Horrendous train wreck 6/9/1920
- Classic Tales of Old Dorp: Horrendous train wreck 88 years ago today
took 18 lives; resident recalls scene
Monday, June 9, 2008
By Larry Hart
The impact of the train crash in West Glenville on June 9, 1920,
heavily damaged some equipment. Righting cars and clearing the area
took several days.Text Size: A | A | A
The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart's
long-running column, "Tales of Old Dorp." Today, Hart revisits one of
the great, tragic accidents in Schenectady County's history — the
train crash in West Glenville that happened 88 years ago today. This
column originally was published June 5, 1984.
A calamitous train wreck occurred in West Glenville, just west of
Scotia, in the pre-dawn hours of June 9, 1920 — and it was of such
magnitude that some who were children then remember it to this day.
It was shortly after 1 a.m. that a tremendous explosion reverberated
throughout the area of Clute's Crossing as eastbound New York Central
Express No. 34 plowed into Accommodation No. 28, killing more than a
dozen persons outright and injuring scores of others. Ed King, a
nearby farmer, always would recall being awakened by that awful
combined sound of the explosion of No. 34's boiler and the ripping of
wood and metal.
As the accident was reconstructed by a subsequent investigation, the
accommodation or sleeping car train left Syracuse perhaps eight
minutes ahead of the express. The latter was late and was trying to
make up time as it neared the Glenville crossings of Rector's, Clute's
and Hutchinson's (at the west end of the former Scotia Navy Depot).
Train No. 28 had stopped for some reason near Clute's Crossing, where
Barhydt and Vly Roads meet. The stop signals were turned on farther
west of the crossings.
However, No. 34's engineer, Martin Doyle, who was 50 that day, failed
to see the signals and his hurtling train crashed into the back of the
train of sleeping cars and day coaches. Doyle was among those
All through the night and after dawn, rescuers worked among the
wreckage of shattered wood and twisted metal, bringing out dead and
injured and giving first aid. Most of the passengers were from the
western part of the state, New York City and New England, the train
having been made up in Syracuse. And, because of the hour, most of
those aboard had been sleeping when the accident happened.
Relief trains brought doctors and nurses to the grisly scene and took
the wounded to the city's railroad station, where police cars and
ambulances transported them to Ellis Hospital. The hospital was put on
emergency alert shortly before 1:30 a.m. and its surgical teams worked
through that long morning to save lives, which often hung in the
balance. Two special wards were set aside to accommodate the victims
brought in from the wreck.
It would be announced later that, in all, 18 persons died in the crash
and about 60 had been injured. In his annual report for 1920, Ellis
board president Willis T. Hanson Sr. observed: "The recent railway
accident at Rector's (Clute's Crossing) has demonstrated clearly what
the hospital is capable of doing in cases of emergency."
Norman E. "Pink" Wurz, who with wife Jean still lives within an
earshot of the fateful crossing site, remembers the incident well. He
and his older brother Don were sleeping when, early that morning,
their mother shouted from the foot of the stairs: "You boys had better
get up. . . . There's been a bad train wreck down the road!"
They hurried to the crossing, which by then was a scene of mass
humanity gathered around unbelievable wreckage and suffering. It was
about 500 feet east of Clute's Crossing. So the accommodation train
apparently had stopped between Clute's and Hutchinson's.
Word must have spread quickly, despite the lack of radio or television
in those days, because people were arriving by foot, carriage and
auto. As they converged on the scene, many walked out into an oat
field on the north side of the tracks to get a better view of the
Norm Wurz said it was a 20-acre crop owned by dairyman Louis Van Buren
on his farm but, after the last of the crowds of spectators were
through milling around in the days to follow, there "wasn't a grain of
oats left in that whole field." He heard that people had come from a
radius of 100 miles to see the wreck site and watch the cleanup, which
took several days.
Norm recalls it was examination day at Rector's School, and "we ran to
the school at the last minute to just make the 9 a.m. opening."