| Mountain Railroad Train Crash Kills William Dodge|
, William C. Dodge was born July 9, 1869 in Gouverneur, Saint Lawrence, New York. He married Annis Bacon b. July 23, 1871 in 1890 and they had a son Ernest A. C. Dodge born Oct. 10, 1893, in Fulton County, New York.
William was the son of Clark E. Dodge who was born August 22, 1837, his wife Frances M. who was born in 1843.
On the Fourth of July, 1902, two trolleys collided halfway down Bleeker Mountain north of Gloversville, New York, killing more than a dozen people and maiming and injuring scores of others in what was perhaps the deadliest railroad accident ever to occur in the Adirondack Mountains.
The Mountain Railroad was established to take guests from the town of Gloversville to a beautiful resort located on top of Bleeker Mountain. This was a short 4.6 mile trip up a very steep grade. At the summit, the railroad company had built a hotel, rental cottages, a shooting gallery, a casino, an outdoor theater, picnic areas, and a dance pavilion on a 140-acre wooded park surrounding the lake. Visitors could swim, boat and fish on the spring-fed waters, and the shore was served by foot trails and a small steam launch.
A week before the 4th of July, the railroad had run ads in the Gloversville newspaper for Mountain Lake Park's patriotic festivities, which included a professional vaudeville act, a band concert, races, a baseball game, and Fireworks. Thousands of revelers traveled up the mountain that weekend. Most waited until after the fireworks display to take the trolley home again.
Around 10:00 PM, Car No. 1 started down the mountain with about 75 passengers filling the aisles and seats, a full load for the light, open-sided coach. An experienced motorman named Arthur Perkins was at the controls. He had left another line to work for the Mountain Lake Electric Railroad when it first opened; and he was one of the few to remain on the job after the company cut its motormen's salaries from $2.00 to $1.75 for a ten-hour shift, after one year in business.
For safety's sake, the cars run five minutes apart, but the railroad had no dispatcher and it was up to the motormen to determine when to head down the steep grade into Groverville. Car No. 5, a large closed trolley, was also crammed full, carrying 55 passengers and their baggage. The motorman was William Dodge, who normally worked in the car barn, where the trolleys were housed and maintained. He had been "drafted" for duty as a motorman for the unusually busy holiday weekend. When tapped for duty, William Dodge reportedly told his wife that he would rather die than motor down the mountain at night. He knew Car 5's reputation of being hard to brake, but he accepted the assignment for fear of losing his job if he refused.
On that hectic night, the runs were growing chaotic. Car 4 had left the lake before ten o'clock and was returning up the mountain, where it entered a siding to allow Car 1 to pass on the way down. When Car 4 resumed its climb, however, it met Car 5 only about 500 feet further up the track, so it backed into the siding to let Car 5 pass by. In the meantime, Car 1 had reached the first sharp curve on its descent and, as a precaution, stopped to survey the track ahead; but just as Car 1 got underway again, Car 5 suddenly loomed on the track above, closing dangerously fast.
What followed may be best described in Motorman Dodge's own words. "When the car left the first switch, I tried to hold the car back with the brakes and found that they would not work. I then tried the reverse lever and could not control the car; and when I started down the grade, I tried the brakes and could not make them respond. Next I again reversed the car and continued to do so, but the car soon got away from me; and when I saw that a collision was going to happen, I again reversed the car and the collision happened. The brakes would not work, and I could not control the car. Just as I reached the curve, the trolley went off."
Knowledgeable witnesses at the coroner's inquest testified that the brakes on Car 5 had always been hard to set. What Dodge didn't know was that by reversing the motors, he had tripped the circuit breaker in the powerhouse. With no electricity to keep the car in reverse, the weightier Car 5 soon overtook and plowed into the rear of Car 1, lifting the latter momentarily from the tracks. Dodge could have jumped off before impact - a number of panicked people on both cars did - but he dutifully stood in the control vestibule and was mortally crushed from the waist down. The last person to die from the accident, Dodge succumbed two days later at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, shortly after making his statement.
After the rear-end collision, the trolleys slid together down the dizzy grade at 60 to 70 miles per hour with 130 terrified excursionists aboard. In Car 1, Perkins and a passenger desperately pulled at the hand brakes, but the shoes were not designed to handle the weight of two cars. At the coroner's inquest, and expert witness testified that he had found the brakes set and the steel wheels sheared flat. Red-hot friction had scoured the locked wheels of Car 1 as the train careened down the mountain. At a hairpin curve to the left, Car 1 derailed and rolled onto its right side. Car 5 also left the tracks, but remained upright on the roadbed.
Ten passengers died beneath the overturned car. According to the newspaper account, "some of the bodies were terribly torn and partially denuded of clothing. Limbs were severed and on the faces of many of the dead were indications that they underwent frightful sufferings before death released them from their agony The number of casualties might have been higher than 14, but many people braved the jump into the black night. When the cars derailed, they lost their source of electricity and the accident scene was plunged into total darkness, hampering rescue efforts until someone found the wits to light a bon-fire.
The first hero of the evening was William Berghoff, 17, a passenger on Car 5. Risking his life, he ran up the tracks to flag down the next car before it piled into the unlit wreck. Another youth ran further up the dark mountain to get help. With great difficulty, a group of local men manually lifted Car 1 off the dead or dying victims lying crushed beneath it. It took more than two hours for a relief trolley to arrive carrying doctors and nurses from Nathan Littauer Hospital. The injured were quickly loaded onto the rescue car and transported to the hospital, but many local physicians were out of town for the long holiday weekend. Available doctors and nurses worked through the night and all the next day to attend the scores of wounded.
Why did the accident happen? There were many factors, but cost-cutting by the Mountain Lake Electric Railroad was likely the chief one. By lowering salaries in the second year of operation, the railroad lost many of its experienced motormen. The NYS Commissioner of Railroads, Frank M. Baker, later testified that the Mountain Lake run was unusually challenging and required the best railroaders, but some of the replacement motormen were younger than twenty-one years old. Without a dispatcher, there was no one to prevent the inexperienced Dodge from following Car 1 too closely. Each car was equipped with only one brake, and none had emergency or auxiliary brakes. The cars carried no signal lights.
In the aftermath, claims for damages against the Mountain Lake Electric Railroad were so high that the company went bankrupt.
Mr. Dodge leaves behind his wife of 12 years, Annis Bacon Dodge, and a son, Ernest A. C. Dodge.