George Bowers Sr.: Two train wrecks from our past

George Bowers Sr.

One hundred and forty-two years ago this coming Tuesday, the Shenandoah Valley was shaken from its slumber about midnight. A 25-car Baltimore and Ohio train carrying people, livestock, and freight tragically crashed off the Narrow Passage trestle and plunged 10 stories into the chilly creek below. Eleven human lives were lost that night along with roughly seven times that many cattle, sheep, and hogs.

According to accounts of surviving passengers and a few others who observed in the bright moonlight from a distance, the wooden structure gave way near the center when the train was about half way across. As the middle cars fell into the gorge, they pulled the other two ends down after them including the engine which wound up upside down and facing the opposite direction, and the passenger car which had been near the back of the train.

Because of the deteriorating condition of the track, the train was barely creeping over this section on the night of March 6, 1876, even while improvements were underway during the daylight hours. The Narrow Passage bridge had earlier been burned by Confederate Gen. Turner Ashby following Stonewall Jackson’s retreat but was rebuilt by the Manassas Gap Railroad and later bought by the B & O. Unfortunately, the improvements were not completed in time to prevent those on board from losing their lives that fateful night.

Eyewitnesses describe a wreckage 30 feet high and covered with fine white flour that settled on everything after this item of freight became airborne. Because it was a steam locomotive, some of those on board were badly scalded and the entire tragedy was etched in the minds of many residents for years to come, including six local doctors who rushed to the scene to do all they could.

As I’ve thought about this largely forgotten event from valley history, it reminds me of another crash further back in our past. The Bible records a train wreck that occurred not long after creation in a garden even more beautiful than this valley and with a name that was later applied to Edinburg. This wreck, however, was not caused by decaying timbers, but by human error.

Our greatest grandparents disobeyed the God who made them and did the exact opposite of what he’d told them to do. As a result, they plunged into the deep gorge of sin and death which has been a scene of great chaos ever since. While many work to clean up this accident, the carnage continues to unfold.

We may point to Adam and Eve’s error and blame them for our problems, but we are all tightly linked to them and even copy their mistakes. Because they were our earliest ancestors, their actions have pulled the rest of us into the same deep canyon of suffering and misery with them. We are inescapably connected to them in one unbroken chain of human descent. Although we may declare our independence and deny any linkage, a careful look into every human heart reveals the clear truth that we are inexorably coupled to them and falling to our eternal destruction not only for their sin, but for our own as well.

Thankfully, all is not lost. The great physician has rushed to the scene and has not only applied aid and help to those still living, but he is even able to raise the dead to life! He is able to pull us from humanity’s wreckage and set us on a new path that leads not to Baltimore or Ohio, but to somewhere much more wonderful and eternal than either of these, to heaven itself!

If you are feeling the effects of life’s train wreck, seek the savior today and allow him to uncouple you from your past and assist and revive you. Allow him to clean up your mess and attach you to his engine that’s bound for glory! Blessings, George

George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored nine books in addition to contributing to Let The Earth Rejoice, 365 Devotions Celebrating God’s Creation by Worthy Inspired. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.