Today (Thursday) marks the 79th anniversary of arguably the worst train accident that ever took place in Conecuh County.
It was on this day, Dec. 17, in 1936 that two passenger trains collided at Castleberry and killed three men. Under the headline, “THREE KILLED IN HEAD-ON COLLISSION AT CASTLEBERRY,” The Evergreen Courant reported in a front-page story that engineers Leo Gorey and Philip Grizzard, both of Montgomery, and a train fireman, whose last name was Barnes, were killed when Louisville & Nashville Railroad passenger trains No. 2 and No. 3 “piled up” on this Thursday morning around 5 a.m. Gorey was the engineer on Train No. 2. Grizzard was the engineer on Train No. 3, and Barnes was a fireman on that train.
One other man was severely injured on Train No. 2, but The Courant was unable to learn his name. Amazingly, no passengers on either train were injured, “other than being shaken up considerably,” The Courant reported.
Train No. 3, which ran from Cincinnati to Mobile, was traveling “rapidly” south and was supposedly issued an order at Evergreen to take a side track at Castleberry to avoid Train No. 2, which was being held on the main line at the Castleberry train station and was taking on water at the tank there. The No. 3 train was said to have been “running three hours late” and for some unknown reason, Grizzard failed to take the side track and hit Train No. 2 head-on.
The Courant mentioned that the rail switch at Castleberry was located several hundred yards north of the water tank, and many believed that “foggy, murky weather may have played an important part” in causing the accident.
This accident is one of a number of tragic train accidents that have happened in Conecuh County over the years. On Aug. 15, 1966, George E. Weems, 49, of Piedmont, who was believed to have been a “hobo,” was killed during a train derailment around 7:30 a.m. near Owassa. Over 30 cars of the long freight train derailed and overturned in a curve on the L&N Railroad tracks, and Weems was found dead in the wreckage. It was believed that Weems and two other men were hitching a ride on the train, but no trace of the other two men was found.
On Sept. 21 in 1912 around 5:30 a.m., the No. 2 passenger train and a freight train collided a few hundred feet above the north switch on the L&N Railroad in Evergreen. The Courant described it as “one of the worst train wrecks that has been on this division of the L&N in a long while” and that “it was nothing short of a miracle that no one was killed.”
Later that same year, on Dec. 27 in 1912, the No. 2 Passenger Train, which passed through Evergreen at 5:19 a.m., wrecked at Garland. The engine and three cars overturned, and it was reported that the engineer, fireman and several others were injured. This was the third wreck on that division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in 10 days.
Those are just a sample of some of the many train accidents that have occurred in Conecuh County over the years, but thankfully they are few and far between. Train accidents are not as common as they once were and this is likely due to improved safety standards, better communications and better equipment.