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Collins Genealogy, By Ethel (Buxton) McLean 







Richmond Times-Dispatch                         Monday, October 5, 1925


Home    >    Newspaper Articles    >    C& O Railroad Tunnel Collapse, Richmond VA (Part 1)





[C & O Railroad Tunnel Collapse, Richmond VA]

Fear of Slide Stops Work of Steam Shovel

New Cracks Appear Along Top of Hill

Slow Progress Being Made in Removal of Debris

Conflicting Stories Told of Number of Men Imprisoned


Huge yawning cracks, opening with fearful rapidity, over the entire section of Jefferson Park Hill where the big steam shovel had been cutting away tons of earth in the effort to reach the engineer and negro workman who were caught underneath the cave-in of the Chesapeake and Ohio tunnel, off Nineteenth Street, late Friday afternoon caused the officials in charge of the rescue work to abandon that steam shovel at 3:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Many of the gaping openings in the side of the hill measured many feet in width and went to a distance of thirty feet or more, so numerous were the openings that the hillside near the scene of the tragedy resembled a giant cake that had been broken into bits by a family of hungry urchins.



Hope is Abandoned


The last hope that the imprisoned workmen would be found alive was abandoned when the steam shovel stopped work, although officials of the company declared that the three shafts into the hill, two of them started immediately after the shovel was abandoned, would allow rescue workers to reach the level of the tracks as quickly as the shovel could hope to break through.

In addition to the three shafts, one of which had reached a depth of twenty feet at 10 o'clock [missing] night, workers were rushing debris from the western entrance of the tunnel. This work, as that of the shaft-digging, progressed very slowly, the workers being forced to carry the earth and masonry to flat cars, located a short distance away, on wheelbarrows and [illegible] shovels.



Dangerous Games


No work was attempted from the eastern section, heavy and poisonous gases having accumulated in the tunnel to endanger the life of any who dared enter that entrance.

Police authorities, acting upon advice of Director Compton, cleared the top of Jefferson Park of all spectators, when the rain started to fall early last night, because it was feared that the rainfall would be certain to cause the entire hill to slide into the excavation made by the steam shovel.

First news of additional breaks in the side of the hill came about 9 o'clock Saturday night, after the steam shovel had eaten deep into the side of the hill near the Marshall Street Viaduct. It created considerable uneasiness to residents near the top of the hill and many of them spent the night at the scene checking up on the [illegible] openings.


Tunnel Collapse



Shafts Seem Best Chance


It was not decided, however, to call off the big shovel until late yesterday afternoon, after engineers in charge of the work had held a conference and decided that the best possible method of reaching the locomotive was through shafts.

Meanwhile, workers had started to remove debris from the mouth of the tunnel and several flat car loads had been carried away at 10 o'clock last night.

Thousands of person stood along the police lines and watched the rescue workers during the day and it was estimated that more than 75,000 persons visited the scene during the day, many of them remaining from early morning until late last night.



Number of Prisoners Unknown


Conflicting stories of the number of men imprisoned in the death pit were told, although railway officials insisted that only three men were unaccounted for. One negro workman, one of the last to escape from the death chamber, told a reporter that he heard others calling for help when he ran from the place.

It was also reported that the company had "taken on" several new workmen on Friday morning, and it was said that their foreman had not had time to secure their names before the tunnel fell.



Bright Makes Inspection


Mayor J. Fulmer Bright, who was absent from the city yesterday, returned last night and made a thorough inspection of the work being done by the railway officials. Mayor Bright said that every employee of the city had been offered to the railway officials, and that the city was ready to render every possible assistance to the workers.

The Mayor also complimented the workers on the headway they had made in overcoming the great natural difficulties encountered in their work, and expressed confidence that the shafts would reach the entombed men as quick, or quicker . . than if the steam shovel had been allowed to work and be compelled to cut through the additional slide which was inevitable.

"The railway officials have the assistance of city engineers, those of both companies who are working on the Shockoe Creek project, and together, there will not be found four more competent heads," Mayor Bright said.

"When the shafts are sunk to a desired level, lateral tunnels will be made, so that the imprisoned men will be released, if they are alive, or their bodies recovered."



Protection for School


The Mayor conferred with the Chief of Police and ordered special police protection for the Jefferson School, which is located directly at the foot of the hill where the slide occurred, and ordered that all children who attend school today be confined to the southern side of the street, in front of the school building.

He also directed that the police maintain the strict vigilance shown since the accident, in keeping unauthorized persons from the immediate vicinity of the workers.

It is probable that another "donkey" engine, capable of lifting a huge load from the perpendicular shaft, will be added to the equipment this morning. The offer for this engine was made by a local contractor last night, and likely will be accepted today.



