D&H Trainwreck of 1946

The sun shone brightly August 26th, 1946, and the sky was blue -- a gorgeous summer day in the Adirondacks. The southbound train on the Adirondack line of the D&H was bubbling with excited children--318 of them--all headed south to New York City to return to their families after a summer at camp in the Adirondacks. The train they rode was called a “passenger extra” – a train being run in addition to the regularly scheduled passenger and freight trains. Neither they nor the train's crew knew that at that very moment passenger train 181, from Saratoga Springs, chugged steadily northward toward them—unaware of their presence on those very same tracks. No one knew that disaster was imminent until one of the trains rounded a curve and engineers on both trains realized that they would collide.

The trains were traveling in what was called a “dark zone,” an area in which written orders had to be issued. The southbound extra had been instructed to pull off onto the siding at The Glen and wait there until the regular train has passed before resuming its trip south. Controversy remains: Was the message not received? Did the engineer of the southbound train ignore the orders, believing he could make it all the way to the next siding at Thurman Station before the northbound train got there?

Whatever the reason, around 10 a.m. that sunny August morning, the two trains met each other at a point about two miles south of The Glen. Although both engineers made heroic efforts, there was not enough room to stop. Engineer Frank Keehan, coming from the south, ordered his crew members to jump as he clutched the throttle and headed toward certain disaster. When the two engines collided, Keehan’s coal tender upended, pouring tons of coal onto Keehan, snuffing out his life. Some of the trainmen suffered  injuries as they leapt from the train, and some passengers on his train were injured, as well. Many say it is a miracle, while others credit the heroic efforts of Keehan to slow his train, but no child on the passenger extra was seriously hurt.

In 1998 the John Thurman Historical Society teamed with the Town of Thurman and Warren County to erect a commemorative plaque near the site of the 1946 train wreck to honor Engineer Frank Keehan. Find it on River Road, just about two miles from New York State route 28's interesection with Glen-Athol Road. (Take Glen Athol Rd. to River Road, and find the historical marker in a little trackside clearing on the left, an easy walk from the road. There is no paved walkway to the marker, so wheelchair or walker access could be difficult. There is no fee to visit this marker.

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Location

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Nearby
Latitude: 43.5722452 Longitude: -73.8566208 Elevation: 713 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Persis Granger

Don't Miss This When Visiting

Don't miss this when visiting Thurman, or when staying at The Glen Lodge B&B, recreating at Wild Waters Outdoor Center, or are trekking up to North Creek, to the Adirondack Museum and other points north. The Glen is about five miles from Route 9, not far from Warrensburg, and visiting the marker will be a ten minute side trip off your route.

Related Sites Or Experiences

Do make a point of visiting Thurman Station Association's web site, where you can read news about activities along the Thurman rails in current times. Also, make a date to visit North Creek and tour  the fascinating North Creek Depot Museum. TheDepot Society has conducted extensive research on the train wreck of 1946, and can share more details. Railroad buffs will also wish to take in Railroads on Parade, a phenomenal display of modle railroads in Pottersville, not far away. Admission or donations are requested at these sites.

Suggested Further Reading

The Bridgeline Historical Society ran an article on this trainwreck in a back issue of its publication. For extensive information about the Adirondack Line of the D&H, seek out books by Michael Kudish, Jim Shaughnessy: You may also visit the comprehensive website of Jon Patton, The Adirondack Branch.

Additional Notes And Comments

It has been noted by local people who witnessed the train wreck that this marker placement is not completely accurate, the actual site being slightly farther up the tracks.

Beside the train wreck marker you will also find a marker in memory of  two victims of the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001. This marker was erected by family and friends of the men who had been frequent visitors to Thurman.

Fees

no

ADA Accessible

no

Tours Are Offered

no

Site is Child-friendly

yes

Site is Pet-friendly

yes

Comments

Frank Keehan was my grandfather. I was very gratified to see ths article and the recognition of his efforts and sacrifice.

Mike Keehan, 10/29/2012

I'm glad you liked it. He was considered a hero for remaining at the throttle. The story is both sad and inspiring.

