Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Life and Death on the Train

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This month Sepia Saturday is all about travel to and fro. 

Unknown woman at Grove Hill, VA
Unknown woman
Grove Hill, Page Co, VA
train station
I wonder who this unidentified woman at the Grove Hill train station was and where she was going. Maybe just a few miles away to Shenandoah or Luray? Maybe further along the route to Harrisonburg, Staunton, or Roanoke? Or maybe she had a big trip planned to Washington DC or even New York.

No doubt she was a passenger on the Norfolk & Western Railroad that ran through the Shenandoah Valley. The railroad was big business in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially for the little town of Shenandoah, Virginia, where so many of my ancestors lived. Over 30 members of my family were employed at one time or another by the railroad. They were conductors, engineers, brakemen, firemen, car repairmen, signal men, clerks, and railroad storekeepers.

Joseph Rucker and others N & W Railroad Shenandoah, VA
My great-grandfather Joseph Rucker
4th from left

If citizens of Shenandoah didn’t work for the railroad, they were neighbors to someone who did. The N&W fostered a tight community. So it must have been a sad time for everyone when one of their own was hurt on the job. No doubt friends and neighbors rallied around my family when a son/husband/brother/father confronted the worst day of his life on the job.

Hiram Oscar Eppard (2nd great uncle)

Newspaper article Hiram Oscar Eppard
11 Sep 1894 Alexandria Gazette
Oscar Eppard, aged 24 years, of Shenandoah was killed by a fall from the new Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge over Gwynn Falls, Baltimore, yesterday.

John W. B. Jollett (1st cousin 3X removed)

Newspaper article John B. Jollett
6 Aug 1897 Harrisonburg Rockingham Register
At an early hour last Thursday morning a freight wreck occurred on the Norfolk & Western Railroad near Ingham Station, about twelve miles south of Luray. The train was going north, and becoming uncoupled, without the knowledge of the engineer, the rear part ran into the forward cars as the engineer slowed up for the station. Some half dozen cars were demolished and a man named Turley, said to be a brother of Mr. George F. Turley, train dispatcher of Shenandoah, Page County, who was riding on the train, was killed. Mr. John W. B. Jollett, of the same place, was injured, as was also another man whose name has not been learned. The wreck delayed the running of trains for several hours.

Clement Willard Escue (stepson of 1st cousin 2X removed)
Newspaper article Clement Escue
1935 Bluefield Daily Telegraph
C. W. Escue, Injured
Virginian Engineer,
Passes at Oak Hill
C. W. Escue, 36, Virginian Railway engineer, who was burned severely in a head-on collision between two freight trains at Wriston, W. Va., on February 24, died in an Oak Hill hospital Friday afternoon, it was learned yesterday.
Mr. Escue was one of the ten men injured when the two freight trains collided. It is understood that all other members of the crew injured are recovering satisfactorily.
Mr. Escue was a former Princeton resident. He moved to Page about three years ago.

Hop aboard the Sepia Saturday train to see the sights my blogging friends have shared.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. I have always enjoyed railway history and the connections with your family made fascinating reading.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I wouldn't say I enjoy railway history, but I do like the history of towns that lived and died by the railroad.

  2. I'm not crazy about flying, but there have been quite a few serious railway accidents in the past decade that I might be a bit leery of riding a train as well! The same could be said about buses and automobiles, however. So I guess we take our chances one way or another. I do like the feel of riding on a train, though. The smooth rocking and rolling motion is lulling.

    1. I was recently in Boston and LOVED the commuter train ride to Newburyport. Smooth!

  3. While I don't have any pictures, one of my first blog posts was about my great grandmother dying ON a train.

    My husband's grandfather worked on the railroads his entire life - I need to get busy and do some research on that.

    1. Thanks for the link. I wonder if I had found you by then - can't wait to see if I left a comment.

      Yes, there is always another project looming ahead to work on.

    2. Nope - I had not started reading your blog then. What a good but strange story.

  4. Great post, Wendy, I always love that newspapers in the U.S. included stories about ordinary residents - in Ireland, historically, the majority of the population usually only featured if they were somehow connected to a big court case.

    1. That is an interesting observation. Maybe there is comfort in NOT finding a relative if only to confirm they lived a simple and "ordinary" life relatively lacking in newsworthiness.

  5. How interesting to have deaths associated with the train industry as well as the lives of so many people! I also enjoyed your chase for your grandmother's information. Thanks for sharing all this!

    1. I am most curious about Hiram Eppard falling off the bridge - accident? suicide? I haven't found any other newspaper articles about this one.

  6. Great post. So interesting to have so much family history involving the railroad and to have found those articles!

    1. In a place where the railroad IS the town, it makes sense that so many of my family were employed there. Still I find even that to be fascinating.

  7. Is this the same Shenandoah immortalised by the classic song, Oh Shenendoah, and also mentioned in Take Me Home, Country Roads? Train accidents to workers and passengers would have been an everyday occurrence back in those days. We've driven from Gettysburg to Washington DC so we can't have been too far away from the Shenandoah river.