George Bowers Sr.: How to avoid head-on collisions

George Bowers Sr.

Although my grandfather, Beecher Bowers, died when I was fairly young, I was fortunate to have heard some of his stories before he passed away. One of those was about the time he was 9 years old and in a one room schoolhouse at Pugh’s Run. He shared with me how one student, after glancing out the window to the south, exclaimed, “Here comes a train!” And shortly thereafter, another student peering to the north announced, “Here comes one from this side, too!” With that, all the students along with their teacher ran to the windows to witness one of the worst rail accidents in Shenandoah County history.

This fateful head-on train collision occurred 108 years ago this month on Nov. 9, 1908. In his book “Yesterday in Woodstock,” Fred Painter explains how an order had been posted for the northbound train to pull off on a siding in Woodstock to allow the southbound train to pass. For some reason, that order was never picked up and the ensuing crash occurred just to the north of the railroad bridge that still spans Pugh’s Run.

Thankfully, both were freight trains carrying just a few humans consisting of engineers, firemen and brakemen. Those on the southbound train all survived by jumping to safety but those on the other were not so lucky. While the brakeman saw what was about to happen and bounded from the train, the engineer and fireman perished in the mayhem.

Perhaps most blessed was a man who had been traveling on the northbound train as a caretaker for a horse. He had gotten off in Edinburg but failed to reboard before the train pulled away. Thankfully, he escaped the wreck altogether, though the horse was so badly injured, it had to be euthanized.

Mr. Painter includes an old photo of the wreckage in his book. He also reports that since the cars and engines fell over into his family’s pasture field, he rummaged through the debris. He picked up a lonesome shoe from the field and sadly found it still contained a human foot.

Head-on car collisions are not that rare, but one between trains is always newsworthy. Even young school children knew something bad was about to happen as those two trains steamed toward each other.

As I reflect on this traumatic county event, I am moved at how easily it could have been avoided. One simple missed message resulted in significant financial damages and human deaths. How different things might have been if someone had gotten the message to stand aside and obeyed it.

Too often we fail to read and heed our orders. Due either to haste or indifference, we disregard God’s clear directives that could ultimately spare us great heartache and injury. Instead, we steam ahead toward disaster that could easily be averted. Because of selfishness and pride, we insist on our own way, which sets up head-on collisions with spouses, coworkers and others.

How much better it would be to follow the advice of Romans 12:11, which tells us to honor others above ourselves, and Ephesians 5:21, which commands us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Neither of these attitudes is popular in our day, nor have they ever been, for we want to charge ahead full steam. It is difficult to suppress the self and defer to others. Doing so, however, can prevent some dangerous head-on confrontations and resulting pain.

As we remember the Great Train Wreck of 1908, may it instruct us in our own relationships and remind us to pick up God’s traveling orders in the Bible. Blessings, George

George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books including his devotional collection, Blessings. He can be reached through or at