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.
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.
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.
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.
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.