A few months ago we were contacted by a gentleman inquiring about
a model for his PBS documentary. We were so inspired by the story behind the 
this bridge we agreed right away to do it!
 This is an amazing project.
We are scheduled to start building The Ashtabula bridge in September.
            We want to let everyone know that they can be a part of history!
This is a non-profit organization that will be producing the documentary. Any donations will be greatly appreciated!

For for information on this project please click on the link below.
The Story

Engineering Tragedy is the story about the worst railroad bridge and train
disaster in United States history. It happened in Ashtabula, Ohio on December
29, 1876 during a raging blizzard. In this town off the shores of Lake Erie, an
all-iron railroad bridge collapsed sending a luxury train, The Pacific Express
No. 5, plummeting 70ft into a frozen river. Of the172 souls that were on board,
only 75 survived, most with serious injuries. Of the 97 who perished, 47 were
identified, 50 were unidentifiable.  This story has been lost in the pages of
history and our team wants to bring it back to life.

Charles Collins – Railroad Chief Engineer

Charles Collins, the Engineer in Charge, was the man responsible for
overseeing bridge inspections for the entire line. Unbelievably, Stone did not
include Collins in any aspect of the bridge’s design, construction, or erection.
Perhaps that’s the reason Collins took such little interest in the bridge. 
Placed in a difficult situation, Collins was charged with the maintenance and
care of a long, all iron bridge when he knew little about its unique technical
requirements. A conscientious and sensitive man, the grief over this tragedy
almost overwhelmed him. There were reports he wept bitterly when he saw the
aftermath of the crash

The Storm and the Train

The Pacific Express No. 5’s journey began in Buffalo, NY. She followed the
Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway line southwest toward Ashtabula.
Although trains were rolling as usual, the weather certainly hampered travel and
delayed many routes. Winters off the shores of Lake Erie where Ashtabula, Ohio
is located are brutal. The night the accident occurred, the entire railroad line
was being pummeled with blizzard strength wind and heavy, blinding snow.

The train traveling the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railway that day was
a luxury one consisting of two engines, the Socrates and the Columbia - the
second engine was added in Erie, Pa. She had two express cars, two baggage cars,
two day passenger coaches, a smoking car, a drawing-room car called "Yokahama;"
the New York sleeper named "Palatine;" the Boston sleeper named "City of
Buffalo;" the Louisville sleeper called “Osceo.”  The Lake Shore and Michigan
Southern railroad company spared no expense on this train. All who rode her did
so in unprecedented comfort.

The Passengers

The unsuspecting passengers that rode on the No. 5 during the holiday season
came from all walks of life and from all over the country. By all reports, the
train had a festive atmosphere in spite of the horrible weather conditions.
Several passengers were notable for either who they were prior to the accident
or for what they did after the accident. One such passenger was Phillip Bliss.
The beloved hymn writer and singer was well-known at the time for writing well
over 300 songs. He was on his way to Chicago to meet the famous evangelist,
Dwight L. Moody.  Although Bliss’s voice and creative mind were silenced that
night, his songs are forever sung, even to this day, in churches throughout the

Amasa Stone – Railroad President and Bridge Designer

The Ashtabula bridge designer, Amasa Stone, was the President of the Lake
Shore Michigan Southern Railroad – Cleveland and Erie Division from 1856 to
1867.  During his Presidency, he decided to take a well-established wooden
bridge pattern (the Howe Truss) and use it as the pattern for an all iron
bridge. He designed this bridge without the approval of any competent engineers
with iron bridge experience and against the protest of the engineer who was
hired to draft the drawings. Pushing the limits of design standards of the day,
this all-iron bridge was the longest ever built in America at the time. It was
154ft long from abutment to abutment, making it an even riskier endeavor since
the iron braces were so heavy.

Bridge Construction and Erection

Construction and erection of the lengthy, all-iron bridge took a year. It was
taken down and reassembled several times before it was finally completed in
1865.  During the erection of the bridge, it failed twice to bear its own
weight. Because of these failures, modifications had to be made. However, these
modifications would, in fact, make the bridge perilously unstable over time.

The Collapse and Crash

At 7:27 p.m. the No. 5 rounded the final bend. Running between 10 to 15 miles
per hour, she began her slow crawl across the bridge. At first the crossing
proceeded normally. The bridge creaked as always, but held as the Socrates, the
Columbia, and then the first few cars pushed forward onto the north side of the
bridge. At 7:28 p.m. the engineer of the Socrates, Dan McGuire, heard the
distinct sound of a loud crack. He knew immediately something was wrong,
terribly wrong.

