Fuller Thompson's Train Wreck

Franklin Repository, Chambersburg, Pa., Saturday Evening, August 9, 1884

Horrible Accident, Track Spreads on the Gettysburg & Harrisburg Railroad.- Fuller Thompson and Frank Small, Killed.

Chambersburg was thrown into a state of excitement about one o'clock this afternoon by the report that an accident had occurred on the Harrisburg & Gettysburg R.R. near Carlisle in which a number of people were killed. The report proved to very much exaggerated although the accident is a horrible one. It is almost impossible to get an accurate account of the affair at this early date, as the wires of the company are in constant use. The following are as near the particulars as we can learn them at the Dispatchers office.

Cumberland Valley Engine No. 42, with Leonard Dornberger as engineer and Fuller Thompson as fireman, both of this place, was handling an excursion train from Gettysburg to Harrisburg over the Gettysburg and Harrisburg railroad. When the train reached a point about half a mile east of Carlisle the track spread, throwing the engine from the rails but remained up the embankment, so that none of the passengers were injured. As the engine fill Fuller Thompson was thrown against the boiler head and literally roasted before any person could get at him. Frank Small, the conductor was also killed but we were unable to ascertain how. It is thought he was crossing from the first coach to the engine, or else was on the engine and went down with it. He is a regular conductor on the H. & G. R.R. This road has been using the C.V. engines in transporting the soldiers to Gettysburg, and this is the reason it was running on that road at the time of the accident. The engine is reported as being badly damaged.

Word was sent at once to Chambersburg, and the wreck train, with engine No. 28 left Chambersburg about 130 o'clock to clear the track. The accident occurred about noon.

Fuller Thompson was known in Chambersburg and had many friends wherever he would go. The news of his horrible death was received here with heartfelt sadness especially among his young associates who knew him so well. Among the railroad employees he was a great favorite and his loss will be deeply felt. To the sorrowing parents we extend our deepest sympathies. He was the only son and they were completely wrapped up in him. To them he was devoted, and assisted his father this year in erecting a neat and comfortable home on East King street, near Main. He was aged about 22 years, and had been on the road about three years and for a year or two before that ran the stationary engine in the C.V. machine shops at this place.

It is unfortunate that such an accident should occur, after the Cumberland Valley and Harrisburg & Gettysburg R.R's. had transported so many thousand lives to and from the camp, and especially now, as they were about finishing the work. Of course no blame can be attached to the railroad companies. It was an accident in every sense of the word.


Since writing the above Mr. Dornberger, the engineer, has arrived in town. We called at his residence on Broad Street, and learned the following. There were four on the engine, Dornberger, Thompson, Small and the pilot, Joseph Griffith. As the track spread Mr. Dornberger jumped to his feet, and caught the reverse lever. Griffith jumped and saved himself. Small also jumped but fell in front of the cars which ran over him. The engine went down the bank and completely upset in a swamp. The steam and water escaped scalding his left foot badly.

The cab was torn off and he was thrown out through the top receiving several cuts on the head and one on the arm. Thompson was thrown on the boiler and as it turned over he was pinned down to the ground. His body was completely roasted. When Mr. Dornberger looked at him he was beyond recognition, his face having turned black as a coal. The engine is buried a considerable distance in the swamp, and is badly broken. The cars remained on the road bed, but four are off the track. As soon as the accident occurred the soldiers, who were on the train, jumped off and commenced to assist in removing the body of Thompson. They were still at it when Mr. Dornberger left.

We learned at the railroad office that the body had been taken out and was at an undertakers in Carlisle. It will be dressed and brought to Chambersburg on special train this evening. Small is a married man with family and lives at Pine Grove. He was the oldest conductor on the H.&.G.R.R. It is said he was horribly mangled.

Daily Herald, Chambersburg, Pa., Monday Morning, August 11, 1884

His Last Run.

Fuller Thompson's Terrible Death.

