On Sept. 24, 1945, at 2:05 p.m., Atlantic Coast Line train “Extra 452 West” from Dothan collided headlong into ACL “Second 180 East,” killing the 452’s engineer, James A. Mangum of Montgomery, and injuring 16 others.
Tom Solomon, a resident of Headland, employee of the ACL, and “well known railroad artist and train enthusiast” owned four photographs of the wreck (Solomon obit, 1988). Because these images are negatives, Solomon himself is most likely the photographer. They came to the Wiregrass Archives with 252 other photo prints and negatives in his collection.
According to the Interstate Commerce Commission accident report, the ACL line from Waycross, GA through Dothan to Montgomery, AL was a single track. Governing train movements to prevent wrecks was tricky, requiring designation of trains using the track as superior and inferior, strict orders to the inferior train to pull into a siding at a particular time, and obedience to those orders by train crews.
The Extra 452 was the inferior train on this day. It consisted of a locomotive (also numbered 452, a “4-6-2 (Pacific) built by Baldwin [Locomotive Works] in 1916”), a tender, and a caboose. Second 180 was the superior train pulled by Engine 1686 (also a Baldwin Pacific model, 4-6-2, built in 1924) driven by Jim Potter of Montgomery, and consisted of six unoccupied sleeping cars. (Goolsby emails; ICC Report; Troy Messenger article.)
The Extra 452 crew received and understood their order to pull onto a sidetrack at Olustee or, if they were running late, at Youngblood Station no later than 1:56 pm, but Engineer Mangum drove the Extra 452 past Youngblood two minutes after that designated time. Thinking the track clear, Engineer Potter drove the Second 180 past Olustee Station at 2:01. Each crew saw the approaching train about 400 feet apart as they rounded a long curve about 2 miles from Olustee, cut their engines and pulled their brakes. The 180 slowed to 20 miles per hour, giving Potter the chance to jump from the cab before impact. The 452 slowed, too, but only to 35-40 mph, too fast for Mangum to jump.
Solomon’s photos and the ICC report reveal the results. Engine 452’s carriage split from its boiler and its cab housing slammed forward, killing Engineer Mangum. The locomotive twisted off the track with its rear in the air. The tender crashed into and lifted the locomotive, and the caboose shattered. Second 180’s locomotive landed on its right side next to the track. Its tender and the front carriage of its first passenger car derailed.
One of the crewmen from the Extra 452 talked to the Troy Messenger the next day, reporting that he and the conductor, brakeman, and fireman on the 452 were in the Montgomery hospital. Miraculously, none of them were seriously injured. When interviewed by the ICC, the 452 fireman said that he had asked Engineer Mangum why they had not pulled onto the siding at Youngblood, but Mangum brushed off his question. The ICC concluded “that this accident was caused by an inferior train occupying the main track on the time of an opposing superior train.”(ICC Report)
This wreck was only one of several on similar ACL tracks in the recent past, prompting the ICC to recommend that the ACL to switch from controlling trains by timetables and train orders to the safer block system that identified sections of track as blocks, established green-and-red signals on each, and disallowed two trains to occupy the same block simultaneously.
You can see these and other Tom Solomon train photographs at https://www.troy.edu/about-us/dothan-campus/wiregrass-archives/inventories/146.html.
Special thanks to Larry Goolsby, president of the ACL & SAL Railroads Historical Society, Inc. and Allen Tuten, president of the Central of Georgia Railway Historical Society, Inc. for their help in finding additional resources.
Emails, Larry Goolsby to Marty Olliff, March 22 and 24, 2023.
Interstate Commerce Commission, “Investigation No. 2935 . . . Accident near Olustee, Ala., on September 24, 1945 . . .” November 8, 1945, https://planeandtrainwrecks.com/Document?db=DOT-RAILROAD&query=(select+0+(byhits+(field+FILE_NUMBER+(anyof+%602935)))).
Thomas W. Solomon [obituary], Dothan Eagle, May 14, 1988.
“Trains Collide Killing One and Injuring Four,” Troy Messenger, September 25, 1945. (available through Newspapers.com)