The grave monument of Joel Wilcox sits in the Southwest section of Mount Union Cemetery. Wilcox died at age 26 in a train crash. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Published as it appeared on May 2, 1895, in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Page 3, Columns 1-5.

Two Benton County Boys, Conductor
John Campbell and Brakeman Wil-
cox, the Victims.

Two dead, and a train of fifteen cars splinted and piled up in a mass of debris at bridge No. 24 is the unfortunate record written in a wreck on the O.C.&E. last Monday afternoon. The collapse of the bridge, whether from decay or the more generally accepted theory of an accident to the track that caused the cars to jump, occasioned the accident that instantly killed Joel Wilcox, and so mangled Conductor John Campbell that he died 22 hours after the fated train went down.

A closeup view of Joel Wilcox’s monument. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The train was No. 4, the regular westbound freight train, which left Albany at 8 o’clock in the morning and was due at Yaquina at 4:30. It consisted of five cars of oats, three cars of wood, four cars of stave bolts, one car of potatoes, one empty flat, one way car, and the caboose, and was pulled by engine No. 2. There were five persons aboard to-wit: John Campbell, conductor; A.S. Casteel, engineer; Robert Percival, fireman; Joel Wilcox and Robert Fowler, brakemen. The only other person injured in the disaster was Brakeman Fowler, who sustained a few slight bruises by being thrown against the tunnel timbers as he jumped from the train near the mouth of the tunnel after he heard the crash as the front of the train and bridge went down together. He came out on a wrecking train that returned from the scene the next morning and went out as usual on his regular run between Albany and Detroit.

News of the affair was slow in reaching this city on account of the fact that the nearest telegraph station was Toledo and the intelligence had to be carried on foot by Fireman Percival to Pioneer, to be telephoned from there to Toledo, and thence to Corvallis by wire. Shortly after 7 o’clock a wrecking train, carrying Superintendent Clark, physicians and wrecking appliances, and the sorrowing parents of Conductor Campbell, left for the scene, and all evening, and until late the following afternoon when it finally became known that Conductor Campbell had breathed his last, men stood in groups discussed, the tragic affair and waited for details.

The first train after the disaster carried a wideawake Times’ correspondent to the scene of the wreck. It also carried the sisters, aunts, and other relatives of poor Johnny Campbell, who list his life in the discharge of his duties there. Those heartbroken sobs and tear-streaming eyes left little else to be thought or spoken on the trip over. This is the first fatal accident that has happened on the O.P. since it started its checkered career over ten years ago. Through evil and good report, in storms and sunshine, trains made regular trips on schedule time and no life has been lost on a regular train until now. The accident in all its bearings was discussed by those who were on the ground shortly after and before its occurrence and I find but one opinion prevailing amongst all who know anything about the matter and that is that the bridge never went down from the regular strain, but that something occurred to start one of the braces of the truss and then of course the whole structure collapsed at once. There were several cars of stave bolts loosely loaded in the train and the supposition is that one of the bolts slipped off and threw one of the trucks from the rail.


This brings us to the scene of the wreck bridge No. 24, which is about 20 feet west of tunnel No. 3, and although a strong force of men have been at work for 24 hours removing the wreckage, it is an awful looking sight. Cars are piled up in every conceivable shape, some smashed into kindling wood and stave bolts, grain and potatoes are scattered everywhere. The span which went down was 100 feet long and the distance from the track to the river is about 50 feet. The forward trucks of the caboose car went over but the car remained on the track and the brakeman who escaped was on this car, and they tell that Johnny Campbell went forward on the train for the first time on this trip, at this place and went to his death. The engine crossed the span and passed the pier, the tender slipped back and down and caught on the pier which prevented the locomotive from backing or being pulled into the hole and the falling bridge raked the cab from over the heads of the engineer and fireman, who escaped unhurt, save the fireman burned his hand by catching hold of a hot pipe. One can perhaps fancy how these two men felt when for a few seconds they stood facing death in the midst of the falling train and the crashing bridge, not knowing what was going to happen in the next second. When they found themselves unhurt they hurried to the relief of the boys they knew were on top of the cars before they went down. At first they could hear no sound but soon they heard Johnny Campbell’s voice calling for help. He was buried in the debris. Soon other help came and then the passenger train arrived and a good force were at work trying to extricate the poor boy from his awful position. When they found him he was bent double, his head down between his legs, his leg smashed flat by a heavy timber, his right leg broken, his arm broken and one of his eyes gouged out. When released he straightened out but never spoke intelligently till he died, about 20 hours afterwards. Wilcox was found shortly after under the wreckage, dead. He jumped when he saw the cars going down, but poor fellow, he could not jump far enough to clear such a wreck as that.

