Looking Back: Railroader severely burned after wreck

February 22, 2004|PEGGY SELBY GALLOWAY

Editor's note: This article was written by Peggy Selby Galloway of Danville, who grew up in the West Danville railroad community when her grandfather and seven of his eight sons were employed by Southern Railway. One of the sons, Lee Selby, told his children this story of his experience involving a wrecked steam engine and his escape. Galloway said her Uncle Lee Selby was her hero.

When a Southern Railway train was hit April 11, 1928, in the Danville railroad yards, the injuries to workers were severe because of the engine's size and because it was a steam engine.

A line in a poem, written in 1924 by Whitter, Noell and Lewely described what happened when a steam engine was involved as "and a-scalded to death with the steam."

The Queen and Crescent Limited 42, traveling between New Orleans and Cincinnati, crashed into the rear of Engine 1307 in the local railroad yard a little more than a mile south of the Southern Depot here.


Two hostlers, who moved engines in and out of the roundhouse (a place to store and work on engines), were working on the Danville-Louisville Engine 1307 when the Queen and Crescent ran through an open switch and crashed into the tender of Ezra McDonald and Lee Selby's engine. The tender is a vehicle attached behind the locomotive for carrying fuel and water for the engine. The Queen and Crescent was traveling between 40 and 50 miles an hour when it hit the Danville engine.

McDonald and Selby had taken their engine into the switch to wait until another engine had passed so they could trail it to the depot and connect with the Danville-Louisville cars. Their engine was headed the same way as the 42 engine, driven by Hub Muir, engineer, and would have left Danville at 6:05 p.m.

The 54-year-old McDonald was killed instantly at 5:15 p.m. when the Queen and Crescent Limited crashed into the rear of Engine 1307. His body was badly mangled as the impact of the crash drove the tender of the engine into his cab and crushed him.

Lee Selby of West Danville, the other occupant of the cab with McDonald, was seriously injured and taken to the local hospital with a broken leg, collar bone and badly scalded body. He suffered for months with burns and pain.

Two of his brothers, Bill and Denny Selby, volunteered to have skin grafted from their backs onto Lee's leg and foot so he would be able to use his limbs.

The railroad work was a way of life for the family, so when Lee recuperated, he returned to work on the rails.

Lee's father, Mack Selby had brought his wife, Minnie Gibson Selby, and their 11 children, Bill, Jim Ed, Jessie, Lee, Virgil, McGregor "Shirley," Charlie, Denny, Fred, Mary and Nellie to Boyle County in 1904 to find work on the railroad. All the male children and their father, Mack, went to work in the Danville yards.

In September 1928, the family suffered another shock, their mother, Minnie Gibson Selby, died.

The hundred years between 1830-1930 could be considered the golden age of steam trains. The steam engines represented a romantic time, but could also be a dangerous time.

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