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Forgotten History

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Raritan River Railroad


World War I sabotage on the Raritan River Railroad!!!



Axis Powers at work in New Jersey; intentionally derailing a Raritan River Railroad Passenger Train in 1915!


July 31, 1915 6:20am



Fig.1 – Wreck from Rails up the Raritan, pg 62

“Something obviously did not go right here.  Location appears to be Bergen Hill.  Official Company Photo.”




While searching through the New York Times Archive for Raritan River Railroad articles, this amazing account of sabotage and disaster turned up:



On July 31st, 1915, the 6:18 am train out of South Amboy was packed as usual and was almost ready to pull out.  Engineer Jeremiah Minnick of South Amboy was double checking his gauges, as the fireman Edward Clark was getting up a good fire for a good head of steam.  They had a very busy day ahead of them.  These last couple of years had been quite busy, as the war effort keeps increasing tonnages and passengers on the little line.  It required quite an effort to keep up with the demands. Seems like there are more passengers boarding every day.


Most of the passengers on this train were bound for the Gun Powder Plants and Gun Cotton Plants in Parlin.  It was a busy time on the Raritan River Railroad.  With World War I going on in Europe, the United States, although not officially in the war, was supplying the Allied Powers with munitions and supplies.  A good percentage of those munitions were coming from the Parlin area which employed over 5000 people.  And most of passengers on the 6:18 train out of South Amboy were workers at those plants.


There were over 100 people on the 6:18 train out of South Amboy.  The train was number 21, the first out in the morning.  It probably had 2-3 passenger cars.  In the beginning of 1915, the Raritan River Railroad only had 6 Passenger cars.  By the end of 1915, they would have a total of 20 passenger cars!  All these cars were purchased for the war time rush of moving passengers to and from the munitions plants all along the line.


The morning run started out as normal, with a full set of cars heading to New Brunswick.  Jeremiah slowly pulled out of the South Amboy station and had orders to proceed to its next stop at Bergen Hill.  Passing the turntable at Catherine Street, the train was already full, with over 100 people on board.  Filling cars to capacity was dangerous, as the Raritan was trying its best to accommodate everyone.  New cars and engines were on the way, but it would take time to get them ready.


The ride was normal, just as the train pulled past the old Shops, coming up to Stevens Avenue, it began to gather speed.  Due to the demands of the war, a lot had changed in the last 3 years.  In the spring of 1912, the maximum speed of trains was still only 20 mph.  This was quickly increased by the fall of 1912 to be an astonishing 35 mile per hour.  A 75 percent increase in speed probably had many old time passengers already on the defensive.


But 35 miles per hour was still not enough.  They couldn’t move enough passengers with the existing speeds and cars, so they would still need to go faster.  By the summer of 1915, the first class passenger trains had the authority to go 45 miles per hour!  That’s a 125% increase in speed from just 3 years earlier.  And 45 mile per hour it was headed, as Train Number 21 rounded past the shops. 


Train No. 21 passed Stevens Avenue, under a full head of steam, it headed towards the stone abutment of the Bordentown Bridge.  But there was a bump, a big bump and the train lurched!  Jeremiah and Edward held on tight as it swerved so severely, it rocked to one side.  It rocked so hard that it just kept going.  It kept going, over and over, until it was completely off the rails! 


There was nothing the engineer Jeremiah or Edward could do, but stick to their posts and ride it out if they could.  They both knew that they had a job to do, right up to the end, what ever that end it would be!  As the train careened off the track, it was unfortunate, that the bridge abutment was right there.  The train had no where to go, but right into it.  And Jeremiah and Edward held on tight!


With almost perfect timing and alignment, at exactly 6:20 am on July 31st, 1915, Train Number 21, the 6:18 am out of South Amboy, heading to New Brunswick, with over 100 passengers on board, went off the tracks and into the Bordentown Avenue Bridge!


