Just beyond the far western end of the Hamilton Bay, the main east-west line of the Grand Trunk Railway met a junction at which switches could be set to direct trains to the line heading towards the city of Hamilton.
The junction had been the scene of many accidents over the years, some not too serious only involving damage to railway cars, or steam engines, some accidents were of a more serious nature involving serious injuries even death.
On November 31, 1886, a call was received at the Hamilton Spectator’s office indicating that a serious accident had occurred near the junction. Immediately, two reporters headed out by horse-drawn carriage to investigate the report.
In the article published the following day, the location of the accident, and access to it was described as follows:
“The quickest way to get to the spot where the accident happened is to drive to the Valley Inn, leave your horse there, and climb the side of the embankment, taking a foot path leading from the rear of the inn. You reach the track near the junction, and, after a walk of about a quarter of a mile you are there.”1
1 “Collision on the G.T.R. : Serious Smash Up on the Toronto Branch”
Hamilton Spectator. December 1, 1886.
As the men approached the area where the accident had occurred, they came a surreal, not soon to be forgotten sight:
“It was a remarkable scene that presented itself to a pair of SPECTATOR reporters last night. A huge fire, made of dry bushes and pine wood lit up the scene and was visible at a distance of two miles. In its red light, two dozen of more men moved rapidly about, a look of anxiety on their set features, and a tone of awe in their voices as they went about their work, that of removing the debris. A number of torches, from which black smoke poured forth continually, moved around the crowd of busy, hardworking people, and the effect of the moonlight and the glaring fire upon the steam and smoke gave to the scene a wild, unearthly appearance which is very seldom seen anywhere.”1
The accident involved a pilot engine which was being backed towards Hamilton from Waterdown about 5:30 p.m. As it was December, the sun had already gone down and the area near the junction was enveloped in pitch blackness.
The pilot engine driver was unable to see that there was a Grand Trunk Railway express train which had just descended the escarpment and was heading full steam for Toronto. Unfortunately Pilot Engine #917 and the fast moving express collided. The huge steam engine left the tracks as a result of the impact, and was heavily damaged.
The Spectator reporters, as well as the other men who made their way to the scene of the accident made a horrifying discovery. Two men, whose identities could not been discovered, had been stealing a ride on the G.T.R. train.. They had been on the front platform of the baggage car when the collision occurred and both were instantly killed, crushed beyond recognition.