The Wreck of 234

By Rodney Butcher

    On June 10th 1960 Florida East Coast engine and crew from Bowden Yard were in a fatal wreck after hitting a gasoline tank truck at San Marco Blvd. Transfer jobs are the most unlikely to be a part in anything as tragic as a tank truck crossing accident. Yard jobs seldom reach high speeds due to the type equipment and areas served. The FECís Bowden Yard however is seven miles out of town with interchange cars to and from the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and Southern (GS&F) Railroads in downtown Jacksonville. Track speeds were 79 mph from St Augustine Rd south and 25 mph north on the main tracks with a running lead for northbound freights from Bowden Yd to the South Jacksonville Station. Passenger Trains ran track speed while transfer freights ran mostly with switch engines at much slower drag speeds not exceeding 30 mph. On June 10th 1960 a short southbound transfer cut using SW 1200 #234 with a crew of 5 men fatally struck a Sinclair Gasoline Tanker at San Marco Blvd just after 4:30 pm. All but one crewmember died who suffered with seventy percent of his body burnt, the truck driver broke his arm.

    My grandfather was recovering from a heart attack in Baptist Hospital, which is located at the Prudential / San Marco crossing. When my father got home from work we headed for the hospital to visit granddad. We drove up to San Marco crossing shortly after the accident. The fire department was still putting out burning gas on the road. A blackened switch engine sat smoking under the I-95 overpass with a red and yellow GP 7 or 9 coupled to it after being sent out from Bowden Yard. The rails were melted and warped just south of the crossing with cross ties still burning. A Jacksonville Terminal engine was behind the cut to pull it back from the accident scene, the first few cars may have been wooden boxcars with the frame and bracing being all that remained still smoking. Police directed us by and we made our way into the hospital.

     My grandfather told my parents he though a bomb had gone off. Shortly after the explosion an announcement came over the PA system asking for all available persons to report to the ER. His room overlooked the St Johns River and below was the ambulance entrance to the ER, as he looked down a police car arrived with a charred figure being helped out of the back seat. He was then told what had happened. After our visit while leaving the hospital we saw the City of Miami creeping by the site northbound. The City of Miami ran north a night making a pretty sight with the passenger cars lit up, this night was a sad thing to see. We were told by police that the last crewman had been found. The East Coast Champion had been unloaded into buses at South Jax that afternoon for connecting trains at Jacksonville Terminal and released to proceed just before the City of Miami arrived. 

     This terrible accident made a lasting impression all my life. This year I had the honor to meet the one survivor. He is one of the most positive people Iíve ever met. We are making a memorial for the four who died and honoring Mr. Bohannon the only survivor.