City Equipment Offered


Director of Public Works, R. Keith Compton said last night that the city of Richmond had acted "only in an advisory capacity" in clearing out the tunnel. He added, however, that city equipment had been placed at the disposal of the Chesapeake and Ohio, which he said, had plenty of men available for the work.

L. B. Allen, superintendent of maintenance of way for the Chesapeake and Ohio, who is in charge of the digging around the cave-in, estimated last night that "two more days and nights" would be required before the first shaft could reach the buried engine.

Superintendent Allen, who has had twenty-five years experience in maintenance of way work, explained that the steam shovel had been stopped largely because it was causing dangerous cracks in the side of Jefferson Park, under which the tunnel runs.

The superintendent and other officials of the Chesapeake and Ohio held a conference at the tunnel this morning, and decided that the sinking of shafts above the engine, where Engineer Tom Mason is expected to be found, was the logical thing to do. Work has been continued on the first shaft, and two more have been started to the rear and in front of the position where the engine is supposed to be.



Safer Method Used


Superintendent Allen said that it would have been easily possible to assemble more steam shovels and made a great display of frantic digging, but that the method of sinking shafts and working in from the western end of the tunnel appeared "logical and sensible."

Gangs of workmen clearing out the tunnel entrance are being relieved as fast as they tire out, the superintendent said, explaining that all employees of the Chesapeake and Ohio had been ordered to stand in readiness for service in clearing out the cave-in. A rumor current in Richmond last night to the effect that miners had been brought in to help with the work was denied. The Chesapeake and Ohio has as many men as could work practicably in the tunnel work, it was said.

There was a report that one of the two negro workmen, hitherto unaccounted for, had reported to work today at the Chesapeake and Ohio, but verification was lacking. Officially the record shows the engineer and two workmen somewhere in the tunnel.



Work inside Tunnel


A crew of workers were put to work inside the Nineteenth Street entrance of the tunnel, where a bridge gang had previously placed heavy timber supports to the weakened tunnel, when the steam shovel was abandoned, but only a few flat-car loads of dirt had been hauled from that section at dark last night. A switch engine and crew were kept at the entrance and as fast as the workers could load one car, it was carried away and dumped. The men were forced to load the cars by hauling dirt a short distance in wheelbarrows, and it was a tedious task.

The engine is believed to be caught at a point about seventy feet inside the entrance, but engineers at the scene late yesterday said that it would be several days before it could be reached by burrowing through the tunnel, chiefly because a bridge crew would have to add heavy supports as the workmen carried debris away from the opening.



Work on Shaft Continues


Work on the shaft, which was started Saturday at a point directly over where the locomotive and its driver are believed to be imprisoned, continued yesterday. A "donkey" engine, or hoister, lifted the dirt from the shaft in a large bucket, but had to stop frequently while heavy timbers were placed in position to prop the sides.

This crew, working in relays had only reached a depth of about twenty feet at 6 o'clock last night, and they have a distance of approximately forty feet to go before they hope to reach the top of the tunnel.



Fear Felt for Viaduct


Fear was felt for the safety of the Marshall Street Viaduct, which was reopened to street car traffic on Saturday afternoon, after the section of the hill near the eastern end of the viaduct cracked yesterday afternoon, and additional workers went to work immediately re-enforcing the already heavy timber supports.

Street cars, however, continued to operate over the viaduct while the bridge men were adding supports underneath the piers, and men in charge of the work scouted the idea that the heavy street cars endangered the structure.

Two heavy cables, fastened to the steel supports of the viaduct from the northern side, and running to the top of the shaft a short distance away [missing section] persons in the crowd to move farther away from the scene as it was believed that they would help to pull the steel supports out of line, should the weight of the "donkey" engine become strong enough, while lifting dirt from the shaft.



Report is Discredited


A report was started about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon by some speculative person in the crowd, that one Negro workman had managed to crawl out from the death pit, and that he had said other men were still alive in the tunnel. This created great excitement, especially among the hundreds of negroes who mingled with the thousands of white persons about the place, and police had difficulty for a few minutes in holding the surging crowds back of the safety lines.

The rumor was soon discredited, and the crowd at once became orderly.


the breaks extend for a distance of several hundred feet, reaching almost to the eastern end of the viaduct. Near the other end, the breaks extend generally upwards instead of along the side in a rough line, but no cracks have been found near the row of brick residences, which extend almost to the very edge of the southwestern part of the hill, a short distance from the first cave-in.

Should the hill continue to crack and open near this point, it was said last night, the homes nearest the side would be endangered, for the sliding hillside would weaken the foundation of those houses.



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