By JIM ZBICK
Considering the amount of hills and mountains that drivers must navigate, brake malfunctions are never a good thing. August 1910 proved to be a wild month for out-of-control vehicles in the area with a horse-drawn carriage, a motorized automobile and a railroad car all involved in separate accidents.
To unwind from the rigors of hard work, nothing could be more appealing to folks living in the early 1900s than to soak in the beauty of nature with a carriage ride followed by a country picnic.
That was the objective when a group of 18 family and friends boarded the Tally-Ho One, a carriage drawn by four horses, in New Philadelphia on a hot day in early August. The party had been anticipating their trip to Kunkle's Dam, near McKeansburg, where they planned to have their annual picnic.
All but four in the group were from New Philadelphia. The journey began from that point without a hitch, and the travelers were in a festive mood. Singing filled the air as carriage driver John McGarrity of Port Carbon guided his team up a steep mountain slope.
As the carriage began its descent, McGarrity was still in control, "holding the team well in hand, with the aid of the strong brakes," according to a Tamaqua Evening Courier reporter. But when those "strong brakes" failed on the way down the hill, the driver lost control, turning the ride became the travelers' worst nightmare.
"The heavily laden vehicle pressed against the rear pair of horses, causing them to jump forward and startle the leaders into a gallop," the Courier said.
The next few seconds were terrifying for the riders, as the singing that had filled the air just moments earlier turned to hysterical shrieks. The Courier writer described those harrowing moments.
"Terrified by the force of the wagon behind them, the entire four animals plunged forward, and soon the Tally-Ho, with its human freight, was descending the mountainside, swinging, swaying, swerving, escaping a plunge over the embankment by a narrow margin, bounding high in the air over the gulleys, the maddened animals increasing their speed every moment, in their futile efforts to get away from the awful thing bearing down upon them from behind," he stated. "A sharp curve in the road taken at such a rate of speed turned the Tally-Ho completely over, pinning the majority of the occupants beneath."
Those who managed to jump before the carriage flipped over escaped serious injury, and quickly ran to the overturned vehicle to aid their less fortunate companions. A few who were unhurt hurried to Middleport where they summoned a doctor named N. H. Stein. The physician hurried back to the scene in his horseless carriage, called a runabout.
The runabout was the motorized vehicle of choice for those who opted for the internal combustion engine over the raw horsepower provided by an animal. The early runabouts weighed about 650 pounds and cost $650.
According to the Courier, Dr. Stein's vehicle was quickly pressed into ambulance service after reaching the accident scene. The converted ambulance reportedly made "trip after trip, carrying the sufferers back to his residence, which likewise was turned into a temporary hospital."
Miraculously, none of the passengers died at the scene, although many had to be pulled from underneath the overturned wagon. The most seriously injured man was a well-known contractor from Pottsville named George Soell, who suffered from "concussion of the brain and severe facial and bodily lacerations." He was transported to Pottsville Hospital, where he died.
August 1910 was known for several other harrowing rides.
While the Tally-Ho party's carriage was drawn by a four-horse team, another runaway midway through the month made headlines, but this one involved an automobile. The day started innocently enough with Adam Hess using his motor vehicle to transport friends to a picnic in Hometown. On his final excursion, the brakes on his vehicle failed while he was descending the Hometown hill.
Hess was able to control the speeding vehicle until it reached the bottom of the incline where it failed to negotiate a sharp turn.
"The vehicle flew over the bank, carrying the driver with it," the Courier report stated. Hess was fortunate to escape with his life, suffering bruises on his face and arms and a lacerated chin caused when his head struck a rock.
Later in the month a group of railroad officials from Pottsville and Philadelphia were inspecting the progress of a new line being built between Ashland and Millersburg.
The group entered the Reading Tunnel on a stretch of track that extended from Hegins to the Tower City end of the mountain when the brakes gave way on their car.
"There was a thrilling race down grade between the car and the mule and in turning a sharp curve on the Hegins valley side, the car was derailed and miraculously the people were saved from being precipitated down the mountain," the Courier stated.