An ordinary wreck where no loss of life occurs, has very little interest for anybody, one would glance at the break, estimate its cost and walk on, but where life has been lost as in this one, everything is of interest that contributed in any way to the few awful seconds between time and eternity passed by those two poor fellows who practically both lost their lives there. The story of the wreck itself is a very simple one. The train emerged from the tunnel and got onto the bridge, the engine across it, when the whole structure, train and all fell into the river and there it lays all mashed to pieces.

They have a large force of men at work clearing away the wreck and in five or six days the bridge will be replaced by false work and trains running as usual.

When the O.P. was sold the purchasers laid aside eighty thousand dollars for repairs and betterments. The appeal to the supreme court was taken which left the ownership in doubt and stopped any expenditure for any purpose until the question of ownership was settled. But just before this accident the purchasers of the road had made full arrangements to put all necessary repairs on the road and take all the chances of losing it. Timber had been ordered and new bridge crews engaged and some 15,000 ties ordered. This work will go on, of course, and it will look as if this accident brought it about, but this is not the case, these arrangements were fully made before the accident.

Mr. Little who is an old bridge builder but at present employed as section foreman has crossed the bridge that went down twice a day for a year and never saw anything out of the way. The bridge seemed to him to be in good condition and he thinks with everyone else whom I have spoken to about the matter that something out of the ordinary must have happened as the bridge would not have gone down that way with the regular train.


A.S. Casteel, the engineer, speaks as follows:

When we left Chitwood, I shut off steam at bridge No. 25 and was rolling along slowly and when we got through the tunnel and onto bridge No. 24 we were not going more than twelve miles an hour. The first that I noticed that anything was wrong was that the engine sagged as it would if it had struck a low joint near the west end of the bridge just as I was about across it, and the next I knew the top of the cab and safety valve were being knocked off. The engine did not move over thirty feet after the cab was knocked off. After looking back and seeing what had happened I put out the fire in the engine and went to look for the missing men. I had seen both of them on the second car from the engine before I got into the tunnel and did not see them again till we dug them out of the wreck. After looking back and seeing the awful wreck, I sent my fireman to Morrison’s to the telephone and went to searching for the missing men.

I looked all over the wreck once without finding anyone. The second time going over I heard the conductor, Johnny Campbell, halloo, and then I commenced to dig in the wreck for him. I and four others worked for a half hour before we could see him. When we found him he was pinned to a flat car by one of the bridge timbers across his legs, and his stomach across the timber, the stave bolts were piled on top of him over four feet deep.

After working about an hour, and plenty of help being there by this time, being utterly exhausted I had to quit. Brakeman Wilcox had not then been found nor was he for a half an hour afterwards. When found he was between thirty and forty feet up the stream from where Campbell was found. He was in about three feet of water with wreckage piled over him and his neck and back broken.

Wilcox was taken to Morrison’s and Campbell to Miller’s, near by, where he died.


So soon as it became known at Toledo that the wreck had resulted in a fatality, Coroner F.M. Carter was notified and an inquiry into the cause of death of Brakeman Wilcox was held at Pioneer. The testimony at the investigation was as follows:

Arthur Casteel, engineer, sworn.

The first I knew anything was wrong, the hind part of the engine began to drop down and then the crash came and timbers began to fall from the top of the bridge on the tender. I was near the west pier, the engine and tender got on the pier, but the bridge with fifteen flat cars went down, the caboose remained on the track on the east end. I saw Joe Wilcox on a flat car and saw him taken from the wreck, dead. He was about four feet under water. I did not know but the bridge was safe. The train was going at the usual speed — about twelve miles an hour. Had never heard that the bridge was dangerous or unsafe. Could not see that there was anything wrong with the track.

Robert Percival, fireman, was sworn but his testimony was so much like Mr. Casteel’s that it need not be repeated.

J.H. Stevens, bridge foreman, taking the place of Gordon Robertson.

Q.—How long has it been since you examined the bridge? A.—About four months. Q.—Have the main stringers to the bridge ever been changed and replaced with new ones? A.—No; not to my knowledge. Q.—How long ought a Howe Truss bridge to last? A.—Fourteen years if covered, but only ten years if not covered, and this depends a great deal upon the kind of timber put in the bridge. Q.—You then considered the bridge safe? A.—Yes, so far as I could ascertain. Q.—Do you think the bridge was safe? A.—Yes I did.

Gordon Robertson, foreman of the bridge crew, sworn.

Q.—How long has it been since you examined the bridge? A.—About seven months ago. Q.—What condition did you find it in? A.—The bridge appeared to be all right. Q.—Did you make a careful and thorough examination? A.—Yes I examined it carefully. Q.—How long since repairs had been made? A.—About seven months ago. Q.—What was the nature of the repairs? A.—I put in some ties but did not work on span. Q.—Did you pick into the timber with a spear to see if it was sound? A.—Yes I did, and thought the bridge was safe; that has been about seven months.

P.A. Miller, section boss, sworn.

