Wreck of the 505
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Scotty Mallett is responsible for writing and researching both versions of this story.
AN EXPLOSION IN CRAWFORD NOTCH
# 505 July 3, 1927
Sunday July 3 dawned hot and muggy, a change from the night before when a terrific thunderstorm had past over Bartlett. It was about 7:00 a.m. when
MEC Bartlett men Robert "Bob" Morse and Oscar Clemons got a call from Mr. Glendenon at the Roundhouse in Bartlett asking them to report to work, they would take a long extra freight to St. Johnsbury and return with the locomotive. Earle Whitcher and Fireman Meserve would be on the helper and return to Bartlett after the train reached Crawford’s Station. Oscar and Bob were friends and had worked together before.
Oscar was having a hard time because he had lost his wife Delia a month before,
leaving him the sole support of 7 children. Bob and Oscar arrived at the Roundhouse at about the same time, to find Engineer Whitcher and his fireman
working on the main engine, the one that would be on the head end to St.J. After talking it was decided that they would swap assignments, so Bob, the engineer and Oscar, the fireman, would be on the helper and return to Bartlett after they reached Crawford’s, so they made plans to go fishing together that day. There was only one locomotive available as a helper, a small, class W Mikado, built by Alco in Schenectady, NY in 1910, her number #505. The 505 had come in on the local Rigby to Bartlett job the day before, she was taken to the Roundhouse and serviced. The 505 was not a favorite, it would be called today, a lemon. Out of all the steam locomotives the MEC ever owned, the 505 was one of the very, very few, that never measured up. Bob and Oscar boarded the 505 and began their work, helping to sort cars and make up the train. A short time later Bob reported
a problem to the mechanics at the roundhouse: when he pulled the throttle out, it felt "Spongy" and not right. The mechanics examined the locomotive and found nothing. Bob and Oscar continued their work, but the problem persisted. The mechanics brought it into the roundhouse and did everything but strip the boiler jacket off, which they were not equipped to do anyway, they could find nothing. Finally, the time came where it was time to go, the 505 and her crew were put in the freight as a helper, almost midtrain, and they departed Bartlett at about 10:00
A.M. A common thing that was done with a lot of engineers in that era was they ran the water in the boiler of the locomotive low, this allowed the maximum performance to be obtained from the locomotive, but you had to have a fireman that could handle it. Oscar Clemons, having worked with Bob before, knew how to do this perfectly, by the timing of the water injections into the boiler and by a constant eye on the sight glass which showed the amount of water in the boiler. The 505 was a small class locomotive, which were very rarely used as helpers, due to their small size. The Class W's were almost exclusively used east of Bartlett. This trip for the 505 was a very rare run.
An hour had passed, the 505 was now under maximum pressure, Oscar Clemons shoveling coal and watching the sight glass. They were approaching the Willey House Section Dwelling, the section crew, having the day off, waved as they
went by. Doris Monahan, home for a break, was watching the train pass by with a friend on an outcropping where they were going up the Appalachian trail for a hike. The Train now rounded a curve and reached a relatively level piece of track, about 1/2 mile above the Willey Station, Oscar reached up and opened the petcock to put some water in the boiler, a few seconds later, the locomotive exploded. The force was so great it lifted the locomotive clean out of the train, not even derailing the car behind it, it spun end over end and dropped and landed 20 feet over the bank. Bob Morse was blown 500 ft, the crew from the Willey House
found him crawling towards a brook. One of them said "Can I or Let me Help you Bob" Bob replied never mind about me, I know I'm done for, go check on Oscar. They found Oscar, trapped in the wreckage of the cab. Both men were rushed to
memorial hospital, they both passed away at about the same time, near 6:00 P.M. from scalding.
Oscar Left 7 children*, most were adopted by other family members, his youngest son George, an infant at the time, and I met him on the Conway Scenic’s Ride through Crawford Notch. He commissioned a memorial to Oscar and Bob,
placed at the site of the explosion. Bob left 8 children behind, Mrs. Morse would go on to remarry. Monte Hurd, A MEC Veteran Conductor.
The investigation into the 505 accident showed that the sight glass Oscar needed to use to tell the level of water in the boiler was defective, also, the Spongy" feel Bob felt was a weakness in the boiler. When the water was put into the low boiler, the metal failed, just under one of the axles, hurling the locomotive 80 feet in the air, and sending a metal pail; used for drinking water, over a mile away in the woods. Further investigation would show that the 505 was reported 5 times that previous month as having a leaky boiler, and several years before while in service it burst a boiler tube.
The entire town turned out for the funerals of Bob Morse and Oscar Clemons, held on Wednesday. It is easy to forget these men were the test pilots of their age. The were respected and loved for their profession, and as people themselves. They rest today not far from each other in the Bartlett Cemetery, the new memorial on the site, will remind folks of a different time, and of two men, husbands, fathers, workers and Bartlett townsfolk who passed into history, but now will not be forgotten.
This version was printed in our publication, The Historical Herald, March 2008
*Sept 2009: Web site Editors Note: I received an e-mail from Brian Clemons in Lyman Maine. Brian is Oscar's Grandson. He reported that Oscar had 8 Children, Not 7.
