Peerless Engine Crashes Through Birmingham Bridge

A 1907 U-Class 18 HP Peerless engine is too much for a bridge over the LaMoine River

The late Merle D. Post and his wife, the late Roberta Post, pose with Merle's 1907 Peerless U-class 18 HP

The late Merle D. Post and his wife, the late Roberta Post, pose with Merle's 1907 Peerless U-class 18 HP, "Ole Rutabegga."

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Looking through materials that were handed along to me from Iron-Men Album’s old offices in Pennsylvania, I found an old article and a personal reminiscence concerning a bridge collapse that occurred Aug. 24, 1912, at the LaMoine River in Birmingham, Ill.  

Following is a personal account submitted by Merle D. Post, formerly of Republic, Mo., and a newspaper report of the accident as published by the Macomb Journal, Macomb, Ill. Unfortunately, after finding this article I learned that Merle recently passed away. Merle’s Peerless, “Ole Rutabegga,” is now in the hands of his son, Adam. Special thanks to the Macomb Journal for permission to reprint its article of Aug. 26, 1912. — Ed.  

“We always enjoy the magazine, and look forward to its arriving. I am a member of the Ozarks Steam Engine Association here in Republic, Mo. Enclosed is a picture of our 1907 U-class 18 HP Peerless engine. I am 63 years old and remember my granddad telling the story of the day the engine fell through the bridge. Enclosed you will find the article that was in the Macomb Journal, Monday, Aug. 26, 1912.

“The accident occurred four miles from the home where I was raised. I, after some effort, found it again through a friend of my mother’s, who at 80 still resides in Plymouth, Ill. Notice the spokes the gentleman is sitting on. Ironically, it appears to be a U-class Peerless engine. I thought this might be of interest to readers.”

Sincerely,
Merle D. Post

From the Macomb Journal, Aug. 26, 1912:

After being pinned beneath the wreckage of a thresher engine, which plunged through the west approach of the Birmingham Bridge, and suffering untold torture from burning coals and scalding steam for fifty minutes, Earl Brooks, engineer, and Everett Royer, assistant, were dragged out of the debris by a rescue party headed by F.M. Greenleaf and are now in critical condition. Brooks sustained a crushed foot and his legs were literally cooked up as far as his hips. He was brought to the Marietta Phelps Hospital this morning for treatment, and if nothing unlooked for occurs it is thought that his legs and life can be saved. Royer was scalded badly all over his entire body, but his condition was not so serious as that of his companion. Bert Toland, another man, who was merely riding on the engine, was thrown clear of the wreckage and unhurt save for a few bruises and scratches.

The bridge across Crooked Creek, known familiarly to everyone in that section as the Birmingham Bridge, is just across the line in Schuyler county and is an old wooden affair. The abutments are placed so as to make a 16-foot span necessary. The wooden trusses had rotted above the abutments and the bridge had been declared unsafe when examined by the road commissioners this spring. Workmen went to fix the bridge, but on their examination thought it safe, and went on to another section with their work, in spite of the fact that the structure had been condemned.

The accident occurred about 6 o’clock Saturday evening, as the thresher and its crew were turning in for the night. As the engine ran up the approach the platform gave under the ten-ton weight and the machine crashed to the bottom, a distance of eighteen feet, and turned completely over, coming to rest with its wheels facing upwards. Brooks and Royer were pinned beneath the wreckage, the former so badly that he was unable to assist himself in any way. Royer was able to get out, but not before he was severely scalded by the escape of the steam and coals.

As the engine plunged downward the water tank was dragged after it and thrown upside down. A hole was broken in the tank and water poured out directly on the blazing coals from under the boiler, extinguishing them, and in reality saving the lives of the drivers. The rescue party, consisting of about fifteen or twenty men, was on the scene immediately after the warning was given and the injured men were taken from the wreck. Drs. Wade, Erwin and Daniels of Plymouth, and Dr. Hillyer of Augusta, were called to the scene at once. Dr. Wade, with F.M. Greenleaf, accompanied Brooks to the hospital today.

Both men survived the accident. — Ed.