Q.—Did you examine the bridge? A.—No, not entirely, as I had no means to make an examination. Q.—What condition did you find the bridge in when you last examined it? A.—I considered it safe. Q.—Did you speak to Mr. Sullivan in regard to the condition of the bridge? A.—No, I did not. Q.—Did the Railroad Commissioners stop to examine the bridge? A.—I don’t know. Q.—How long has the bridge been built? A.—December, 1886. Q.—Had there been any repairs on the bridge since it was built? A.—Yes, some ties had been put in. Q.—How often do you pass over the bridge? A.—Twice a day. Q.—Did you see anything wrong with the bridge as you passed over it the day the wreck occurred? A.—No, I did not. Q.—You then considered the bridge safe? A.—Yes, I did.


The verdict of the coroner’s jury was as follows:

State of Oregon,County of Lincoln.

Pioneer, Or., April 30, 1895.

We, the coroner’s jury, duly empanelled and sworn to inquire into the cause of the death of Joel Wilcox, brakeman on the freight, find that the deceased came to his death by reason of a dislocation of the neck and a break of the spinal column just above the hips, said injuries being the result of a wreck of a freight train of the Oregon Central and Eastern Railroad at bridge No. 24. We further find that the timbers in said bridge were badly decayed but could not say in its present condition whether the bridge was safe before it broke down or not. The evidence taken from competent bridge men showed that the bridge was considered safe. (Signed) B. Morrison, foreman, E.W. Powers, F. Brown, Ols Dalaba, Fred Witherstorm, Thomas H. Horning, jury. F.M. Carter, coroner.


Every one has something to say about poor Johnnie Campbell; he seems to have attached himself to all.

They say that he recognized his mother and called her by name. The doctors did not attempt to set his limbs nor do anything to increase his pain, as it was evident from the first that he could not live.

An inquest was held on the body of Wilcox at Pioneer and the verdict will be found elsewhere.

The engineer and fireman say that the whole thing happened apparently in an instant of time. When the engineer looked back everything was gone, even the cab of the engine, caught by the top cord of the falling bridge. Few men ever had a narrower escape from death as Casteel and his fireman.

The break occurred at a very awkward place to transfer passengers and baggage. You have to walk through a tunnel and down a steep bend to the river, then over the river on a temporary foot bridge, then up the opposite bank to the other train, but this will be all over in a few days, as there are as many men at work as they can find room for and they are working night and day. Add to this the fact that the employees are careful, civil and obliging, so that everything seems to pass off pleasantly and nobody kicks.

On Johnny Campbell’s face under the left eye was a perfect picture of his watch dial showing the time to be 15 minutes past 3 o’clock, just the time of the accident. It is supposed he had his watch in his hand looking at the time when the crash came and he fell with his face on the dial and it left the imprint.

Col. J.B. Eddy, of the railroad commission, came out yesterday forenoon from the scene of the wreck where he had been to make an official examination of the bridge, and yesterday afternoon’s train carried Commissioner Compson and Secretary Liedell Baker over to tunnel No. 3 on the same errand. Mr. Eddy said that in a few days the board would hold a meeting at Salem at which the accident would be the subject under consideration, and until then no statement concerning the unfortunate affair could be made. Sometime ago, Mr. Eddy says the commission called the attention of the supreme court to the necessity of giving early consideration to the appeal case, to the end that the question might be settled, and needed repairs be put upon the property.


The remains of Brakeman Wilcox were interred in the Newton cemetery yesterday afternoon. The morning after the wreck happened, the body was taken to Albany, from when it was brought for interment by yesterday’s train. Wilcox was a young man, and leaves a wife and young child, who reside in Albany. For many years he lived with his parents at Philomath, where for a long time his father has been a blacksmith. He has been in the O.P. service several years and was held in high esteem by officers and employees. 

The mortal remains of Conductor Campbell will arrive here by the 11 o’clock train this morning. The funeral will occur from the opera house at 1 o’clock under the order of Maccabees, of which the deceased was commander of the tent in Albany. A special train will arrive from Albany before the funeral services, bringing members of the Maccabees and Odd Fellows, of which young Campbell was also a member, and by the Yaquina train there will arrive a contingent of thirty Odd Fellows who have been in charge of the body since death. The funeral services will be conducted by Rev. H.J. Zercher, of the Congregational church. The Odd Fellows and Maccabee lodges of this city will also be in attendance. The Payton Comedy Company’s band had kindly volunteered its services for the occasion, and the offer has been accepted. Immediately after the funeral services a special train will leave the O.C.&E. depot and will stop on the track opposite the Newton cemetery in which the remains will be interred, and will be in waiting after the interment is over.

Johnnie Campbell would have been 27 years of age next June, and was unmarried. As a little boy he was known by the writer, and from his early teens to the present, Johnnie’s pathway has been one of thrift, honor and kindness to his family. To his sorrowing kinsmen he leaves a record that brings to them many warm friends to comfort and console.