Ballston Spa Life
Trolley Railroad Had Its Fair Share of Accidents
Ballston Spa Life
With three trolley lines and one steam railroad serving Ballston Spa, there were bound to be railroad-related accidents. The slow speed of the Ballston Terminal Railroad kept the number of accidents on the trolley line to a minimum, but they were still a way of life for railroad workers.
The first fatality was reported in April 1899, less than a year after the little railroad began operating. Lineman Robert Lowe attempted to board a moving car when his trousers got caught and caused him to fall underneath it. His legs were crushed as the car rolled over him, and attempts by the local doctor to save his life by amputating them were of no avail. The company paid $125 in damages to his family.
Another fatality occurred in January 1901. Stewart Lansing was working on the snowplow near Bairds Crossing at Pioneer Mill. He was seen to either faint or fall from the plow, hitting his head on the stones that were used to weigh it down. Dr. Lawrence was called to the scene, but he later died of his injuries. Lansing was 34 years old and left behind a wife and two children.
The notoriously dangerous link-and-pin couplers originally used by the railroad were the cause of several accidents. The brakeman would have to stand between two cars holding a pin. When the slots (links) of the two cars lined up, he would quickly drop it in. This required perfect timing. If the brakeman’s hand was not removed fast enough, it could be crushed.
The first accident involving these couplers occurred on August 19, 1899. David Guertin stepped between two moving cars to take the coupling pin out while working at the Glen Mill. His foot somehow slipped between a guardrail and running rail and became stuck. Fortunately, the train stopped before he was run over. After his foot was removed he was attended by Dr. Lawrence, who gave him the good news that there were no broken bones or permanent injuries.
The trolley car Chandler was damaged on February 3, 1900 when it went over the steep bank of Blue Mill Pond. Conductor Asa McOmber and motorman Charles Witbeck had been backing down the wye at the Northend Station to head north on the mainline. When the brakes failed to slow the trolley down, it jumped the tracks and slid on the ice down Milton Avenue. McOmber and Witbeck attempted to apply the brakes as it went, but finally had to jump off when the bank of the pond was in sight. The car came to a stop upright in about four feet of water. The trucks and under-gearing were badly damaged, but the rest of the car remained largely intact, having missed a large elm tree by a few feet. The accident caused quite a stir in the town, with hundreds of people gathering around and taking pictures.
Injuries involving passengers seemed to be rare. One of the few involved Lizzie O’Brien in 1906. The crew hit a boxcar rather violently when attempting to couple with it, and she hit her face on the side of the trolley. Another incident occurred in 1913 when James Birch of Factory Village stepped off a moving trolley at the Northend Station and tripped. When he put out his arms to catch himself, one of his hands was run over. When he got to the hospital, Dr. Herst had to amputate three fingers.
People weren’t the only casualties on the railroad. On July 16, 1904, the trolley car George West was moving some freight cars at the Glen Mill as a wagon driver named Charles Mabb was coming down the road to the mill. The brakeman called out to him, but Mabb couldn’t stop the wagon from colliding with one of the cars. Mabb was able to jump clear, but one of his horses was severely injured. Officer O’Brien was called to dispatch the animal when they saw it was too injured to recover. In August, the horse’s owner Louis Guertin sued the railroad for negligence in the death of his horse. It was valued at $300.