The Edge of the Tracks
The next time you find yourself in Clat Adams park look towards the bay. You will noticed two large stone foundations rising from the water. A small replica of a lighthouse sits on one foundation which is found on the southeast region of Quinssippi island. On the Quincy side you will find the pier restaurant resting upon the foundation as it extends over the bay. These foundations once supported a train bridge that crossed Quinsippi island. The way the CBQ railroad once worked in Quincy is rather interesting. The stations were located near the riverfront directly underneath where the Bayview bridge runs currently. A decision was made that it would be better for trains to enter into Quincy near the downtown area. This meant that Quinsippi island served as a turning point for the trains. If you imagine a capital letter “C” the train would first enter onto the island near the top of the “C” crossing over near the one lane bridge that we currently use to gain access to Quinssippi island. The train would follow the island slowly following the curve of the “C” or island until it reached the lower foot of the “C” which on the railroad bridge was located, now where the lighthouse sits. Upon crossing the river the train was now ready to unload/load at the station.
The date was November 27th, 1915. Engineer C.S. Concannon and Fireman Herman Adkins piloted the No. 15 engine pulling the train’s 200 passengers on it’s voyage to St. Paul Minnesota. It was a quiet evening as nightfall had just overtaken the Quincy riverfront. Charles Clinton, the Quincy Bay draw bridge tender, was on duty and had just opened the bridge to allow the steamer Gardie Eastman into the bay to unload it’s passengers. Clinton could hear the train approaching knowing that the train would have to stop and wait for the steamer to pass through he bridges open span. Charles had just begun to close the bridge when he heard a terrible sound. The train soon sat motionless on the tracks void of the No.15 Engine. The Steam Engine carrying Engineer C.S. Concannon and Fireman Herman Adkins had ceased to yield to the open bridge. The engine cast a eerie glow as it sank below the cold water in the bay. Moments earlier Mrs. O.H. Barnard who lived near front and Oak saw the engine sliding trying desperately to stop, as if the conductor had noticed moments too late that the bridge was open. Sparks flew as the brakes tried to stop the steam engine, but the momentum was too great, soon the steamer ran out of track and dropped over the edge of the open tracks somersaulting once, plunging into the water and then followed by a sickening silence.
Both Concannon and Adkins died in this tragic accident, but only by a stoke of luck were the 200 passengers spared from an almost certain watery grave. There were several eyewitness accounts but the full story remained a mystery until a squatter on Towhead Island…or Quinssippi Island as we know it today, came forth with his observation of that fateful night. Aaron Chase who spend most of his days searching for ginseng root upon the island due to its medicinal properties, recalled seeing the train approaching the open bridge at a slow but seemingly dangerous speed. Within 60 feet of the open draw the brakes suddenly were set, the force of this was so great that the engine became uncoupled from the passenger cars. When this happened the emergency brakes were applied to the passenger cars and only the engine continued on, sliding down the tracks sparks flying as the brakes tried in vein to stop the heavy engine. It was Mr. Chase’s guess that had there had been 10 more feet of tracks the engine could have stopped unharmed. Mr. Chase ran towards the passenger cars, many passengers were not aware there had been a problem of any kind, especially that the engine had come uncoupled. It is believed that Engineer Concannon and Fireman Adkins did not realize that the train had come uncoupled from the engine. Had they of known this they would surely have jumped from the ill fated engine to safety. It stands to reason that they believed the lives of the 200 passengers were in danger as they tried to the last second to slow the engine and avoid the almost certain death of all passengers of the train.
Several people dove in after the engine to try and save the Concannon and Adkins, but it was to no avail. When their bodies were recovered the next day both men’s watches had stopped at 6:21pm the moment when the engine impacted the cold dark river. As the news spread via word of mouth, many people believed that the entire train had gone into the river causing a large crowd to circulated on the riverbank, many onlookers went home after finding out that in fact only the engine had gone into the river. Several hours passed and by 8pm another engine was secured and the train continued on it’s way. Despite the terrible tragedy that took place, that very train would see another man dead before reaching it’s destination. The train claimed the life of a pedestrian crossing the track who was on his way to church as it neared its destination of St. Paul Minnesota. After the tragedy there was much speculation that the unfortunate no.15 train was recently renumbered from it’s original number designation the no.13, due to the public’s superstition and general fear of the unlucky number 13.
Less than two weeks later several barges and wreckers were employed in pulling the engine from the bay. After two attempts, the first attempt saw the engine almost completely removed from the water when the support line gave way sending the engine back down into the bay. The engine itself was damaged yet managed to be completely repaired in Hannibal with the engine being back in service in less than a year. One of the repaired engines first runs included pulling President Wilson’s special car as he made his way across the midwest on his preparedness tour.
A jury was assembled to determine who if anyone should be blamed for the disaster. Witnesses including the undertaker and key eyewitnesses were heard from. The death of the two men was found to be due to head wounds suffered during the fall of the train and not by drowning or potential scalding that would have been produced when the heat of the locomotive merged with the cold river water. An open verdict was reached which placed the blame on no one particular.
Most Quincians have no idea that such an event took place. Regardless of what instrument failures may have taken place or who may have been at fault, the area last two very respectable Hannibal natives and area citizens in Engineer C.S. Concannon and Fireman Herman Adkins. When I find myself in Clat Adams park I look to the north at the pier sitting leisurely upon the old bridges foundation. I can’t help but think what must have been going through Concannon and Adkins mind as their final glimpse of life was the end of the bridge where the pier now sits, a spot which they had passed countless times on the tracks, but tragically would never see again.
If you’d like to do some detective work yourself, you can research old local newspapers online via the Quincy Public Library’s Website here. It’s a great free resource!
Sources: November 29th 1915 edition of The Quincy Journal, December 1, 1915 edition of The Quincy Journal, November 30th 1915 edition of The Quincy Journal, November 28th 1915 edition of The Quincy Whig, and March 16, 1916 edition of The Quincy Journal
Special thanks to the Quincy Public Library for allowing use of the Engine recovery effots, this image is part of the Historic Quincy Area Photo Collection