05 November 2010

Train Accidents Took Many Loved Ones

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
November 201

We are curious creatures. By that I mean, we as researchers, when looking for specific items in newspapers, always end up reading a zillion other articles before getting to the subject of our search.

And just about every newspaper in America in the early 1900's carried articles of train wrecks or people hit by trains when on the rails. As I was scanning an article about a family member in the Ashland Daily Independent I noticed a tiny one paragraph item telling of the death of yet another person killed by a train.

"9 April 1931 Tom May Killed By Train Today. The body of Tom May, 30, of Alphoretta, KY., was found badly mangled lying on the railroad tracks near Dinwood at 7 o'clock this morning. It is not known what train struck May and is not known how long he had been dead."

Alphoretta is located in Floyd County, Kentucky but the spelling is often confused with Alpharetta which is in Georgia. Alphoretta is just off Route 80 on Dinwood Road with just a few scattered homes.

Curious creature that I am I decided to view the death certificate for a few more details. The Floyd County death certificate was delayed. But the information shows that Thomas Jefferson May was younger than the Ashland paper had said. He was born 10 January 1910, the son of Clark May of Alphoretta. He was an engine oiler in a local gas plant. The tracks belonged to Chesapeake & Ohio and the doctor comment was "supposed to be accidentally struck by train."

The 1930 Federal census for Alphoretta, Floyd County, shows a large family. His father is listed as Beverly L. C. May and his mother [who was not listed on the death certificate] was Dollie. Tom is listed as 20 years old and doing farm labor.

The C&O, B&O and N&W rails along with many short lines crisscrossed Eastern Kentucky providing passenger service, mail and industrial hauls. When I transcribed the entries for Scioto Division Norfolk & Western RailRoad Life And Limb 1895-1928 I stopped many times because of the graphic details written by the physicians. While the book is based out of Scioto County, Ohio some of the rail workers and passengers were Kentucky natives. And not all entries ended with death.

Everett Short, a carpenter from Fallsburg, [Lawrence County] Kentucky bruised his foot and fractured the phalanx of his left great toe on 23 November 1916.

J. D. White of Fullerton [Greenup County] mashed his nail off his right thumb while working at the planing mill in March 1915. That had to be painful. Another Greenup resident, A. B. Callihan also bruised his right thumb at the joint while either working for N&W in Portsmouth or just standing at Grant Street in Portsmouth in 1922. The details are not clear and the injury, while reported to Roanoke, was not bad. These small incidences of course did not make the local newspapers.

I love the sound and rhythm of the trains as they follow the ribbon of the Ohio River. The power of the engines and the visual of industry flowing into our state by these majestic pieces of machinery always leaves me in awe. I even wonder about the spray painted graphics, known as tagging, on the cars these days. Where was that done and how many miles has it traveled since some one tagged it?

When I was a little girl we followed US #23 beside the rails to Portsmouth, Ohio where I sat by the hour on Waller Street, at my grandmothers, playing with my father and uncles O gauge railroad. I cherish the Christmas pictures of them as children playing with the train under the Christmas tree. We now have a rather large O gauge layout, thanks to my father, that his great grandchildren enjoy at our house. Both my grandsons are being given a small wooden train set for their 2nd birthdays this month from us. It makes me smile when they say "choo choo." Many happy hours of play.

[Nellie Kautz Martin of Ashland KY with grandson Henry Kautz Martin Jr at Henry Kautz and Clara Page Geer Martin home Portsmouth, OH about 1936]

But the reality is that many loved ones either working for or traveling and simply crossing the tracks have given their lives in the name of this powerful industry. it is part of our Eastern Kentucky history and it leaves me in awe.

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