Then and Now.....The Accident of the Blue Comet Train

Discussion in 'Ghost Towns and Forgotten Places' started by Teegate, Jun 29, 2005.

  1. Teegate

    Teegate Administrator
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    The Blue Comet passenger train operated on the New Jersey Central Line from 1929 to 1941 traveling to and from Atlantic City, using the tracks that are still located in the Pine Barrens. This famous train had several cars, including a smoking car and an observation car, each of them being named after a famous comet.

    On August 19, 1939 the Blue Comet was approaching the Carranza area from the West at 60 MPH, when it encountered a strong storm. This required the Engineman to close the throttle and allow the train to drift. The assistant supervisor noted later that he was not able to see the engine stack in front of him because of the excessive rain. In spite of this, he felt there was nothing to be alarmed over since the engine was running normally.

    The speed was reduced nearly in half, (35 to 45 MPH) and the train continued on past milepost 87 at Pine Crest, near Apple Pie Hill. Chatsworth was just over 2 miles away.

    At 152 feet past the 86 milepost, the assistant supervisor felt the train drop, followed by a jolt. Looking back he noticed that the engine had become separated from the rest of the cars. Due to the speed of the train, and damage to the braking system, the engine continued on for over three thousand feet down the tracks. The five cars that derailed ended up across and on both sides of the tracks, with the rear end of the last car 120 feet past the initial point of derailment, 272 feet east of milepost 86. In all 500 feet of rails were damaged.

    On the day of the accident it was the job of the caretaker of the nearby Kennedy Cranberry Bogs to monitor the rainfall and drain the bogs accordingly. He found that 13-1/2 inches of rain fell, mostly in a 4-hour span. The water would drain into two 24 inch pipes and go under the tracks, but there was so much rain that day the rainwater from the bogs and the surrounding area headed further west and entered and overwhelmed two 24 inch pipes at milepost 86 which normally did not encounter that amount of water. A bridge engineer at the time estimated the drainage area in this section of the pines at 15 square miles, with most of the drainage usually crossing the tracks under the bridge east of the accident site near Chatsworth. Because of the massive amount of water crossing the tracks in the 86-milepost area, the ground underneath the tracks washed away.

    Visiting There Today

    When you turn onto Ringler road off of 532, and pass the brick pillars on your way to Apple Pie Hill, you are passing one of the important areas in this story. Before you even arrive at the dirt road ahead, you will pass the stream that supplied the Kennedy Cranberry Bog with water. Almost forgotten on the left hand side, mostly hidden from this short stretch of road, the bogs were in full operation in 1939. Today, after years of inactivity, it is a beautiful savannah.

    [​IMG]


    In order to find the exact location of the derailment, we needed to find the milepost 86 cement foundation since vandals or train collectors took all of the steel posts with the numbers on them years ago. I have viewed a photo of the complete 86 milepost located in a backyard in Marlton, so I was certain it was gone. Fortunately, the mileposts were considered National Geodetic Survey markers, and their scaled coordinates are still available. Armed with the Interstate Commerce Commission accident report, 5 of us headed down the tracks to see what if anything we could find.

    We arrived at the general location and started searching. I have searched and found many of the mileposts before, and the clues are quite easy to learn. I quickly noticed a flat area with a depression, which usually is a sign of where the milepost had resided. I walked towards it and realized I was at the proper place, but what I was about to find surprised me.

    The steel post of the milepost was still there and connected to the cement base, and had been pushed about 5 feet down a small hill. All that was missing was the top cap with the number 86 on the four sides. This meant that the photo I had viewed on another website was not the actual 86 milepost, but two parts of two different mileposts, making us believe it was the complete and actual one. That photo is a deception.

    Milepost 86 Without the Top

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    Next, we needed to measure off 152 feet to find the actual location of where the derailment occurred, and using a tape measure we easily accomplished that. It was right at the connection of two rails, as we had expected.

    From this point eastward over 500 feet of rails had been replaced in 1939, and the evidence was everywhere. I had visited this site many times before and had not realized the accident had occurred there, or I would have caught on more quickly as to why there were so many discarded ties along the edges of the rails.

    [​IMG]

    Photos of the Blue Comet wreck show the cars along the tracks in various positions, with equipment being used to remove them. It also shows that the area where the photos were taken was very flat and quite barren, unlike most of the area along the tracks today. Therefore in the section where the cars had derailed it was quite obvious that the photo's had been taken from an open area that we visited. So I was able to recreate the shot from a few locations where they may have been taken from.

