Thanks to a comment from William and Margaret Memmer we now have the date on this Lark train wreck and can tell the whole story. The story ran under a five deck headline in the Daily Telegram with a boxed graphic naming the killed and injured. The story reads:
Fireman F. A. Melville of San Francisco was killed and eight people more or less seriously injured this morning when the first section of The Lark (no. 76), northbound, went into the ditch between this city and Santa Margarita.
No passengers were injured, though those in the front Pullmans were considerably shaken up.
The accident occurred at 3:45 this morning. The train is due to leave here at 2:58 a.m. but was a trifle late.
The cause of the accident is given by railroad officials as a spreading rail.
The location was a mile and a half toward Santa Margarita from the crest of Cuesta grade.
An emergency train was immediately sent from here, and the injured were brought to the San Luis Sanitarium with the exception of three tramps who were taken to the County Hospital.
Company officials from here were early on the scene and division officals, headed by Supt. T. Ahern, rushed to the scene.
Dr. W. M. Stover, Dr. J. A. Guilfoil and Dr. Lt Wade were summoned by railroad officials and all went to the scene of the wreck at an early hour this morning to give medical aid to the injured.
News of the accident caused large numbers from this city to motor to the scene during the early hours of the day, and with the passengers from the wrecked train and second section, only a little ways behind, formed a large crowd that kept increasing throughout the day.
Train Service Restored.
Track had been re-laid by noon over the section torn up and the first train went over the fill at 12:20 o’clock, and inside of a couple of hours passenger travel had beeen resumed on the division, several trains being held on each side of the wreck ready to go north and south.
Cars badly Piled.
The track was badly torn up for 100 yards or more. One engine (the one pulling the train) and its tender, the baggage car and mail car lay in the ditch, the engine being turned wrong side up, while the others were on their side. The front end of the dining car was smashed in, but did not go over. The diner was entirely off the rails, and the first Pullman was off with the front trucks. Balance of the train, composed of eight cars, was intact.
Conditions showed that the track had been torn up by the tender of the helper engine in front of the regular engine. The tender of this first engine went off the track just as the train emerged around the first curve from the last tunnel, going toward Santa Margarita, and before starting to cross the fill.
The engine and both front and rear trucks of the tender continued on their way and did not leave the track, though the trucks were sacked in a sorry heap.
The second or train engine evidently ploughed into the track that had been disturbed by the front tender, and still remained upright, bumping along on the ties for a considerable distance before it toppled over on its left side into the ditch, dragging the two cars with it.
Fireman Pinned Under Cab.
Fireman Melville was pinned beneath the cab of the train engine at the left hand side, and his body was not extricated up to 3 o’clock today. He had evidently been crushed to death instantly. He leaves a wife and two children in San Francisco.
Engineer Elder was hurled 75 feet down the side of the fill. He had evidently attempted to jump as the engine toppled, but instead of alighting on the right side of the track, he was hurled completely over the engine and alighted at the bottom of the fill, not ten feet from the asphalt highway. He had applied the brakes, the clamps being set tight.
George Utley of San Francisco was conductor on the train. The helper engine was manned by H.J. O’Neill, engineer, and F.H. Spear, fireman both residing in this city.
J.T. Hooper of San Francisco, express messenger, and Stephen Antone of Oakland, train electrician, were in the baggage car. Hooper has a sprained ankle and a cut on the leg and Antone has contusions of the left shoulder and body. W. F. Corder and W. F. Schular of San Jose, mail clerks, were in the mail car when it turned twice over. They were taken out of the roof of the car after what seemed hours of imprisonment in the dark. Neither was seriously hurt.
Passengers Tell of Sensations.
Passengers on the ill-fated train thronged about the scene of the wreck all morning, taking the delay in cheerful manner, congratulation themselves upon their escape.
D. Phelps of Tacoma, Wash., gave a graphic description of the way the accident impressed him.
“I was suddenly awakened out of a sound sleep,” he said to The Telegram, “and at first neither my wife nor myself could figure out what had happened. we were near the front end of the foremost Pullman, and felt the jar immediately as soon as the train got off the rails onto the ties.
“We felt the effect of the application of the brakes and I bumped my head a trifle, but not very hard. All the lights were out by this time, and people were inquiring what was the matter. We were all wondering what would happen next. The train finally stopped, and I felt around to see if the car was right side up or turned onto its side. Imagine my relief to know we were right side up.
“By this time passengers were in confusion, and some were out of their berths, wondering what had occasioned the trouble. A few candles were lighted and many passengers were hurriedly dressed and rushed outside. When I found that none of us was hurt, I went back to sleep, little thinking what a narrow escape we had had.”
Had Wreck Premonition.
