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As It Was: Engine Blasts Steam, Panicking Crowd Viewing First Train

As many as 1,500 people gathered on Feb. 24, 1884, to view the first locomotive many of them had ever seen.  The Oregon and California Railroad was under construction toward Ashland to the south when Engineer Dan McCarthy drove a passenger train to the temporary terminus at Phoenix, Ore.

One old man who boarded the engine cab shouted,  “Thank God, thank God, I have lived to see this day.” 

The crowd edged so close they got in the way of the train crews, so McCarthy gave a nod to his fireman, who let off a sudden head of steam.  The engine roared and shook and spewed steam, scattering the crowd.  Horses ran every direction, men knelt in prayer or hid behind trees and logs or ran away as fast as they could.  The stunned old man fell out of the engine cab.

When the steam subsided, the crowd edged carefully closer to a respectful distance. The old man got up and said to McCarthy, “I am an old forty-niner and have seen many hardships, but I was never scared to death before.”

Sources: "Nearly Scared to Death." Sumner Gazette, Jan. 1895 [Sumner, Iowa] , p. 2. "Railroad Notes," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, February 29, 1884, page 2

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Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.