Trespassing: Walking the Rails

15-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, March 5, 1911:  I went to Sunday school this morning. Carrie Stout and I walked to Turbotville this afternoon going up the rail road. We were rather weak in our feet by the time we got home. Ruth and I went to church this evening.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

Whew, this was a hike. It’s about 5 miles each way via road and it may be a little further on the railroad tracks. In 1911 the roads weren’t paved yet, and Helena and Carrie were probably trying to avoid the mud by walking on the railroad.

Apparently lots of people walked train tracks in those days even though it officially was considered trespassing and could be dangerous. Below are excerpts from an article in the local paper, the Milton Evening Standard,  that was written less than two months before Grandma and Carrie walked the rails.  

Article in Milton Evening Standards, January 19, 1911


Three More Victims of Practice in the County

The Fearful Death Toll Last Year—Every Section Furnishes Share of Victims

The deplorable accident near Mount Carmel on Tuesday morning, in which three young men while walking on the tracks of the Pennsylvania railroad lost their lives in the twinkling of an en eye, should arouse the citizens of this vicinity to the terrible danger of this practice. . .

According to figures just published there were 585 persons killed on the tracks of the Pennsylvania railroad in 1910, while trespassing. In 1909 there were 633 and in 1908 743 or about two persons a day during these three years. Each community has furnished its share of victims.  . .

We have become so accustomed to reading daily reports of theses horrors that we do not realize the enormous sacrifice of life and limb for the figures do not include the large number of persons injured, some permanently crippled—due to this dangerous habit. .  .

It is impossible for the railroads to patrol every inch of the rights of way, so that there will be no mishaps, but by adults exercising proper care to see that children are not exposed to dangers, and exercising this care themselves, a great reduction to these fatalities can be made. 

Milton Evening Standard, January 19, 1911

4 thoughts on “Trespassing: Walking the Rails

  1. I wonder if they were on trestles because it seems they should have heard the train coming if they were just walking on the tracks. Two a day seems a LOT!

    1. It does seem like a lot! . . . and I also can’t figure out why people won’t have heard the trains coming. I’ve also wondered if alcohol might have been involved in some of the deaths.

      That said, I have a least two relatives on my maternal side who were killed in pedestrian-train accidents. One was a small child. His mother was going to town and left an older sister in charge of watching the boy. However, the sister wasn’t paying attention and he decided to follow his mother and was hit by a train.

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