In 1904 travel by train was still something to really appreciate. It was becoming more commonplace and allowed a whole new generation to travel long distances in a relatively short amount of time. Travel by train, rather than a horse, was easier and often safer.
Not in this case, however.
In 1904 a flash flood 8 miles north of Pueblo, Colorado, claimed the lives of over 110 people who were traveling from Denver, Colorado to St Louis, Missouri. Engineers did everything they could, but nothing could have prepared them for the wave that took the train off the tracks.
Compare this to the Big Bayou Canot rail accident in 1993 which took 47 lives that is considered the worst train wreck in Amtrak history and the greatest rail disaster since 1958, and you’ll realize just how big and terrifying these numbers are.
Flash Flood Started It All
The engineer for the train, Charles Hinman, had been previously given a thunderstorm warning for his route. The train had slowed to a crawl, only moving at about 10 miles per hour as they watched for sections of track that could have washed out during the storms.
When the train crossed over the Dry Creek arroyo bridge near Eden Station, a wave from the flash flood overtook a trestle. The train struck the water and was immediately buffeted by the water.
According to a newspaper report at the time of the accident, the engine almost made it over the bridge in one piece, but the reduced speed combined with the strength of the water was too much.
The front portion of the train was essentially dragged backward and off the bridge, taking the rest of the train cars along with it.
It only took about 4 hours for a second train to get to the scene, a surprisingly quick response time in 1904. This second car contained doctors, stretchers, nurses, and policemen.
As the floodwaters in the river receded, the damage was revealed. The engine car, arguably the heaviest of the train cars, was found submerged underwater near the bridge itself. The chair car was found nearly a mile away buried in quicksand, and the baggage and smoking cars were more than 4 miles downstream.
One woman’s remains were found 22 miles away from the original wreckage.
Newspaper reports vary, but as many as 111 of the 125 onboard died in the crash, either from the impact, drowning in the car, or being trapped under the wreckage. In a very movie scene, the only car that remained safe was the front Pullman car, which reportedly was left hanging four feet over the edge of the bridge but was saved from the fall.
It took workers only 24 hours to have the bridge back in operation and safely carrying passengers, but it was a long time before superstitious engineers would feel comfortable traveling across it.