Tragedy in Columbia AL in early 1900's : LUSENET : Central of Georgia Railway Historical Soc : One Thread

For many years I have known of a tragedy that occured on the CofG at the Chattahoochee River at Columbia AL and have recently been doing a little more research on this matter and came up on a item that is a bit confusing.

In the early 1900's the trestle at Columbia was of the type that turned so as to be parallel with the river when Steamboat traffic needed to pass. The bridge was in the turned position one day when the passenger train from Albany to Dothan ran through the open draw resulting in the locomotive and tender going into the river. The baggage car tettered on the overhanging track and caught fire.

A couple of years ago, to my surprise, a photo of the clean up efforts was made part of a calander in my area. Until this time I did not know that any photographs existed of the tragedy.

The credit for the photo was to the Dothan (AL) city library. I stopped by the library today to see about getting a reprint of the photo and this is where my confusion starts. The photo shows a steam locomotive pushing a derrick out over the bridge. Problem is, the derrick is plainly stenciled "L&N RR" as is the ever present tool car.

The photo of course is very old and unfortunately the quality fades near the locomotive so it is difficult to make out any markings on the locomotive. It did appear the tender of the locomotive had large numbers stenciled on the side though it is hard to make out exactly what the numbers are.

Also the bridge itself. It is an open deck type while the drawbridge I remember seeing, which was replaced in the 1970's, had steel girders running overhead which trains passed through. I also have a picture of the old drawbridge I remember and it looks nothing like the photo at the library. I asked the librarian if anyone had ever questioned the authenticity of the photo and she said to her knowledge no one had.

My questions are this:

1. Was it commonplace for the CofG to use foreign derricks, in particular the L&N, in clean ups??? Remember at the time of the wreck, the line we are talking about went all the way to Florala AL. The CofG line interchanged with the L&N at Samson and Florala so there was easy availability to the L&N and if a derrick was needed to come in from the Alabama side, it would either mean having a CofG derrick travel over a foreign line to Dothan, Samson, or Florala since there was no other CofG line touching the Dothan line west of Albany or using a derrick of another railroad that did interchange with the CofG west of Columbia which would only be the ACL, the Bayline, or the L&N.

2. Does anyone know how many trestle's have been built to span the river near Columbia??? I had always thought it was only 2.....the old one and the one there now. Perhaps another trestle was there in the very early days.

Thanks for any replys.

Bryan Smith

-- Bryan Smith (, June 07, 2001


It might be worth noting that the Central of Georgia could not get a derrick on the west side of the river without going over another line. They had no direct connections to the Dothan-Albany line west of the river.

-- Steve Riley (, April 05, 2002.

The accident you speak of happened on February 20, 1905 when Westbound Central of Georgia passenger train #13 plunged through an open drawbridge over the Chattahoochee River. The bridge was open for the riverboat Queen City to pass through. The Queen City had passed through and the bridge tender was closing the opening when the train ran the signal. The engine and tender went into the river killing engineer Elijah Pate, Fireman C. B. Bates adn extra engineer John Dobbins all of Albany, Ga. Three coaches broke connection with the tender and remained on the track. The Queen City returned and attempted to recover the bodies to no avail. Bates' body was found 18 days afterward 4 miles downstream. Two weeks later the body of John Dobbins was found about where Bates' body was found. Engineer pate's body was not found until 10 months later lodged against a lumber raft in Apalachicola Bay. This information is from a book entitled Perilous Journeys: A Histor of Steamboating on the Chattahoochee, Apalachicola, and Flint Rivers, 1828-1928.

-- Steve Riley (, April 05, 2002.

I can answer only one part of this question. It was not uncommon for a railroad - any railroad - to borrow another line's wrecking crane if more than one wrecker was needed, if the "home road" did not have a derrick in the area, or as in the case of the Central, if there was difficulty in getting a big hook to the scene. Remember that the wrecking cranes tend to be very heavy pieces of equipment and the Central's bridges over the Chattahoochee (except at Columbus) were very light bridges. It was likely more convenient to rent the L&N's hook than to run one of the CofG's around the world to get there.

Hope this helps.

Bob Hanson

-- Robert H. Hanson (, September 24, 2001.

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