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Streetcar Wreck at Willow Street

RVHS Photo: 1993.001.0226

The date was April 30, 1910 when a runaway coal car hit streetcar #102 on the "Seattle, Renton & Southern Ry." streetcar line.  Two passengers were killed and twenty were injured. 

The accident occurred on Rainier Avenue at Willow Street. The power apparently failed and the shop-built locomotive pulling the coal car had no emergency braking system to cover such an emergency. 

The locomotive was used for hauling freight cars, especially coal, as it was doing when the collision occurred. There were fuel yards scattered throughout the Rainier Valley in those early days as everyone used either coal or wood to cook with and heat their homes. 

The locomotive picked up carloads of coal, probably at Newcastle and delivered it to the fuel yards that in turn delivered it to their customer's homes by horse and wagon. On arrival at the home the coal was shoveled into a big steel buckets about the size of a garbage can as the horses waited patiently and the local kids came by to watch. When full of coal, the workman, with a thick pad on his back, would put his back against the heavy bucket that was sitting on the bed of the wagon, grip the bucket at the top, lean forward to take the weight, and head toward the customers house. He would have to go upstairs and downstairs, sometimes for long distances, before dumping it down the coal chute into the coal bin, usually in the basement. Then back for another load.

The locomotive was also used as a repair car for maintenance on the rail line between Renton and Pine Street in downtown Seattle.  Louis Hipkins, the master mechanic and blacksmith built the locomotive at the company car barns on Rainier Avenue at Hudson Street. He was known as "Pa Hip" to all his friends and fellow employees. He worked for the car line, building and repairing the cars for 50 years. When the car line changed ownership, which it did many times, the new owners insisted he remain with the company before the sale was finalized.

In 1937, when the line closed down and the city busses replaced the streetcars, he retired. He and his wife moved to their cabin on Camano Island where about ten Columbia City residents also had summer homes. The post office address for their "little community" was what else but "Columbia City #2, Camano Island".

 Streetcar #102 was new, having been in service only about a month, when the accident happened. It was one of eight larger steel cars, with two doors, built for the Rainier Valley line by the Moran Shipyard Company here in Seattle. After the accident, it was repaired and returned to service as car #109. The original cars they replaced were built of wood.

According to some of the old timers in the valley, but not able to be verified, the motorman of the doomed car #102 escaped injury by diving out of the window. Also a woman passenger wouldn't get off, as she was concerned her transfer might not get her on another streetcar.

The accident attracted a sizable crowd as evidenced by the photo. Everyone seems to be dressed up including the boys in the center of the photograph, particularly the one in knickers, suit coat, tie and a pork pie hat.  

Their attire suggested they might be going to Sunday School. Also notice the long shadows indicating it is early morning. The date was written on the back of the original photo, April 30, 1910,  so I looked up that date on a perpetual calendar and sure enough, it was on a Sunday. 

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 9/8/99

By Buzz Anderson


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