Death Rides Upon the Rails and Ends
the Travesty of a Bridge Across
the River at Florence.


In the forenoon of Friday, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Florence were electrified with the hurried information that the Florence bridge had collapsed and a number of persons had been killed or seriously wounded. It was about 9 a.m. when the news reached Sheffield and at once a general rush was made to the scene of the disaster. Carriages, buggies, wagons and vehicles of every kind were son hurrying to the catastrophe, some two and a half miles from Sheffield. The livery stable was taxed to its capacity and many pedestrians took their feet in their hands and walked.

A reporter for THE REAPER was among the first arrivals, and he was at once busy inspecting and interviewing.

Arriving at the river band the melancholy conditions at once presented themselves. The first span of the bridge was as completely cut from the main structure as if the jagged tooth of the saw and the sharp edge of the axe had been used to trim the timbers clear and true with the piers. A space of on hundred and fifty-six feet, representing the span between the piers, was swept away, and a great gap disclosed the dimensions between the Northern and Southern bank.

Down in the river, which fortunately is low for this period of the year, the wreck and ruin of five loaded cars, a locomotive and tender filled the complete space between the piers.

It was a sight to see. The great crowds which gradually assembled from the Florence side of the bridge and from Sheffield and Tuscumbia gazed in awestruck wonder at the ruins below; and many in the crowd were heard to thank God that this criminal carelessness did not occur when their dear ones were on the train passing back and forth, so many times between the tree towns.

In order that the reader may understand the situation clearly, it is best to give what was gathered by the reporter from eye witnesses in regard to the occurrence.

It seems that the regular freight train from the Tuscumbia and Sheffield branch of the M. & C., which crosses the bridge in the morning at 8 o’clock, was held back an hour on account of repairs going on, on the Florence end of the bridge. The signal was then given and the train began slowly to cross.

In front of the locomotive were three ears heavily loaded with stone, taken from the Sheffield bank of the river to be used for fluxing purposes at the Philadelphia furnaces at Florence. Then followed the engine, tender and a number of cars loaded with coke, all destined for the same furnace. The first of the three cars of stone had barely touched the pier, the engine in the center of the span and the coke following, when, without a word of warning, the bridge gave way and the cars fell with a crash into the river fifty-five feet below.

In the decent the train fell upon the wagon way and carried it off as clean as if it had been cut by a razor From the time of the first crash until the train was at the bottom of the river, there was scarcely an appreciable period. The small check on the wagon way was not check at all; it was a crash and a fall.

At the Sheffield bank a number of cars of coke were left standing on the bridge, one of them at the very edge of the declivity, the pin breaking and leaving them standing.

On the train were R. L. Plemons, conductor; Thomas Clem, engineer; Frank Jones, (colored) fireman, and Lawson Hamlet, brakesman. Mr. Plemons, fortunately, was on the first car of stone, and as he saw the bridge giving way, leaped for this life, landing safely on the edge of the ties, while the loaded car of stone careened backward and fell with a splash and a dull thud, into the rapid current below. Mr. Hamlet was less fortunate. He was on the rear end of the first car, which turned bottom up in the river. The foreman of the bridge gang, Mr. G. Y. Hill, a few moments before had been to the far pier in a skiff and had just landed on the Sheffield side. He gives a graphic description of the unexpected accident. It seemed but a moment when the space was filled with cars passing over the span and in another second his attention was caught by a crash and a cry, and before he realized that an accident had occurred the engine and loaded cars had swept away the wagon way and was in the bottom of the river. He hurriedly leaped in his boat and pushed out to the rescue. The car on which Mr. Hamlet was standing was completely turned over and how he escaped instant death is miraculous. But, with a wonderful tenacity of life by some means, he reversed his position and was rescued from the bottom of the car by Mr. Hill. It is the more remarkable that he was not buried beneath the ruins from the fact that when conveyed ashore it was found that his thigh and right arm were broken; his left shoulder dislocated, his collar bone broken and otherwise injured internally. Up to this writing he is still alive, but it is doubtful if he will pull through.

[SOURCE: The Reaper. A newspaper published in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama.
9 May 1892., pp. 1 & 3.]

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Picture of a  Train Wreck not believed by local
historians to be the one in the above article.