Bravery saved train’s passengers and crew
“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” – SophoclesThe roar of falling rocks echoed across the Roaring Fork Valley. Nora O’Neil, a woman about 19 years of age, heard the echo at her Cattle Creek home. Curious, she went out to investigate. She reached the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line in time to see a large rock roll from the nearby hillside onto the tracks. Nora’s suspicions had been confirmed. The slide was near the tracks. She also knew this was trouble.The Colorado Express, known as the Denver and Rio Grande train number 206, was late that evening of Sept. 14, 1900. Nora knew the train had not yet passed the site of the slide on its scheduled run from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. She also knew that with the coming darkness, the engineer of the fast-moving train would never see the boulder in his path. As the light of day diminished, the resourceful Nora fashioned a torch from some paper she brought with her. Then with cool head and great bravery, she lit the torch and stood in the middle of the track.Engineer Joe Lane piloted the train at a quick 50 miles per hour down the valley. As he rounded a curve, he saw a “quick flash of light.” He first thought a bridge was afire, but realized no bridge was in that location. He then saw Nora, motionless, except for the waving of the flame. Brakes were hastily applied.When Nora jumped from the tracks, Lane saw the rock behind her. By now the train was slowing. The train and boulder did meet, but at a low rate of speed. The train remained on the tracks, and suffered minimal damage to the pilot bar.Forty-eight passengers emerged from the cars to examine the situation. Nora appeared from the side of the tracks, unhurt, but the call was close. The now-damaged pilot bar had brushed her skirt as the train passed. The crew and passengers were extremely grateful for her efforts. Aspen developer B. Clark Wheeler pressed $20 into Nora’s hand, while others also monetarily rewarded her efforts. It was not money motivating Nora that September evening more than 100 years ago. The desire to help her fellow man in the wake of an impending catastrophe was motivation enough. “Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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