Marcellus Observer, June 1917
The widow of Dr. Clayton E. Spire, the Jordan physician killed when his auto was struck by the Empire State Express at a crossing near his home two weeks ago, will sue the New York Central Railroad for $25,000. J. C. McLaughlin is attorney for the estate.

The above news item jumped out at me while I was look for information about John C. McLaughlin. I needed to know more about this case and how the railroad might have been in any way responsible for an accident that seemed to be caused by a driver who tried to beat a train to a crossing.

What I found was an account of an incredible collision that, in retrospect, was probably inevitable, given all of the circumstances. However, this tragedy was compounded by a second death – to a man who was, as always, doing a job he loved and doing it well.

Syracuse Post-Standard / May 18, 1917
Jordan Physician Is Killed
By Empire State; Conductor
Expires Following Tragedy
Two deaths resulted from the collision of the westbound Empire State Express with an automobile owned and driven by Dr. Clayton E. Spire of Jordan at Putnam’s crossing near that village at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Dr. Spire was instantly killed. Emington Dockstader of New York, conductor of the train, collapsed while directing the removal of the physician’s body from the wreckage and died a few minutes later on the train. Mr. Dockstader was in the service of the New York Central nearly half a century and was one of the best known railroad men in the country.

Crossed in Front of Freight.
The collision resulted from the attempt of Dr. Spire to cross the line of the New York Central ahead of a slowly moving eastbound freight train and his failure to note the rapid approach of the Empire on another track. As his automobile neared the railroad right of way, Dr. Spire saw the freight train, put on more speed and crossed the track in front of it.

His view of the westbound high speed track was partly obscured by a string of coal cars standing on a siding between the passenger and freight tracks. As his automobile shot across in front of the freight locomotive, the engineer and other members of the freight crew shouted to him a warning of the approach of the Empire State Express on the westbound track.

Unable to Avert Crash.
Dr. Spire failed to hear their warning cries, or, hearing them, attempted to beat out the racing passenger train. Even if he had seen the flyer approach, he had scarcely time enough to bring his automobile to a stop soon enough to avert the crash.

The pilot of the locomotive caught the physician’s light car squarely amidships and the wreckage was wrapped around the forward part of the engine when it was brought to a stop at the Jordan station half a mile away.

The crew of the express, aided by station hands, started to remove the wreckage as soon as the train stopped. Mr. Dockstader was one of the first to reach the front of the train and by virtue of his position directed the work.

The body of Dr. Spire was found firmly wedged in the driver’s seat. The removal of the wreckage proceeded at a rapid rate and took only a few minutes. When it was about complete, Mr. Dockstader said he was tired and complained of sharp pains in his chest. He sat down on a handcar standing on the siding and a few second later collapsed.

Conductor Dies on Train.
Other members of the train crew did not realize the gravity of his condition and they carried him aboard the train. The engineer was ordered to proceed to Rochester. Just as the train pulled away from the Jordan station, Mr. Dockstader died. His body was taken from the train at Rochester.

Coroner S. Ellis Crane was informed of the death of Dr. Spire and went to Jordan late in the afternoon. After investigating the circumstances, Dr. Crane gave as the immediate cause of Dr. Spire’s death the crushing of his chest and the consequent internal injuries

Dr. Crane made no investigation of the death of Mr. Dockstader, it appearing that he did not die in Onondaga county. It is less than a mile from the Jordan station to the Onondaga-Cayuga line and while there is no accurate data available, it occurred undoubtedly in Cayuga county. A relief conductor riding from Syracuse to Rochester took temporary charge of the train.

As soon as news of the accident reached Jordan, Dr. W. W. Osgood was notified. When he arrived at the railroad station Dr. Spire was dead. The body was removed to the undertaking establishment of B. L. Bush and later to Dr. Spire’s home.


Syracuse Post-Standard / May 18, 1917
Told Husband Had Been Hurt,
Mrs. Dockstader Rushes Here
Announcement of the death of Emington Dockstader was received in Syracuse at 3:30 o’clock and immediately transmitted by railway officials to his son, Earl L. Dockstader, residing in South Beech street, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. John R. Allendorph, No. 117 Harvard place.