Jan 2008, From the Railroad Club:
The remains of what was Maine Central Steam Locomotive #505 are located in the general area of MILEPOST 80 which is " WEST " of the Frankenstein Trestle. The marker is located at or very near the exact location where the boiler let go as best be determined by a dedicated bunch of people that enabled some sort of closure take place as to what occurred back on that fateful day during the month of July 1927. The marker was created by the efforts of the North Conway Model Railroad Club who are located on the grounds of CSRR. The Club members designed/created and erected a large marker and placed it track -side where the wreck occurred. Please respect the area as sacred ground in memory of good railroad men who lost their lives performing their duties and that will be a very good display of respect for their relatives who live on with those memories for all time to come.
July 3, 1927: Maine Central #505 was in Bartlett having come in on the "Local" Portland, Me to Bartlett, NH job the night before. The Roundhouse was short on power so the 505 was to be a "helper" locomotive. It was rare for her to be used as a helper as this was the case for all the Class W's. These were used almost exclusively east of Bartlett, where they really shine.
505 was due to go back to Portland on the afternoon local later that day. She was pressed into service to help with a very "heavy" extra. She would be put in Mid train, and cut off at Crawfords. Bob Morse and Oscar Clemons, planned an afternoon fishing trip for when they returned. There would be 2 locomotives on the head pin.
As the Engineer, Bob Morse worked the engine, to help make up the train, the throttle felt "Soggy". He reported it to the mechanics at the Bartlett Roundhouse, they checked the loco over, but could not find the problem. Bob and his fireman, Oscar Clemons, went back to work. Again, Bob reported the sluggish response of the 505, the shop crews brought her in to the Roundhouse and did everything but dump the fire and pull the boiler jacket off, which Bartlett was not equipped for anyway.
So at about 8:00 the 505, took her place, on a WESTBOUND extra freight, about mid train. The train departed at about 8:30 a.m.
Bob Morse was a popular man, but pushed his loco's to their operational limits, he got every bit of operational power out of the engine he was running, he was very good.
One trick almost all engineers had in those days was to run the loco water low. This gave you the maximum amount of steam pressure and the maximum performance from the loco, but the engineer had to have a fireman that could handle the task, it was a dangerous dance, but Oscar Clemons had worked with Bob Morse for years and knew exactly what he was doing.
At about 10:00 the train passed Willey House Station, Mile post 81 about 1/4 mile up the track it becomes straight and levels off. The 505 was traveling at 40 MPH under past maximum pressure, when the loco reached this point Oscar opened the petcock for water and the engine exploded.
The boiler failed just in front of the drive wheel 2nd from the firebox (3rd driver from the front). The explosion blew Engineer Morse out of the cab and 500 feet back. The Locomotive lifted clean out of the train, fracturing the connecting bar between the engine and tender, flew up in the air 60 feet, turned end for end and dropped upside down and over the bank, crushing the cab with Oscar Clemons still inside, before rolling back on her side and coming to rest.
Investigators found that the sight glass used to measure the water in the boiler was faulty, the boiler plates failed due to metal fatigue and the soggy feeling Mr. Morse was feeling while working in the yard, were the plates flexing. It blew the face plate of the locomotive off and split the boiler from Stack to bell. The explosion was so loud that it created an "Acoustic echo". The explosion was not heard at the Willey Station, but at the Mount Willard Dwelling it was like a clap of thunder.
The trees in the area were all blistered, Mr. Morses watch was found in a tree, 20 feet off the ground. the water can that held water and a drinking cup was blown over a mile away.
However, Mr. Morses wooden lunch pail was found beside the engine, on a rock. This was a round pail with plates in it, not ONE plate was broken. Mr. Morse survived the explosion and being thrown 500 feet, he was found crawling towards a brook, all he said was, I know I'm done for, go check on Oscar. Oscar Clemons was trapped in the wreck, still alive. Both men made it to the hospital, both died at about the same time, 6:oo that evening.
Maine Central, not in it's finest hour tried to sue Mrs. Morse for the loss of the equipment and damage. However in the court search it was found that 505 had received damage to it's boiler, while in service in Baldwin Maine. Although not catastrophic, it did do some damage. It was also found that the 505 had been reported at least 5 times the previous month as having a leaky boiler, nothing was done. MeCRR dropped the suit, Mrs. Morse counter sued and won.
The youngest surviving son of Oscar Clemons, now in his 80's commissioned a granite memorial to be placed near the site. It was put there several years ago.
From a story penned by Bartlett, NH native Scotty Mallett based on first hand accounts from families of those involved.
This version was taken from: _http://www3.gendisasters.com/9768/crawford-notch-nh-mec-steam-locomotive-505-explosion-july-3-1927
The youngest surviving son of Oscar Clemons, George Croston, had a brass plaque made with which he cut and fabricated a memorial from granite that came from his property in Brunswick, ME. He placed the memorial near the explosion site some years ago.
This page was researched and written by Scotty Mallett. Photos courtesy of Robert Girouard.
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Some Photos on this page, and elsewhere on this web-site, are part of the Raymond W. Evans collection now owned by Robert Girouard. We extend our gratitude for his permission to use them as part of this and other stories. - - Dave
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