History: An explosion in Hurricane

On January 10, 1926, it was not unusual for Hurricane’s downtown district to be mostly devoid of people following the close of the business day. But while business may have ended for the day, the railroad never sleeps.

A coal train stopped in town, headed by one of the railroad’s multiple H-4 2-6-6-2-type locomotives, #1360, was taking on water. The train, headed west, with a string of 72 coal cars had just come out of Elk Run and was headed for the yard at Russell.

C&O 1366 was a sister engine to #1360. Photo: Bernard Kern

Seconds later and without warning, many buildings alongside the tracks would be heavily damaged and five pedestrians would be injured. The locomotive had exploded with tremendous force and rained steel, coal, and shrapnel all over the downtown business district. The blast left the engineer, the fireman, and the brakeman dead. The conductor, located in the caboose at the rear of the train, survived without injury.

J.D. Rose, engineer, 31 of Huntington; E.T. Henry, brakeman, 28 of Russell were killed. C.E. Chatin, fireman, 24 of Russell, survived the initial blast and was taken by car to the railroad hospital in Huntington, where he died the following day with severe burns to the upper half of his body.

Thomas W. Dixon reports, in the April 1969 edition of the C&O Historical Society magazine, that a half-ton piece of the engine went through the front of a local hardware store. The cab and part of the locomotive’s frame came to rest on the retaining wall a short distance east. It was said, in 1969, that the scars could still be seen on the retaining wall. A good portion of the boiler landed near the highway on the opposite of the railroad.

The Herald-Dispatch reported that since the accident happened after the business day, few people were downtown, which may have saved countless other lives. “As it was, the force of the blast, rocking buildings violently on their foundations, knocked all persons within striking distance to the ground. Persons on the streets were swept off their feet, hurled through the air, and smacked roughly to earth, many stunned and knocked breathless. Others in store buildings not yet closed were little less roughly treated, persons in several instances being hurled through the back doors of their establishments.

They also reported that a Mrs. B. B. Taylor and her son were also injured during the event. “They were struck by flying fragments of steel and iron and Mrs. Taylor was reported to have been painfully injured about the left leg and left jaw. The boy, whose first name could not be learned, was less seriously hurt. They were taken to their home, where physicians attended them.”

In Dixon’s article, he notes, “Leroy Burton, a clerk at Foster’s General Store, was assaulted by a barrage of iron, most of it in pieces weighing several pounds, which came through the window and fell all around him, leaving him unscathed, much to his amazement.”

Amazingly, despite both mainlines being blocked, passenger trains ran on-time using a siding track until the wreck was cleared and the tracks restored.

Sources: Huntington Herald-Dispatch and C&O Historical Society Magazine.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles covering interesting happenings on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

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