A.H. Naftzger, real estate man and railroad promoter of Los Angeles, was one of several passengers who confessed to having had a premonition that something would happen to the train. He stated that all day yesterday, after he had made reservations on this train, he could not help feeling that something would go wrong.
“I didn’t think much about it at the time,” he said, “and the premonition was not of sufficient importance for me to tell any of the members of the family or friends, but I knew something would happen, and it did. It is the first wreck I was ever in, though I have been ahead and behind lots of them in my day.”
Mr. Naftzger was one of the first outside the train, and helped a number of the injured ones before the arrival of a physician, the moonlight being of assistance to him in the rescue work.
Was in Guadalupe Wreck.
One passenger was found who happened to be in the S.P. Wreck at Guadalupe in April, when No. 10 was wrecked, escaping from both uninjured. He was R.W. Poindexter, prominent broker and clubman of Los Angles. A niece, Miss Fannie Mills, was in the berth above him, the two going to San Francisco to join Mrs. Poindexter. Mr. Poindexter recalls being in a stage coach wreck a number of years ago, but a few miles from the site of the wreck this morning.
Had Berth No. 13.
Mrs. L.B. Jamvier of Pasadena had berth No. 13 on the Pullman nearest the front and says the accident has taken all the superstition out of her.
“I wasn’t afraid to travel in berth No. 13, ” she said, “even if I did start on Friday. When the Pullman clerk gave me No. 13 I thought at first I would not take it and told him so, then I braced up and told him I wasn’t afraid, and he gave it to me.
Mrs. Jamvier is prominent in State W.C.T.U work, being state superintendent of the department of unfermented wine at sacraments and is on her way to Seattle to the national convention after a visit at the fair.
A Los Angles woman who declined to give her name said she had first taken reservations on “The Owl” but at the last moment changed her mind and decided to take the Lark as it would reach the city a few minutes earlier.
An emergency telegraph station was rigged up near the wreck, and from this train orders were communicated many of the passengers taking advantage of it to wire anxious friends and relatives of their safety.
Dining Car Shaken Up.
Employees of the dining car were thrown to one end of the car, but none was injured. They immediately set about preparations for serving breakfast and before daylight began feeding the hungry.
Dynamo Still Intact.
In the baggage-dynamo car is a 12-ton dynamo used to light the train. With this car standing on the sloping fill, the machinery is intact and in working order.
Valves Blow Off.
When the engine of The Lark left the track and rolled down the incline of the fill, the valves blew off, permitting the oil and steam to escape instead of the boiler blowing up. Steam and oil were thrown 150 feet across the State Highway.
Train was going forty miles an hour when it left the rails. Chief Dispatcher Geo. Merritt was early at the scene of the wreck, directing with other officials the care of the injured and the work of building a temporary track.
Postmaster W. P. Thorne sent an auto to Santa Margarita where the early mail from the north was held up, bringing it to this city and distributing it by shortly after nine o’clock.
More Scared Than Hurt.
“Somebody bring me my coat please,” cried young Van Womer, on of the three men who were bumming their way on the blind baggage, when he had been picked up and placed in one of the cars.
“The coat has a letter written to me by my mother back in Arkansas and I want to see it before I die,” he pleaded, worse scared than hurt. An obliging passenger went for the coat and game him his keepsakes, both undamaged.
“My mother didn’t want me to bum my way, but I had to see the fair. I paid my fare as far as Tucson, Ariz. but ran out of funds there, and have been working and bumming since.” He got caught in the barbwire fence separating the S.P. right of way from the highway and cut his legs painfully above the ankles.
Neitherof the other tramps that were hurt were more than 20 years old.
The photos are of a train wreck on Cuesta Grade.
The only caption information we have is Lark wreck near San Luis Obispo.
Judging from the cars and clothing this appears to be the late 1910′s to early 1920′s.
Please post a comment if you have better information.
Before Amtrak became the national rail entity individual railroads ran independent passenger services.
Southern Pacific used to have overnight service with deluxe sleeper cars between Los Angeles and Oakland-San Francisco in a train called the Lark.
(They also had a Morning Daylight and Noon Daylight.)
As the automobile became more popular, railroads had to compete to survive.
The problem with passengers is they want to be treated like humans, not freight. Apparently Southern Pacific was uncomfortable with this concept.
Passenger service requires a company to hire a lot of pesky employees, buy expensive deluxe sleeper cars and it messes up the timetables for more profitable freights.
By the mid-1960′s the railroad union was locked in a battle with the Southern Pacific to maintain the trains and jobs. The railroad had lost interest in the passenger.
By May 1971 Amtrak was formed as a government owned corporation to keep the form of transportation alive.