Littlestown Man Dies of Fright

John McCall of Littlestown, Pennsylvania, was one of the oldest engineers working on the Northern Central Railroad in 1909. He had worked for the railroad for over 30 years and even lost a leg eight years earlier in an accident on the railroad.

So, what could a man who had probably seen everything—good and bad—having to do with the railroad have seen that literally scared him to death?

The Northern Central Railroad ran from Baltimore to Sunbury, Pennsylvania. It had been completed in 1858. The railroad’s claim to fame was that President Abraham Lincoln rode on the railroad to deliver his Gettysburg Address in 1863, changing trains in Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. Then, in 1865, the Northern Central Railroad carried Lincoln partway on his final journey to Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried.

On December 3, 1909, McCall was working on the Frederick Branch of the railroad, east of Stony Brook, at the York Valley Lime and Stone company quarries, near Hallam, Pennsylvania. He backed Locomotive No. 4134 onto a siding at the quarry and unloaded the coal with which it was filled.

After coming off that siding, he reversed the locomotive to back onto another siding. The brakeman applied the hand brakes to stop the locomotive along the siding, but it began drifting backwards down the steep grade.

“When the brakeman realized that he was unable to hold the car, he shouted a warning to McCall, who may or may not have heard it. A moment later the heavy steel car side swiped the locomotive cab, tearing the right side entirely off and throwing McCall to the track, where he was pinned between the parallel bars and driving wheels of the locomotive,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Men nearby rushed to his aid, but McCall was trapped. In order to free him, McCall’s rescuers had to saw off his wooden leg, “which was fastened under the engine in such a way that it was impossible to move the man otherwise,” according to the Gettysburg Times.

His injuries from the accident were considered slight. McCall had a slight gash on his forehead and a broken left thumb. The most serious of his injuries was the amputation of his left index finger. These injuries were indeed slight, considering that McCall had previously survived the loss of his right leg around the turn of the century.

The accident had occurred around 5:45 p.m. By 6:30 p.m. that evening, McCall was dead. Dr. W. F. Bacon pronounced McCall dead due to shock and not his injuries. The York County coroner, J. E. Dehoff, later agreed with Bacon’s pronouncement.

John’s son, Carter McCall, also lived in Littlestown. He was a member of the freight crew on his father’s train. He was notified of his father’s death so that he could claim the body and return it to his family in Littlestown.

“The accident is the most peculiar known on the railroad, and a similar accident could not be remembered by any of the oldest engineers on the road,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

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