Memories of the Past – Train Wreck
In 1954 Hurricane Hazel caused a horrific accident near the south end of Southampton. The washed out creek and rail bed resulted in the engine jumping the tracks and plowing into the river bank. Two trainmen lost their lives that day.
The memorial, on the Saugeen Rail Trail, marks the location of the accident and remembers the two trainmen.
The Full Story
Hurricane Hazel began its path of destruction October 5, 1954 in the Caribbean Ocean and continued up the east cost of North American before moving inland reaching Ontario on October 16 to be downgraded from its hurricane status. The heavy rains and strong winds persisted causing major flooding damage with loss of life in the province.
For the crew of mixed train #179 and engine #1319, on schedule to depart Palmerston on October 15, 1954 for Southampton on its nightly run, everything seemed to be in order except fireman Stewart Nicholson was uneasy. He hesitated in leaving his expectant wife at home, but duty called. When the train pulled out of the station bound for Southampton he looked twice back at his home.
As Train #179 approached its terminus at Southampton around 11:30 p.m., tragedy struck. When crossing a culvert, flooded by the heavy rains from Hurricane Hazel, the track gave way causing the engine to derail. The remaining cars drove into the back of the derailed engine causing it to burst filling the cab with live steam. Engineer Gordon McCallum was buried up to his neck in sand while fireman Nicholson was pinned by the twisted metal of the wreck.
The remaining crew, who were unhurt, rushed to the aid of the two trapped men and with supreme effort freed McCallum from the pile of sand. Nicholson, who was still conscious, was removed after being cut free of the twisted metal that entrapped him. Both men were taken to the Southampton hospital where they succumbed shortly thereafter to their injuries. Dr. Murray Flock attended at the scene.
The crew who accompanied McCallum and Nicholson on this ill fated trip were Conductor Arthur Sherlock of Southampton, Baggage Man Raymond Darragh of Southampton, Brakeman Cecil Christmann of Port Elgin and Mail Clerks George Hills and Doug Sharman. The two passengers on the train were Mrs. W. Whittaker who suffered shoulder injuries and Kenneth Diebel, both of Southampton.
Gordon McCallum, age 58, was a 35 year employee who had recently moved from Parry Sound to Palmerston. He was survived by his wife Joan and daughter Margaret. Gordon was interred in Parry Sound.
Stewart Nicholson, age 33, was employed as a fireman with the Canadian Nation Railway. He was born in Minto Township and resided in Palmerston for the 10 years prior to his death. He was married to Betty Hastings of Southampton and had two sons, David and Paul Stewart Nicholson. Stewart was interred in the Harriston cemetery.
To read more about Hurricane Hazel check out this web site.