1949: Rogue Steam Engine Crashes Twice into Stationary Train
A steam engine once shattered the rear car of a stationary train in Alturas, Calif., then like an angry bull, backed up and plowed into it again. The year was 1949 and the engine was the 4104 East returning alone to Alturas when the engineer realized the train ahead wasn't moving. In those days trainmen had little warning of surprise hazards due to misaligned switches, broken rails or preceding trains.
The engineer and firemen couldn’t reverse the engine in time so they jumped clear seconds before it crashed into and made kindling of the end boxcar of the train ahead. Both men were relieved when the engine stopped, but to their astonishment, it shuddered and reversed itself. They later attributed this to their desperate whacking of the controls before they jumped. The engine traveled backward for about a mile, stopped, then moved forward at an even greater speed as though determined to rid the tracks of the obstruction ahead. The engine roared through the sticks and steel of the previous crash and buckled and derailed the next 14 cars. This time the engine huffed to a final stop.
Incredibly, no one was hurt.
Source: Bowden, Jack, and Tom Dill. The Modoc, Southern Pacific's Back Door to Oregon. Hamilton MT: Oso Publishing Company, 2002. 250-53. Print.