proceeded along for another 800 feet. The engine of the Michigan Central somehow jumped back on the rail. The New York Central train slammed into it just as it re-railed. Railroads constructed passenger cars during this era from wood. The impact of the trains splintered these trains, reducing them to kindling. The impact decapitated and otherwise mutilated most of the passengers in two of the cars. Steam from the boiler scalded the engineer and fireman of the New York Central to death. The New York Central locomotive dug a ten-foot deep trench in the ground. The engine and tender of the Michigan Central buried many of the passengers. 
Relief Operations
The wreck strained resources of the small town of Porter, Indiana to the breaking point. Rescue workers toiled by lantern light in the gathering darkness. Firefighers attempted to extinguish the burning wreckage with an inadequate stream of water. Workers used picks and shovels to try to extricate the screaming wounded from the wreckage. There were no doctors in the town, only four attendants. Food to give the survivors ran out by the day after the accident. Resident from surrounding towns rushed in what supplies they could find. Women tore their skirts to ribbons to improvise bandages for the stricken. It would take days to clean up the wreckage.

Indiana possesses a rich history that is fun to read and learn. This Hoosier Dusty Files is in an easy to read “this day in history format” and includes articles from the author's A Year in Indiana History series. Visitors may read the articles as they appear or purchase the book:
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning