BCER Motorman Prevents Grim Scene Becoming Grimmer

Str P142.1 – Remains of a BCER street car near the south end of Main Street after a collision with a Dominion Creosote box car. W J Moore. Sept. 30, 1914.

The wreckage shown in the photo above shows part of the outcome of school boys playing around with the brakes on a Dominion Creosote boxcar that was parked on Main Street (as part of a reconstruction job going on at Main) on Wednesday, September 30, 1914. [1]

Shortly after noon, somewhere between 46th and 48th Avenues on Main, one of four boys removed the “dog” which served as the brake on the boxcar (A). The boxcar began to roll very slowly southward on the slight incline of Main at that location. The boxcar that had initially been set in motion, then hit another and it, in turn hit another boxcar. The boxcar that had initially been set in motion by the schoolboy was now stationery, but the other two boxcars were moving, and at a considerable rate.

At 57th Avenue, there were some members of a waterworks gang who were lunching on the side of the road. Seeing what was happening, these men attempted to halt the boxcars’ movement by putting obstacles (mostly spare pieces of wood that they had handy) in front of the cars. But to no avail. The two cars had picked up more speed and simply blew the blockades away.

A map showing the progress of the boxcars as they barrelled down Main. Made from a map within Street Names of Vancouver. Elizabeth Walker.

There was supposed to be a “temporary switch” on Main to keep the BCER track free from any other traffic; that switch was rendered ineffective, however, and the boxcars proceeded to roll south on the BCER track. As the boxcars got further south, the percentage of incline increased, causing them to speed up even more.

Meanwhile, a BCER passenger car was heading up Main, northbound. It stopped at 59th Avenue to pick up a passenger. The motorman, Charles J. Gaell was just getting up speed again at 58th Avenue, when he noticed the oncoming boxcars — on his track!

He stopped his car and began to back up, at first slowly and then violently, at the same time opening the doors and shouting at the passengers and conductor to look out and save themselves. William Price, the conductor, opened the closed door at the rear of the car and was leaning out to see what was coming when the runaway cars crashed with terrific force into the front part of the car.

Province 1 Oct 1914

The point of collision was at 60th Avenue (B). It was estimated later that at the time of collision, the boxcars were traveling at 45 mph. The boxcars kept moving until they reached River Road (Southeast Marine Dr, today) (C), where they finally came to rest.

The motorman was killed instantly and his body was found, badly mangled, two blocks from the impact site. The Conductor’s legs were injured. And all of the passengers, except for a lone Chinese gent (who walked away from the accident, unscathed, apparently), were injured to various degrees. The worst injury was to a young girl, whose leg had been almost cut off in the collision, and needed to have it amputated later at VGH.

At the inquest, the Coroner held Dominion Creosote responsible for not ensuring that their cars were adequately braked.

The Coroner said that one thing about the accident was certain: the motorman had ample time to jump from the street car, but he gave little thought to his own safety, so concerned was he to ensure that his passengers and the Conductor escaped from the car.


  1. This post is heavily reliant on news accounts of the accident. Among them: Vancouver Daily World, 30 September 1914; Province 1 Oct 1914; Sun 1 Oct 1914; Province 2 Oct 1914; Province 5 Oct 1914.
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3 Responses to BCER Motorman Prevents Grim Scene Becoming Grimmer

  1. Peter Findlay says:

    Wow, most interesting and a true hero. There should be a park or something named for him. Thanks for bringing it to light.

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