Chaos ensued as the train came to a very quick and sudden stop.  The bridge took quite a pounding, with a 72 ton locomotive hitting it at full speed!  The sound was deafening.  The crash was earth shattering!  The cars were light, made of wood, and thank God, stayed in one piece.  The passengers would not fair as well.  Most were thrown about, as there were no seat belts those days.  Most landed on the floor.


When the dust settled, the first passenger car along with the locomotive was leaning on the Bordentown Avenue Bridge abutment!  Of the 100 passengers on the train, about 40 were badly shaken up.  Most were in the first car that hit the bridge.  Four of the passengers were very badly hurt and required immediate medical care.


When the towns people heard the collision, everyone came running.  First and foremost, the passengers needed attention.  Many were hurt and quite startled.  The workers from the shops came running over.  Someone ran back to the South Amboy Office above the station to tell them the news.  The phone operator (phones were installed in 1910) then called to the Bergen Hill Station.  Four of the passengers were very badly hurt and required immediate medical care.  Jeremiah, the engineer who stuck by his post, was also very badly hurt.


When C.M. Himmelberger, Superintendent of the Raritan River Railroad came over to the scene, he was not happy.  It was obvious to him that something was wrong, very wrong with what he saw.  As he looked closely at the tracks where the train left the rails, he noticed something strange.  He noticed that spikes had been placed on the rails.  Not just left by accident, not dropped by misfortune.  He noted that the spikes were placed with the intention to derail the train! 


This was no accident, he cried.  This was sabotage!


He went on to check the train, the engine, the passenger cars, the wheels, the tracks.  All the components of the train were in working order.  The engineer and the fireman were seasoned employees with good records and integrity, they did nothing wrong. 


At the time it was noted that there were over 3000 people working at the DuPont Powder Mills, as well as the Union Gun Cotton Mill.  They worked 3 shifts per day, as production continued 24 hrs per day with no break.  One hundred armed guards keep watch over the plants 24 hours per day.


C.M. Himmelberger had said that this was done to slow down the production of war materials at the munitions plants in the area served by the Raritan River Railroad.  A good wreck could have stopped the passengers from getting to work, stop the freight from getting to and from the factories, even wrecking the bridge to stop cars and trucks from accessing the road.  This was a calculated and premeditated plan to try to stop the production of war materials for the Allies in Europe. 


The Raritan River Railroad is already running at maximum capacity trying to keep up with the demands of the war, and this did not help things.



New York Times Archive Adobe PDF article:



Fig.2 – Timetable No.76 July 19, 1915



Notes from the author, Tom E. Reynolds 4/7/2006:

When I first read the account from the NY Times Archive I was stunned.   I never heard such a tale, and none was recorded in Rails up the Raritan.  But it wasn’t until I read the story again and reread the crash location description that I got excited. 


“The locomotive and one car left the track and crashed into a stone wall.  The point where the accident occurred was at a bend in the road, near a bridge…”


I tried to picture where a stone wall was near a bridge, and suddenly the picture from page 62 of Fred Deibert’s Rails up the Raritan came to me.  When I got my copy, I was pleased to see that Fred didn’t know much about the wreck, or even its true location. 


“Something obviously did not go right here.  Location appears to be Bergen Hill.  Official Company Photo.”


His mention of Bergen Hill is probably due to a partial description that may have been on the photograph, as the train was indeed headed to Bergen Hill.  Location appears to be between South Amboy Station and Bergen Hill Station Probably under the Bordentown Avenue Bridge.  Knowing that the original photo is currently lost and not in the Bob Kipp Collection (last VP and GM of RRRR), all we have to go on is what we can read and see.


I truly believe that Fred’s picture from RUTR matches the description in the New York Times Archive Article from July 31, 1915 entitled “SUSPECT ALLIES FOE OF DITCHING TRAIN Express Carrying Men Making Powder for Allies Wrecked Near Parlin FOUR PERSONS ARE INJURED spikes placed on tracks” 






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