Full Particulars of the Saturday's Horrible Accident at Gettysburg Junction and Funeral Services of Fireman Thompson

About 1 o'clock Saturday afternoon, a telegram came flashing over the wire at the Cumberland Valley Railroad office that blanched the cheek of the operator that received it and caused the eye of the official who read the message to dim. Soon the rumor circulated along the employees that a terrible accident had occurred on the Gettysburg and Harrisburg railroad and a number of Chambersburg people were injured. A few minutes later our town was thrown into a state of excitement by the report that Conductor Small, Fireman Fuller Thompson, a Negro boot black and two soldiers had lost their life in an accident at the Gettysburg Junction. On hastening to railroad headquarters we were informed that Conductor Small and Fireman Thompson had been the only ones killed and that with the exception of engineer Dornberger, no one else was injured. A Herald reporter was at once dispatched to the scene of the accident. The Cumberland Valley engine No. 42, with eight passenger coaches, well filled with soldiers returning from the encampment, a stock car filled with horses and a baggage car also containing soldiers, left Gettysburg about ten o'clock. Frank Small was the Conductor, and Leonard Dornberger the engineer, and Fuller Thompson, fireman on the train. Leonard Dornberger the engineer is one the most careful engineers on the C.V. road. It was "Forty Two's" first run over the road and Conductor Small was riding in the cab of the engine and a man by the name of Ziegler was riding on the pilot to guide the crew. Just about 12 o'clock the train reached the curve near Goodyear's Lime Kilns, about half a mile from the junction of Carlisle, where a frog on the curve furnished means of entrance _______ _____ running at a rate of not over ten miles to the hour, when the pony wheels of the engine left the frog the rails began to spread and the engine jumped the track and bumped over the sleepers for about twenty or twenty-five yards when it turned down the side of an embankment ten feet high, completely reversing it natural position and lying in a muddy swamp with the wheels in the air. The truck turned as it fell and rested on top of the engine; the express car ran along the track about where the engine went over and then careened down the opposite side of the embankment without overturning the remaining cars the stock, two express cars and one passenger coach jumped the track but did not go over the embankment. The balance of the cars remained on the track. Of the four men who were riding on the engine, Ziegler, the pilot, jumped and escaped without any injuries, Engineer Dornberger shut of the steam, applied the air brake and jumped out of the cab window as the engine toppled over, escaping without any more serious injury than a scalded foot and contused head. Conductor Small jumped off the engine landed on his feet all right on the track, and was in the act of turning around when the express car, which was following struck him and threw him under the wheels, crushing his body in a horrible manner.

Poor Fuller Thompson, the fireman of the ill-fated engine, grasped the reverse lever with his right hand and the throttle with his left and no doubt, thinking the engine would soon stop, evidently made no attempt to escape. He went down with the engine and when found was pinned down by the boiler, which rested on his legs and lower part of the body. The poor fellow's face and breast was pressed against the hot boiler head, and was roasted and burned beyond recognition. Fortunately he suffered no pain as a hole in the head caused by a blow from one of the gauge clocks, received before the engine toppled over, it must have knocked him senseless, if it did not kill him instantly. When found nothing was able to be seen of his body but his shoulders and the back of his head. In the express car a number of soldiers were sleeping and wonderful to say none of them got hurt beyond a severe shaking up. A boy who was in the car also made a miraculous escape from being crushed to death by the piles of baggage. The soldiers and railroad employees started at once to extricate the body of the unfortunate fireman, but so tightly was he wedged in that it was not until about half-past two o'clock that they succeeded in removing the dead body. The remains were brought to the Junction, where an inquest was held on both bodies by the Cumberland county coroner, and a verdict rendered in accordance with the facts. The accident was an unavoidable one and hard to account for, though it is alleged that a frog on a curve is unknown in railroad engineering, and the frog always was considered a dangerous point for a light engine to way nothing of such an immense ten-wheel engine as No. 42 was. The same engine and cars had passed over the track before and none of the wheels could have been to wide for the rails. The only reliable theory is that the accident was caused by the frog being on the curve and causing the rails to spread. The engine lies in a swamp and is badly wrecked, Superintendent Boyd estimating the damages at over three thousand dollars. A wrecking crew and jack engine were at once sent up by the Pennsylvania Railroad and president Kennedy took a wrecking crew from this place. The track was soon set in order and trains ran over it again about ten o'clock on Saturday night. Owing to the vast amount of freight yet to be transported over the road no attempt will be made to raise the engine until tomorrow night, when the work will be done by the aid of light furnished from the railroad company's electric light car.