Hardly an hour and a half before, Mr. Dockstader, in charge of the Empire State Express, had passed through the city. At the Central station he left the train for a couple of minutes and chatted with Harry J. Barton, assistant train-master.

Told He Looked Youthful
Recalling the circumstances last night, Mr. Barton said he had complimented Mr. Dockstader on his “youthful” appearance and said that he had never seen the veteran conductor in better spirits.

The run yesterday was the second which Mr. Dockstader had taken following a vacation of ten days, spent at his summer home at Thousand Island Park, where he left his wife last week to resume his railroad duties.

On Friday last he passed through Syracuse, westbound, and was greeted at the station by his son, Earl, and Mrs. Allendorph.

Both railroad officials and Syracuse members of the family got in telephone communication with Mrs. Dockstader at Thousand Island Park late yesterday afternoon. She was told that he had been injured, but the fact of his death was not stated.

Wife Rushes to Syracuse.
Immediately she started for Syracuse in an automobile and arrived at an early hour this morning. Arrangements for the funeral have not been completed.

Mr. Dockstader, familiarly known in steam railroad circles and to the traveling public between New York and Buffalo as “Doc,” was one of the oldest employees of the New York Central Railroad in train service. Had he lived a year and a half longer he would have rounded out seventy years of life and automatically been placed on the pension roll of the company.

When 17 years old, Mr. Dockstader, who was born in the town of Danube near Little Falls, entered the employ of the railroad in the section gang. Later he was given a freight train run as conductor between Little Falls and Albany and afterwards was promoted to the position of passenger conductor between Albany and this city.

Acted as Traveling Conductor.
For several years he acted as traveling conductor on the Mohawk division.

When the era of fast trains was inaugurated on the New York Central, Mr. Dockstader’s ability as a conductor was recognized. He was the first conductor to have charge of the Empire State Express and later the Twentieth Century Limited on their westbound trips.

For more than a quarter of a century Mr. Dockstader ran between New York and Buffalo. A silver lantern presented several years ago by fellow employees including conductors, engineers, firemen and trainmen proclaimed him the most popular employee on the division.

Besides his widow, Mr. Dockstader is survived by five children, Earl L. of this city; Manville D., a detective sergeant in the New York Police Department; Emington of New York, in the employ of the New York Central; Mrs. Albert Petrie of Little Falls and Mrs. John Long of Toronto.

I have no idea how large a figure $25,000 was for a lawsuit in 1917. Because of the coal cars that had blocked her husband's view of the speeding westbound train, Mrs. Spire seemed to have a case. How long it would have dragged on through the courts, I don't know, but a few months later, New York Central and Mrs. Spire reached a settlement. The amount, however, was only a fraction of what she had been seeking.

Syracuse Journal / November 26, 1917
Agree on Compromise

Mrs. S. Angeline Spire has received permission from Surrogate John W. Sadler to compromise her suit brought against New York Central for the death of her husband, Dr. Clayton Spire of Jordan, for $3,500.

Ironically, Dr. Spire once had been called to testify in a $10,000 lawsuit brought against New York Central Railroad for an accident that occurred near Putnam's crossing, but did not involve a collision.

In 1906, he was called upon to treat a woman who had been thrown from her carriage when her horse was frightened by a cloud of steam from a New York Central engine that was approaching the Jordan station. The woman was traveling on a path that ran parallel to the tracks.

As a result of the accident, the woman suffered a broken collar bone, bruises on her elbow and side, and shock. Her case dragged on for years. In 1910, she testified she still could not do any washing or churning, but said sometimes she was able to fill the water tank on the stove.

It wasn't clear in the newspaper story I read whether Dr. Spire was testifying for the woman or for the railroad. Among the witnesses for New York Central was the man who sold the horse to the woman. He claimed it was a well-behaved animal.

Apparently the jury felt the mishap was the fault of the person holding the reins; they ruled in favor of the railroad.