The bridge was breaking apart. The engineer of the Socrates pulled the
throttle and ran his engine the remaining few feet to the abutment and to
safety. The other cars were dragged forward when the second engine, The
Columbia, broke from the Socrates, crashed into the abutment, and fell in the
gorge. Passengers were jostled and thrown about by a violent series of bumps
when the cars derailed and the track disintegrated underneath them. Then there
was darkness…silence…falling. Cars began to crash one by one into the frozen
creek. It was a sickening and horrifying sound as the first cars slammed into
the gorge, then the rest, falling or being launched off the edge, struck the car
in front of it.

The Fire

Many who escaped the wreck did so in the first few precious minutes before
any rescuers arrived. Although a few rescuers got to the scene quickly, it would
take between 30 minutes to one hour after the fire bell rang for citizens to get
to the accident site. While straining against the blizzard strength winds and
trudging through high drifts, sadly, some became so fatigued they simply
couldn't continue.

What made the crash even more tragic was the fire that started on the east
side of the bridge within minutes of the crash from the overturned stoves used
to heat the passenger cars: Stoves, incidentally, that didn’t meet the safety
standards of the day. In addition, during the rescue the Fire Chief, G.A. Knapp,
was so inept that he failed to take command of the scene. As a result, two fire
engines sat idly by while the wreck burned from one end to the other, consuming
everything in its path.

Heroes and Villains

As in all disasters, heroes always emerge and this one was no different.
Citizens formed a bucket brigade in a vain attempt to control the fire. Others
valiantly braved the fire and ice to help victims to safety. Citizens even
opened their homes to be used as make shift emergency rooms. One heroine was a
passenger. Miss Marion Shepard, of Ripon, Wisconsin, a young woman traveling
alone on this frightful night, was hailed by a fellow passenger as one of the
bravest women he ever met. Credited with unusual bravery in the face of danger,
she was one of many who risked her life to help others.

Thieves also emerged out of the crowd. By far one of the most troubling
aspects of this tragedy, was that some men whose hearts were dark came crawling
out of the woods and stole from the innocent and hurting survivors.  They
actually robbed victims while pretending to help. There were many, many heroes
on that dreadful night, but the amount of thievery done would cast a long, dark
shadow over Ashtabula for years to come.


Similar to the Titanic's sinking, the crash of this luxury train would prove
to be more than just a tragic accident. Three separate investigations were
conducted. One by a Coroner’s Jury formed with citizens of Ashtabula under the
direction of the acting coroner, Edward W. Richards. The other was a joint
investigation by a special committee of the Ohio Legislature and the American
Society of Engineers. All three found serious problems in the design,
construction, and erection of the bridge. The Coroner’s Jury would also conclude
that the fire was ultimately the fault of the railroad company, and that the
Fire Chief and first responders should also hold some blame.

Murder and Suicide

This disaster would claim two more victims in the days and years to come.
Sadly, hours after testifying before a special committee of the Ohio Legislature
about his role in the bridge collapse, Charles Collins was murdered. Still
shrouded in mystery, his murder remains unsolved.  However, after our
investigation, motives have surfaced that may help solve this 135 year old

Blame and scorn for this disaster would forever stain Amasa Stone’s
professional reputation and haunt him for the rest of his days. Many believe it
was one of the reasons he would commit suicide seven years after this horrifying

The Aftermath

After the Ashtabula tragedy, no bridges of steel or iron were ever built
using the design that Stone created in which individual components acted
independently to maintain structural integrity. In addition, the federal
government created the Interstate Commerce Commission whose original purpose was
to regulate safety and investigate accidents of the American railroad

While cities of similar size like Lorain and Cleveland continued to grow,
Ashtabula’s growth was almost completely halted as a direct result of this
disaster. She saw no significant growth until the early 20th century. Yet, the
citizens of Ashtabula would rally in spite of their grief and build the
Ashtabula General Hospital a quarter of a mile north of the bridge disaster
site. This was a positive response to the lack of medical facilities available
to care for the wounded passengers.

Approximately 10 years after the disaster, the Lake Shore & Michigan
Southern finally adopted the use of steam heat in all passenger cars to replace
the dangerous wood/coal fueled stoves, which overturned and started the inferno
that claimed so many victims in this tragedy.

This documentary, Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster, brings
to life a story that once captivated the nation and changed a town forever.

For more information about this story, to meet our team and follow the
production go to http://www.engineeringtragedy.com

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07/10/2017 17:25

This is the first time I have heard of the Ashtabula Train Disaster. Reading the documentation gave me goosebumps because the tragedy is similar to the Titanic. However, this is more brutal than the Titanic because only a few survivors were found. This kind of tragedy is heartbreaking. The passengers did not know that, that was their last time of living. It is great that railroads and trains today are safer than of the 19th century.

11/20/2016 03:03

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