Engineer Dornberger was brought home on the 608 train that night, and had so far recovered from his injuries as to be out yesterday. Mr. Dornberger's statement fully corroborates our account of the accident, which will be found to be the most accurate report published so far. Conductors Small's body, with that of Fuller Thompson's was taken to Carlisle and placed under the charge of an undertaker. Conductor Frank Small was a married man, with five children. He was about forty-five years of age, and came to Cumberland county several years ago from Martinsburg,, since which time he has been in the employ of the H. and G. railroad. He was a number-one conductor, and a great favorite with all he came in contact and leaves many friends to mourn his untimely decease. His remains are still at the undertaker's in Carlisle, where they will remain until the burial today. Fuller Thompson's body was brought up on the late train Saturday night, and at once removed to the home of his grief-stricken parents, on East King street. "Fuller" was in the twenty third year of his age, and was a young man of almost perfect physical attainments, being over six feet in height and well proportioned. He was manyl, good-natured and free from the many vices that prove such a terrible temptation to young men. A good, kind and affectionate son his father's head is bowed down to the ground with grief; his mother's pride and idol, the sadness and desolation of that mother's heart is almost indesorable; a favorite brother the grief of his sister is unconsolable. Fuller Thompson was a young man of such genial and pleasant manners that he made friends of all whom he met, and his sad death has cast a gloom over the whole community. While we realize that nothing is so uncertain as life, yet when we see a young man cut down in the full bloom of perfect health and spirits, we cannot help but shudder at the suddeness of death.

Fuller Thompson's Funeral

Yesterday afternoon at half-past four o'clock the funeral of Fuller Thompson was held from the residence of his parents on East

King street and was without doubt the largest funeral ever held in Chambersburg. The great popularity, and large family connection, of the deceased, in connection with the terrible manner of his death, assemble such a crowd of our citizens that the line of funeral is variously estimated to have contained between six hundred and one thousand people. At the cemetery, several thousand people had collected and the sexton said it was the largest number of people ever assembled in the cemetery at one time.The services at the house were conducted by Rev. J.P. Miller, assisted by Revs. Huber and Hartman, and the brief exercises at the grave by Revd. Miller and Huber. The Cumberland Valley railroad officials and employees headed by Col T.B. Kennedy, President of the road, attended in a body to the number of 200. The grief of the afflicted mother and family was heartrending, and appealed to every heart. More that one eye was wet with tears while the last obsequies were being paid to all that was once mortal of Fuller Thompson. The carriers were Messrs. Harry Gillepie, Otterbein Hawbaker, Will Gelwicks, W.C. Hull, Charles Flack and John Dorner, all of whom had been friends of the deceased. Mr. Jack Nitterhouse went a beautiful floral cross, which was borne to the grave by engineer Leonard Dornberger.

Franklin Repository, Chambersburg, Pa., Monday Evening, August 11, 1884

Sequel To The Accident

The remains of poor Fuller Thompson were brought home on the late train Saturday night and taken to his father's residence. The funeral took place Sunday evening about 5 o'clock and was one of the largest ever seen in Chambersburg. The services at the house were conducted by Rev. J.P. Miller, of the First U.B. church, assisted by Revs. Huber and Hartman. The large family connection, and many emplyees of the C.V.R.R. and the young man's great popularity was the means of bringing out a large crowd. By count of one of our reporters the funeral cortege numbered almost seven hundred, the railroad employees numbering one hundred and twenty. The carriers were Messrs. Will Gelwicks, Will Hull, Charles Flack, Harry Gillespie, Thomas Easton, --- Roof, John Dorner, Otterbien Hawbecker, all friends of the deceased. A handsome floral offering, sent by Mr. Jack Nitterhouse, was carried to the grave by Fuller's engineer, Mr. Leonard Dornberger. At the cemetery several hundred people were in waiting, who swelled the crowd to over 1000. The services at the grave were conducted by Revs. Miller and Huber. The scene was truly a sad one, and many tears were shed over the grave of Fuller Thompson.

This morning the remains of Frank Small, the conductor, were taken to Martinsburg, W. Va., on the train passing through here at 950 o'clock, where they were interred this afternoon. The were accompanied by his wife, five children, brother and brother-in-law. Mrs. Small is quite ill, and was reclining on two seats of the car. She is unable to walk and has to be carried to and from the cars. The children are all small and fell their great loss deeply. Thus drops the curtain on one of the saddest scenes we have been call upon to chronicle for some time.

An article regarding Fuller Thompson can be found in the "History of the CUMBERLAND VALLEY RAILROAD 1835-1919"