Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




Dutchman Curve, July 9, 1918

Excerpt from Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis "The Dixie Line" by Dain L. Schult

There was a slight grade and lots of curves. By no means was this a section of track for straight-line speeding and yet both trains were bearing down on each other as if in a foot race for life.

No one won that day.

Besides the curves there was an overhead bridge that obscured engineers’ vision at this particular sight. With no grade crossings to blow for, there wasn’t even the possibility of hearing the other engine in the distance until it was too late for all concerned.

Engineers David Kennedy and William Lloyd met head-on at 7:20 AM.

In the most futile of actions, Kennedy “wiped the clock” (applied the air brakes) and probably didn’t have time to even begin mouthing a prayer as the hot metal of 281 and 282 became one. His employee timetable was found folded under his lifeless body after the crash. He had been on duty for just 52 minutes that day.

Engineer Lloyd didn’t even have time to apply the air on 281 as it went airborne off the track from the impact of the crash. He had been on duty for 9 hours and 52 minutes. His death was that much more tragic and poignant because it was his last day of service before retiring from the NC&StL.

281’s boiler was stripped “back shop clean” by the impact of hitting 282. 282 went forward through #1 baggage car becoming totally demolished in the process. The first 3 wooden passenger cars of #1 were tossed off the track in willy-nilly fashion but surprisingly the last two wooden cars and the two Pullmans stayed on track.

#4’s first 5 cars were strewn all over the place off the track but amazingly the last 3 cars didn’t derail and were only slightly damaged.

Like toys strewn across a child’s bedroom floor, what’s left of NC# 1 and #4 is spread across the landscape. Parts of one of the engines are in the foreground, as passenger cars lie stacked on top of one another.

With two 80-ton engines colliding, an explosive sound let loose that was heard for two miles. The earth moved under the tracks and a nearby creek vibrated in reciprocation for the terrible movement on the track. Body parts went flying through the air. Like unrestrained crash test dummies, limp bodies slammed into glass, steel, wood and dirt.

As the screeching of metal on metal subsided to the wails of agony of the injured and dying,
young George Scott tried to regain his bearings and took a deep breath. He had been tossed around in the car he chose to sit in at 6AM but he wasn’t hurt – just shook up which was better shape than probably anybody else in the same car. Blood was running down the aisle of the car like water pouring from a hose. A number of people in his car weren’t moving at all. He raised the shade, removed what glass remained of the window and clamored out the side of the car.

Turning away in horror, Scott wandered aimlessly around the scene of the accident – like the moth attracted to the light, he wanted to break free and run away but found that he couldn’t. He would wander, as if in a trance, for the next 3 days all over Nashville, all the while blood covering his clothes.

Willis Farris wasn’t as lucky. Having happily accepted the seat proffered by that young man, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He died instantly. The young man who donated his seat survived.

So did Brakeman Corbitt. At first unconscious, Corbitt was taken to the morgue and was just about to be embalmed… then he moved. Immediately rushed to a hospital, he waited in line with the other injured and dying victims. Battlefield triage decisions were being made and one of Corbitt’s legs was the target for the surgeon’s saw. The doctors were deft enough with his amputation that the brakeman could later walk without a limp. Good thing that they did. Corbitt was able to survive a 1951 wreck by jumping from his train.

Within minutes of the wreck locals were showing up to either try to help the injured or stand there like rubberneckers watching the ultimate highway pile-up. It is estimated that up to 50,000 spectators showed up throughout the day to witness the disaster for themselves. With body parts splayed all over the scene, and no way to literally reconnect who was with what, wagons were brought in carrying tubs so that rescuers could toss dismembered parts into them for transport back to Nashville.

To this day there remains questions about the precise body count. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) officially listed 101 passengers as dead and 171 as injured. Other sources list the number of dead at 121. In any event, it was and still remains the worst train wreck in American history in terms of the number of dead and injured.

Read the full report from the
Interstate Commerce Commission

More information


Photos by Henry C Hill

Henry C Hill was the official photographer
for the NC&StL Railway.  These photos are courtesy of Henry C. Hill, III, a member
of the NC&StL Preservation Society. 




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