In Re Deadman’s Curve

By Judge Brian Addington, Kingsport

I grew up liking surfer music. I especially enjoyed the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. In 1978, the movie “Deadman’s Curve” came out as an autobiographic tale about Jan and Dean. The song by that name reached number eight on the Billboard chart in April 1964; it is a sad tale about a young man injured while street racing his Corvette Stingray. In a weird twist of fate, Jan Berry wrecked his own Stingray in 1966 and barely recovered.

That movie and my parents’ warnings always made me wary of street racing. Driving is serious and potentially dangerous enough without racing another car.

Before cars became the main method of transportation, trains used to speed travelers around our great country. Although I can think of the race to build the transcontinental railroad, racing was not the purview of trains. Rather, trains kept a tight schedule and adopted safety measures to ensure they delivered passengers as quickly and safely as possible. One could see the potential disaster of two trains on the same track barreling toward each other, so railroads took care to make sure it did not happen.

But it did, and the worst occurrence happened in Tennessee.

It was on July 9, 1918, that a westbound train of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway left Union Station from Nashville for Memphis. Before the train left, the conductor mistook a yard locomotive for an incoming train from Memphis. Safety measures at the time could have caught the mistake, but for unknown reasons the conductor moved from the back of the train to the front and later missed an emergency whistle warning that another train was on the tracks headed toward them.

As the trains neared Dutchman’s curve in today’s Belle Meade, it was estimated they both were traveling at 55 miles per hour. The resulting crash could be heard for miles. Fortunately, this accident happened in a rural area, or loss of life could have been worse if there had been people standing near the tracks. Although figures differ, over 100 passengers and crew were killed and almost 200 injured. To their credit, thousands of Nashville residents turned out to help the injured.

This accident preceded the Workers’ Compensation Law in Tennessee by one year, but it is known that the railroad made settlements with the family members of the dead and the injured. One good thing that came from this tragic accident was increased safety measures, including switching to all steel passenger cars; most of the injured and dead were riding in wood passenger cars.

Although we have switched to primarily an automobile-traveled country, it is important to remember to stress safety behind the wheel, paying attention to the road and conditions, staying off the phone, and no matter what, never, ever race another car. There have been enough Deadman’s curves.

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