Trolley Accident
Tom Beardsley





 (by Tom Beardsley It was a great event when the trolley car finally came to Willimantic in 1903. Many considered this to Willimantic's coming of age growth and prosperity were to follow. But local trolley services lasted little more than a generation, destroyed by their expensive, long journeys through rural locations, poor ridership, competition from petroleum-driven buses and the convenience of the private automobile. But for a while Willimantic's trolley car business boomed. Willimantic's trolleys had to contend with the grade crossings on Lower Main Street, so it was never possible to go non-stop from Baltic to Coventry. Passengers had to get off the west bound trolley at lower Main Street, cross the railroad tracks, and get onto another trolley car which would take then up Main Street and onto Coventry. Trolley cars also had to negotiate the railroad underpass and the narrow stone bridge between the American Thread Company mills. Minor trolley-car accidents were common, but the most serious happened  when, at 4:45 pm on Thursday, December 2, 1909, a double-truck closed car, operated by the Connecticut Trolley Company, departed Norwich carrying a large number of traveling salesmen, en route to sell their wares in Willimantic. It stopped in South Windham, and picked up workers from the Smith and Winchester Company who were heading to their homes in Willimantic.  As the trolley gained speed down Dugway valley, adjacent to the Shetucket River, it gained speed, and left the tracks. The car bumped along the ties and spun round. Its front end went down into the ditch on the east side of the track, demolishing a telegraph pole. The rear end of the car remained on the track, blocking it completely. The front end of the car was at the bottom of the ditch, some fifteen feet below the track. Onlookers were amazed that the precariously balanced car had not flipped over. The car was sheered from its truck, and beyond broken glass, it did not sustain major damage. The passengers were violently thrown out of their seats. They crawled out of the car through its broken windows. Drs Weldon, O'Neill and Guild rushed to the scene to treat the injuries. The most serious were sustained by Leander Austin, a foreman at Smith and Winchester, who suffered a broken arm and rib. Those of the injured who did not  live locally were temporarily housed in local hotels. The blocked track caused a great deal of inconvenience and  was not opened until the following Saturday afternoon, December 4, when the 2:45 pm car from Norwich arrived in Willimantic at 4:05 pm. The derailed car was repaired in the Greeneville car barn. It was discovered that metal fatigue had caused by the front axle to sheer in half, and derail the car. The car had been running on a straight stretch of track when it suddenly left the rails. The forty passengers on board said that the car did not appear to be running at an excessive speed but nonetheless  believed that their final day had arrived.



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