Articles & Stories

Train Wreck At Burnside In 1926
Claimed Life Of C. H. Stephens

Two Others Injured In What Was Recorded As The Worst
Wreck Of The Southern Railroad In Many Years

Editor's Note: Emogene Stephens Pearson of Lakeland, Florida, shares this article about the train wreck that occurred in Pulaski County at Burnside on February 6, 1926. Her father, Charles Herbert Stephens, of Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky, who was 29 years of age, was killed in this wreck. He was a fireman on the Southern Railway Engine #6250. He was born in Whitley County (now McCreary County) to James Stephens (killed by lightning in 1915) and Emma Ball, being one of 11 children. He married Hattie Morgan of Pine Knot, Knott County, Kentucky, daughter of William L. Morgan and Nancy Ann Upchurch. He was the father of three children, of which Emogene is the eldest (now 83) and only survivor.

A spike had been placed on the rails of the Southern Railroad was determined the cause of this terrible train wreck which happened on February 6, 1926, at Burnside, Pulaski County, Kentucky. The wreck claimed the life of C. E. Stephens a fireman on the Southern Railway Engine #6250.

(Photo courtesy of Emogene Stephens Pearson.)


Author Unknown - 1926

Mr. C. H. Stephens of East Main Street, Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky, was instantly killed on Saturday afternoon, February 6, 1926, in a freight wreck at Burnside in Pulaski County. The wreck occurred about 1:00 p.m., and Mr. Stephens' body was not recovered from the wreckage until 9:00 p.m. at night. About 35 years of age he was survived by his widow and three small children. He had many friends in Danville who were greatly shocked and deeply grieved when the news of his tragic death was received. The sympathy of the community went out to his grief-stricken wife and children.
Stephens' body was taken to Pine Knott last night for burial. The remains were accompanied by members of his family and by members of the Brotherhood of which he was an honored member. Brakeman Hyden of Danville was also injured as was Engineer Errett of Oakdale.
A railroad spike that had been placed on the tracks was believed to have been responsible for the wreck.
A dispatch from Burnside said that Mr. Stephens was found dead Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. pinned beneath the derailed engine which was covered by a huge mass of coal when the wreck occurred.
The train, an extra freight, loaded with coal and lumber was coming down the incline just outside of Burnside when it encountered the spike which sent the firemen to his death. The coal tender was the first to leave the rails and this was followed by the engine and then the boxcars filled with coal and lumber. Engineer Errett and Brakeman Hyden were scalded severely when the engine overturned, and the latter suffered a broken arm when struck by a heavy piece of steel.
At 1:15 p.m. Saturday afternoon officials called the wrecking crew out of Somerset, and after ten hours of hard labor the debris was cleared. It was one of the worst wrecks on the Southern Railway in years, and one that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage. Reports say that there were three or four lumber cars in the train, and these were completely demolished.
Stephens, who was born near Stearns, lived with his wife and three small children in Danville. He was 29 years old, and besides his wife and children his mother and brother survived him. Neither of his babies were over four years of age.
Stephens' brother was the county court clerk of Whitley County. The dead man had been an employee of the Southern Railway for nearly five years, during which he served in various capacities and was a regular fireman up until his death.
Engineer Errett and Brakeman Hyden were taken to the hospital immediately after the incident where first aid was administered.
Besides being scalded on the hands and face, Errett suffered slight internal and leg injuries which kept him in the hospital for several days.
No clue was found as to who put the spike on the track, though Southern Railway authorities started an investigation and were tracking down several clues in an effort to apprehend the guilty parties.
The Interstate Commerce Commission, Bureau of Safety released the following Summary of Accident Investigation Reports in March 1926:
Derailment of a freight train at Burnside, Pulaski, Kentucky, on February 6, 1926, resulted in the death of one employee, Charles Herbert Stephens; and the injury of two employees.


Charles H. Stephens of Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky, was killed in a southern railway train accient on February 6, 1926, at Burnside in Pulaski County, at the young age of 29. He left behind a wife and three young children.

(Photo courtesy of Emogene Stephens Pearson.)


This accident was caused by spikes being placed on the outside rail of a curve, apparently with malicious intent.
This accident occurred on a single-track line over which trains were operated by time-table, train orders, and an automatic block-signal system. The initial point of derailment occurred at the south switch of the passing track at Burnside, in a cut known as Sandy Cut, while the final derailment occurred at the south switch of the passing track at Burnside, located 3,433 feet beyond the initial point of derailment and about 2,500 feet south of the station. This switch was a facing-point switch for northbound trains and led off the main track to the left.
Approaching from the south the track was tangent for a distance of 1,969 feet, followed by a 6° curve to the right 1,090 feet in length; the initial mark of derailment occurring on this curve at a point 332 feet from its southern end. Following this curve there were 375 feet of tangent and then a compound curve to the left extending to and beyond the point of final derailment; the curvature of the compound curve varied from 0° 114' to 4°, and was 2° 17' at the south switch of the passing track. The grade for northbound trains was 1.075 percent descending at the initial point of derailment and was 1.136 percent descending where the final derailment occurred.
The track was laid with 100-pound rails, 39 feet in length, with 24 to 25 ties to the rail-length and was ballasted with slag. Rail anchors and tie plates were used. The track was well-maintained. The speed of freight trains was limited to 30 miles an hour.
The weather was clear at the time of the accident, which occurred at about 1:10 p.m.
The northbound freight train consisted of 36 cars and a caboose hauled by engine #6250. This train passed Tateville, 1.9 miles south of Burnside at 1:08 p.m., and while rounding the curve in Sandy Cut at a speed variously estimated to have been between 25 and 38 miles an hour the pony-truck wheels of the engine were derailed to the left, as a result of striking spikes which had been placed on the west or outside rail of the curve. The fact that this pair of wheels had been derailed was not noticed by the engine crew and the train continued until the engine encountered the south switch of the passing track at Burnside, where the final derailment occurred while the train was traveling at a speed estimated to have been between 18 and 35 miles an hour.
Engine #6250 came to rest on its left side, parallel to and west of the passing track, at a point 507 feet north of the south switch. The tender came to rest on the main track, 351 feet north of the engine, headed southward. Seventeen cars were derailed, eight of which were destroyed. The employee killed was the fireman.
On the west side of the track, about six feet from the point where the wheel mounted the rail in Sandy Cut, a track supervisor found a spike which had been run over, and at a point four feet and two inches from the receiving end of a rail on the west side of the track, on top of the rail, there was a black spot, apparently caused by ruse from some foreign matter which had been on the rail; while eight inches north of this spot a flange mark appeared on top of the rail, leading diagonally toward the left for a distance of three feet, at which point the wheel left the rail. An inspector of the commission also found a spike in the vicinity of the initial point of derailment which apparently had been placed on the rail with the point of the spikehead in an open rail joint and then had been run over by a wheel.
Measurements taken of the gauge, alignment, and super-elevation of the track showed it to be in good condition. The maximum super-elevation of the outside rail was 5 1/2 inches. Careful inspection of the engine subsequent to the accident disclosed no defect that would have caused or contributed to the accident.
Estimates of the speed of the train at the time of final derailment varied from 18 to 35 miles an hour, but the distance the train ran after the brakes had been applied, the condition of the wreckage, and the manner in which the equipment came to rest indicated that the speed probably was excessive. While speed did not cause the accident it was believed that had the speed limit been observed the consequences of the accident would have been materially lessened.


Emogene Stephens Pearson, 3845 Woodburn Loop W., Lakeland, FL 33813, shares this article with our readers.