Perky Granger, 10/29/2012

my dad, francis "bud" keehan was one of frank's sons. years ago, i found newspaper clippings on film in the nys library, that were published in the "Saratogian" when the crash happened. i was suprised to hear about the "heroic efforts" of "both" engineers, as the original articles faulted the other engineer and declared my grandfather a hero. either way, i am saddened that my father lost his father when he was only 27 years old and that i never got to meet my grandfather. his heroism and caring were certainly passed down to my dad who had great integrity and a loving heart.

kathleen keehan allen, 3/15/2013

Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. I do believe that the other engineer was blamed for the accident. Ray Flanigan, who researched the topic extensively was unable to find the final court findings, but said there were indications that the crew of the other train never worked on the railroad again. By "heroic efforts of both engineers", I meant only that they made every effort to slow or stop their respective trains when it was clear that a collision was imminent. It is sad, indeed. Some time ago I spoke with a man in California who believed the other engineer was his grandfather, and he said he had always sensed there was a "family secret" that lay just below the surface. When he read the story, he became convinced that this was it.

PersisGranger, 3/15/2013

persis, i have photos of my grandfather with other men who may have been part of his crew. would these be of interest to anyone? btw, i am so grateful to find this story simply by "googling" my grandfather's name. i am going to send this to frank's 3rd grandchild, my cousin anne louise keehan who lives in perth, australia. i know she will be very excited for the news. my husband and i look forward to visiting the site mentioned in your article. i appreciate the fine work done by you and ray in researching the article.

kathleen keehan allen, 8/21/2013

Hi, Kathleen--Thanks so much for contacting us about the photos you have. We would love to have copies (emailed is great). I believe one of the trainmen still resides in Saratoga. It might be possible to put names with faces. I forwarded your remarks to Ray, and he has more information about the prosecution of the crew of the Northbound train, and also noted that both crews had written orders that told them of the presence of the other train. One train was to have waited on a siding for the other to have passed. My summary lacked considerable detail! Perky (PersisGranger@aol.com)

Perky Granger, 8/22/2013

Kathleen, contact me. I have a copy of a picture of your grandfather with a crew - not sure it was the crew. You are right about who was the hero. Your grandfather stayed with the engine applying the brakes. The entire Southbound crew left the train, may have been drinking and were accused of gross negligence. Certainly they were not heroes. RayFlanigan@aol.com

Ray Flanigan, 8/22/2013

My 1st year at Camp Red Wing. I was 8 years old coming home to Grand Central Station when the train wrecked. I have told that story many times.

Joanne, 12/3/2013

Joanne! Is there a chance that you would jot that story down? I'd love to share it with our John Thurman Historical Society in our Quarterly. And I don't think we have ever had contact with any of the passengers on either of the trains. On a side note - A Thurman couple bought one of the cabins from Camp Redwing, moved it to Thurman and used it as their home, adding on to it over years. Perky Granger

Persis Granger, 12/3/2013

ray and perky: sorry i'm just seeing your comments now and will be in touch shortly. am excited to exchange information!

kathy keehan allen, 4/14/2014

Being a railfan, but not familiar with steam locomotive controls, I have to question why the plaque states "at the throttle...shouldn't it read "at the brake"? unless closing throttle was more important than dropping sand and braking. Just curious about that

Russ Patterson, 1/31/2015

i am such a stiff about contact. my health is a huge issue. i had heart surgery last summer and it has kept me down. i just ordered a kit from legacy which will finally allow me to upload pics, so i will try to get that going soon. don't give up on my yet. sincerely, kathy

kathy keehan allen, 7/29/2015

perky, i found you on fb and am following. send me a friend request please so we can msg. thanks, kathy

kathy keehan allen, 7/29/2015

My uncle Leo was the fireman on the southbound train. I remember my father telling me the story. Leo was an engineer during WW2 and he was the only one of the five brothers who was injured in the war. He was operating a troop train in Fl. and was hit in the arm with a stray bullet from the shooting range near the train. My recollection of the train incident was that the engineer told my uncle to jump. My uncle said to the the engineer "aren't you going to jump" He allegedly said "No I'm too old. My uncle was was in his mid20's spent several weeks in the Saratoga hospital and went on to spend over 40 years with the railroad. He was invited back for the commemorative stamp unveiling in the late 90's

mike ouellette, 8/31/2016

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