    The Accident Scene

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    Also, in the photo's it shows telegraph poles lining the tracks. Electrical or communication wires must have controlled the signals among other things. They are similar to modern telephone poles, with insulators connected to bolts on a "cross" at the top. They are quite close to the tracks, and I had wondered if any had been damaged or destroyed. We started exploring around the area, and soon found out what may be the answer to that question. Near the tracks, amongst the discarded ties we found one of the poles, half buried in the dirt, with the "cross" and the bolts still attached.

    Notice the insulators at the top of the poles in 1939.

    http://www.njpinebarrens.com/teegate/main.php/download/636-1/pole2.jpg

    Notice the metal straps about half way up the pole supporting the "cross".

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    Notice the bolts and straps in these photos.

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    Further examining the area, I discovered the 24-inch culvert just east of the 86 milepost, that could not handle the flow of water over 65 years ago.

    [​IMG]

    Walking further east, Ben Ruset discovered what might be a piece of the damaged train that was never removed.

    [​IMG]


    Guy Thompson
     
  2. BEHR655

    BEHR655 Piney

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    Nice report Guy. I remember that clear area from our Parker Preserve hike. I walked around in there and was wondering why it was clear.
    Just to let you know, your photos of the accident scene poles are small and very pixelated and you really can't make anything out.

    Steve
     
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  3. Teegate

    Teegate Administrator
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    Yes I know. They are zoomed 300 percent just to get them that big. We will have to live with that unfortunately.

    EDIT: A view of a similar pole.

    http://teegate.njpinebarrens.com/bluecomet/IMG_5619.JPG

    Another interesting thing is that while roaming around I found another Parker Preserve property marker, or I should say a Garfield DeMarco marker, and realized that the train right of way is quite wide. I had always wondered how much property on both sides of the tracks are part of the property and I assume I now know. It appears to be around 100 feet on each side. The next time I am in the area I will measure it.

    BTW, the State of NJ owns the tracks and the property, so you can walk the rails legally.



    Guy
     
  4. bobpbx

    bobpbx Piney
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    Yes, good report Guy. That was our suggested camping area wasn't it?
     
  5. Teegate

    Teegate Administrator
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    I believe so.

    Guy
     
  6. wis bang

    wis bang Explorer

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    The metal railroad car part is a brake shoe. These are often discarded wherever the car knocker replacced one. It may be one from the wreck & may not...
     
  7. woodjin

    woodjin Piney

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    Guy, great report! You might recall I sent you a PM some time ago asking if you knew of the location of the Blue comet crash site. I always planned to find it but it looks like you beat me to it. LOL. My search would have never been as thorough. As an interesting side note: a friend had given me a book called "haunted NJ" or something like that, one of the places mentioned in the book was the crash site of the Blue Comet. The book gave a fairly accurrate but vague report of the crash and then mistakenly stated that nearly all the passangers were killed (hence the haunted aspect of it). I later found out this was not the case. Again, great report, enjoyed it.

    Jeff
     
  8. toofast4uu

    toofast4uu New Member

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    Yeah, thanks for that report...I really enjoyed reading it, and the pictures as well. This site alway has something interesting and educational to share....

    Keep these stories coming!
     
  9. Stu

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  10. onehand

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    very interesting, i have hiked along those tracks off and on since 1970 when i lived on applejack road (in a sears kit house) and the tracks were still active..but knew nothing of the "Blue Comet" wreck, only of the train wreck of the early 60's
    good work guy!

    stuart, aka, onehand
     
  11. bobpbx

    bobpbx Piney
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    There goes our camping spot.
     
  12. BEHR655

    BEHR655 Piney

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    Not that we would ever even concider camping there. Wouldn't be legal. Now would it. :rolleyes:
     
  13. bobpbx

    bobpbx Piney
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    I suppose I worry less about the state poking around in there then the NJ conservation foundation.
     
  14. Stu

    Stu Explorer

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    Found the cache today; first to find it. The flies are overpowering, even with repellant. I like how it was hidden.
     
  15. Ben Ruset

    Ben Ruset Administrator
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    I had more of a problem with the flies with repellant on than the other guys did without it on.
     
  16. strom

    strom Scout

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    nice job of research

    ben and teegate,
    wonderful job of archealogical research on your parts...........fascinaing story...........you young fellas are doing a good job over there..............press on, strom
     
  17. Teegate

    Teegate Administrator
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    All,

    Sorry I have not been responding but I have been on vacation in Vermont. Stu..thanks for the update on the listing, and to all others thanks for the nice words.

    Guy
     
  18. Teegate

    Teegate Administrator
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  19. nikcap

    nikcap New Member

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    Wow, great topic and fantastic history.
    Thanks TeeGate for posting this.
    It seems that over the years, the images linked to in this thread have become un-available.
    Any chance the images can be made available again?
     
  20. Teegate

    Teegate Administrator
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    I will work on that tonight. Thank you for the kind words.

    Guy