Tag Archives: train

Thriller Thursday – John A. Bechtel’s Accident

It time for Thriller Thursday, a prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers. This week I have the story of the tragic train accident that took the life of John A. Bechtel of Reading, Pennsylvania.

John A. Bechtel was born March 6, 1843 in Pennsylvania. While I do not know who his parents were, according to census data, his father was born in Germany and his mother in Pennsylvania. In August of 1861 he enlisted in Company H of the Pennsylvania 88th Infantry and served in the Union Army in the Civil War.

In the mid 1860s John married Salinda Klemmer. Their four known children were William, Charles, Daniel and George. Per census data, there were also three other children who presumably died young. The family lived in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

John was a long time employee of the P&R Railroad having worked for them for about 20 years. On April 23, 1891, he was working as a hind brakeman on a freight train on the Lebanon Valley line. It was 8 o’clock in the morning and the train was at the station at Womelsdorf where it had stopped to unload some cargo. John was standing on the hind platform of the caboose. The train jerked and John, who was about to put on the brake, lost his footing and fell onto the track.

As many as fifteen cars then rode over his legs. Both legs were horribly crushed – one above the knee and the other below. Dr. Horace Livingood was summoned and dressed the injuries. Incredibly, John was awake and conversing. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Reading and his family was summoned. He died shortly after noon, surrounded by his wife and 3 of his four sons.

A coroner’s inquest was held and it was determined that his death was from “accidental injuries.” Though John was described as a “careful railroader,” this was not his first accident. Apparently he had also fallen off a caboose at Wernersville a short time before. Sadly, John had been planning to quit his job at the railroad that week. He planned to move to Duluth, Minnesota where one of his sons was living. Unfortunately, he never got that chance.

If anyone has information about John’s parents or how he connects with other Bechtels living in the southeastern Pennsylvania area, I would love to hear from you.