Palabras Pintorescas: Accidents bring back memories of train wreck

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By Editha Bartley

Once in a while bad news bumps good news off the front page of the paper and the radio and television programs. Two area car wrecks come to mind when I mention this.

I am closely related to one of our fire department first responders, and he was called out early in the morning here because of a head-on crash down our road a few miles. The injuries were severe, but the occupants survived.

The other car wreck caused the death of two young girls — girls who had just begun to live their fun lives. My doctor father was always on call whenever any kind of wreck happened in the large area of San Miguel and Mora counties because our Valmora Hospital was the closest medical facilities back in the ‘50s, ‘60s and into the ‘70s.

Doc kept a large medical bag packed with all sorts of medical supplies, because ambulances were few and far between back then. And I always tried to bum a ride with Doc whenever he went to a wreck or accident of any kind. This also included accidents with horses and sometimes with a horse- drawn wagon or buggy. The rare motorcycle crash usually caused a few broken bones. Paved highways were narrow, most country roads were gravel at best, and all vehicles were slower and mostly made of steel.

I missed the worst wreck Doc ever saw, fortunately. This was the train wreck at Robinson Crossing, just south of Springer on the Santa Fe Railroad.

The Chief, the passenger train, hit a mail train head-on in the dark of the night Sept. 5, 1956. An Ohio doctor was visiting Valmora and when Doc got the emergency call about the wreck, he took Dr. Ross with him to help him with this huge wreck. This is one of the largest wrecks recorded in our railroad history, and 23 passengers were killed. The injured were sent to every available hospital between Albuquerque and Trinidad. Doc and his crew were on scene for almost 48-hours nonstop. I know Doc thought this experience was like being in a war zone, and it left quite a mark on all those who worked the wreck.

Dorothy Simpson devotes a chapter to this wreck in her book about Doc. “Hovels, Haciendas and Housecalls” also has Walter Vivian’s column, “Along the banks of the Gallinas” quoted and this story was titled, “Worst for Veteran Newsman: Nightmarish Scene Near Springer As Crews Start Cleanup.”

This terrible wreck made a big dent in many lives, including newspaper reporters, lest we forget.

Experience has taught me now that when our summer approaches and our young people are learning to drive, there will be more seriously bad wrecks. I know we all hope and pray no one else will be seriously injured or killed. Joy riding is very serious business, kids!

Editha Bartley lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.