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A tough week for auto travel

Published October 06. 2012 09:02AM



By 1912, there were 58,540 registered automobiles in Pennsylvania which means the number of drivers for those vehicles could have easily fit inside Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia ... with 10,000 empty seats to spare.

Still, the number of vehicle registrations was escalating with each passing month a century ago and with that increase in motorized travel came a greater chance for wrecks. the first week of October was an especially bad one for accidents throughout the region.

One occurred near New Philadelphia, when a vehicle owned by Joseph DeFrehn struck a pole while en route from Lehighton to Pottsville. The vehicle struck a pole and ran into the bank.

On impact, Mrs. George Ketner of Orwigsburg was thrown through the windshield. suffering lacerations of the head and shoulders, she at least was a survivor. But a number of people involved in two horrible accidents, one in Philadelphia and the other outside Pittsburgh, were not so fortunate.

The first wreck, involving a train and a big touring car on Oct. 4. killed five people in Wilkinsburg, a borough in Allegheny County which is adjacent to the city of Pittsburgh. When the Pennsylvania Railroad engine struck the car at a street crossing in the town, it sent the five occupants in the vehicle hurling through the air. Three of them died instantly, including Rev. W.l. Nicholson, a Presbyterian pastor, and his six-year-old son.

A woman standing near the crossing was killed after being struck by a section of debris that was sent knifing through the air on impact. A baby in a cart the woman was pushing escaped injury.

Just three days later, a horrible accident, which may have resembled the "chicken" race scene from the James Dean movie classic "Rebel Without a Cause", claimed nine lives in Philadelphia. Tamaqua Courier readers learned of the crash in the newspaper's Oct. 7 edition.

"Nine youths threw their lives away, the result of joy riding and a wild race between two automobiles, when the machine in which the victims were riding tore away the railing of a bridge and the machine hurtled over the embankment, falling 58 feet into a coal pocket," the report stated.

The writer said nine occupants were joyriding in a car owned by James Shaw, a lumber merchant, when another car came speeding down 33rd Street and challenged the shaw vehicle to a race. An eyewitness named Charles Spayd saw the two cars racing up the street, with the Shaw car slightly behind the vehicle that had first issued the challenge.

When the Shaw vehicle attempted to pass, it sideswiped the lead car. After striking the rear wheel, it spun out of control and hit the railing.

"This iron barrier was torn away as if it were a pipe stem," the reporter said, "the car and its occupants going over the embankment."

He added that while hurtling through the air, the car "turned turtle" (upside down).

"The men were so tightly overcrowded into the seats, none had tried to jump from the car," the writer said. "The car plunged forward and was enveloped in darkness."

After hurrying down the 58-foot embankment to the coal pocket where the vehicle landed, Spayd spotted the grim wreckage scene.

"Spayd found the machine had overturned and that the nine men were buried in the mass of twisted steel that had been the automobile," the writer said. "There was no sound from any of the victims and Spayd thought all had been killed in their fall."

The writer gave an assessment of the casualties.

"All the victims had received fractures of the skull and in several cases, nearly every bone in their bodies had been broken," he stated.

A writer for the Lansford Record blamed reckless driving and the lack of speed law enforcement for the mass fatality accident.

"There is very little use in enacting speed laws unless they are enforced," he stated. "Nine deaths in one accident in Philadelphia last Sunday should be a lesson for reckless drivers. Besides being a menace to the safety and comfort of the public, they are in danger themselves.

"There seems no excuse for this terrible accident as it was due to racing with another car in a dangerous place. the speed violator should be punished to the full extent of the law."

In another column, a Lansford writer explained how vehicles speeding through town were a menace and posed a threat to others.

"Drivers of autos and horses go around the street corners in the town entirely too carelessly and the arrest of a number would have a good effect," he stated.

He added that it was especially dangerous for pedestrians crossing the street.

"Drivers of machines and teams have no right under the law to run over the crossings at a fast rate of speed as it is the case generally when they make a turn," he said. "Conditions have reached a point that pedestrians are in constant danger of being struck, especially by autos."

He said another hazard exists when cars approach street cars and there are people entering or exiting.

He repeated his statement that it was time to enforce the speed laws on the streets, especially since the public complaints were mounting.

"The only way to curb this evil is for the police to make arrests," he said.

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