The Hemphill Train Wreck


On this day in 1936 there was a massive train wreck in Welch, West Virginia, at Hemphill. A coal train consisting of 14 loaded cars wrecked, blocking the east and westbound tracks. Investigators discovered loose spikes alongside the tracks, leading to suspicion that spikes were placed on the tracks in an act of deliberate sabotage.

700 tons of coal were scattered along the tracks at the scene of the accident. Although the locomotive was badly damaged and the cars were turned into twisted wreckage, there was only one injury when the fireman, J. W. Willis, jumped from the cab just before the engine overturned.

It was later discovered that the spikes placed on the tracks were put there by a 14 year old boy, Harold Smith, who told authorities that he did so for the thrill of seeing a train wreck. Smith was tried in juvenile court and sentenced to reform school for his actions.

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