December 11, 1917 was a memorable day, both here in Brevard and around the world. British General Edmund Allenby led a contingent of his Egyptian Expeditionary Force into Jerusalem and the surrender of the occupying Turks became official. Meanwhile, in Transylvania County in the late afternoon one of Carr Lumber’s 50-ton Climax steam engines was coming over “The Hump,” hauling a load of cars loaded with split timber. The Hump, Frank Carr reminisced in an interview with Joe Paxton, is where Sliding Rock is today: “Our ties lay right on top of where the kids slide now.”
There had recently been a winter storm and temperatures were very cold across much of the country. The Brevard Institute (now Brevard College) recorded lows of below zero on the days following the accident, December 13th and 14th (the previous days temperatures were not published). When asked the cause, Carr said in his interview, “Well, it was more than likely the time of year, the condition of the road… where the brakes didn’t take effect like they should, maybe in the snow.”
Several cars jumped the track, and two of the brakemen were thrown from the cars and killed as the loads of wood crashed down on them. At that time many trains had automatic air brakes, but there were still quite a few with manual brakes that the brakemen would have to set by hand and move from car to car, scrambling across the loads of logs as the trains rumbled along. Despite advances in technology and working conditions, railroad work was still very dangerous during this time. In 1916 on average a railroad worker was killed every 3.5 hours in the U.S.; and for every death there were 20 injuries.
The brakemen were identified as T.T. Corn and Artillus Ducker. While no information is available on Corn, Ducker is less of a mystery. Originally from Avery’s Creek in Buncombe County, Ducker moved to Brevard and married Addie Owenby from Little River on Valentine’s Day 1900. They had one son and seven daughters ranging in age from two to fifteen when he died. Addie remained in Brevard for a few years, but by 1930 had remarried and moved to Greenville, SC where she lived until her second husband died in 1959. At some point after that, she moved to Asheville where she lived until her death in 1978 at the age of 96. The lives lost in the timber industry are an example of how these workers risked life and limb to build industry in our country. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Assistant Hale Durant. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.