Saving a Train

’Twas in the year of 1869, and on the 19th of November,
Which the people in Southern Germany will long remember,
The great rain-storm which for twenty hours did pour down,
That the rivers were overflowed and petty streams all around.

The rain fell in such torrents as had never been seen before,
That it seemed like a second deluge, the mighty torrents’ roar,
At nine o’clock at night the storm did rage and moan
When Carl Springel set out on his crutches all alone —

From the handsome little hut in which he dwelt,
With some food to his father, for whom he greatly felt,
Who was watching at the railway bridge,
Which was built upon a perpendicular rocky ridge.

The bridge was composed of iron and wooden blocks,
And crossed o’er the Devil’s Gulch, an immense cleft of rocks,
Two hundred feet wide and one hundred and fifty feet deep,
And enough to make one’s flesh to creep.

Far beneath the bridge a mountain-stream did boil and rumble,
And on that night did madly toss and tumble;
Oh! it must have been an awful sight
To see the great cataract falling from such a height.

It was the duty of Carl’s father to watch the bridge on stormy nights,
And warn the on-coming trains of danger with the red lights;
So, on this stormy night, the boy Carl hobbled along
Slowly and fearlessly upon his crutches, because he wasn’t strong.

He struggled on manfully with all his might
Through the fearful darkness of the night,
And half-blinded by the heavy rain,
But still resolved the bridge to gain.

But when within one hundred yards of the bridge, it gave way with an awful crash,
And fell into the roaring flood below, and made a fearful splash,
Which rose high above the din of the storm,
The like brave Carl never heard since he was born.

Then; ‘Father! father!’ cried Carl in his loudest tone,
‘Father! father!’ he shouted again in very pitiful moans;
But no answering voice did reply,
Which caused him to heave a deep-fetched sigh.

And now to brave Carl the truth was clear
That he had lost his father dear,
And he cried, ‘My poor father’s lost, and cannot be found,
He’s gone down with the bridge, and has been drowned.’

But he resolves to save the on-coming train,
So every nerve and muscle he does strain,
And he trudges along dauntlessly on his crutches,
And tenaciously to them he clutches.

And just in time he reaches his father’s car
To save the on-coming train from afar,
So he seizes the red light, and swings it round,
And cried with all his might, ‘The bridge is down! The bridge is down!’

So forward his father’s car he drives,
Determined to save the passengers’ lives,
Struggling hard with might and main,
Hoping his struggle won’t prove in vain.

So on comes the iron-horse snorting and rumbling,
And the mountain-torrent at the bridge kept roaring and tumbling;
While brave Carl keeps shouting, ‘The bridge is down! The bridge is down!’
He cried with a pitiful wail and sound.

But, thank heaven, the engine-driver sees the red light
That Carl keeps swinging round his head with all his might;
But bang! bang! goes the engine with a terrible crash,
And the car is dashed all to smash.

But the breaking of the car stops the train,
And poor Carl’s struggle is not in vain;
But, poor soul, he was found stark dead,
Crushed and mangled from foot to head!

And the passengers were all loud in Carl’s praise,
And from the cold wet ground they did him raise,
And tears for brave Carl fell silently around,
Because he had saved two hundred passengers from being drowned.

In a quiet village cemetery he now sleeps among the silent dead,
In the south of Germany, with a tombstone at his head,
Erected by the passengers he saved in the train,
And which to his memory will long remain.

A Hero on Crutches

The Tay Bridge disaster. Who can forget that most sudden and awful catastrophe? The dark night, the howling wind, the hurrying train, the broken bridge, and then that last horrible plunge of the doomed carriages and their human freight!

The story is like a nightmare in its swift ghastliness; we cannot escape from it.

Naturally enough, the details of it appeared in all the papers of the day, and travelling farther than our own island, drew sympathetic cries of pity and horror from our Continental neighbours.

The Germans, especially, had a word of their own to say on the subject, in which the name of “Carl Springel” rose frequently to their lips.

Who was Carl Springel, and in what way did the Tay Bridge accident recall his story?

I will tell you, and I am sure your hearts will swell with a proud joy in the reading of my tale, for Englishmen can welcome a hero, of whatever nation he may be.

Carl Springel, then, was the lame son of a railway official in South Germany. Wilhelm Springel, his father, among other duties performed that of keeping watch on stormy nights over the great bridge known as the Devil’s Gulch Bridge, which spanned a terrible cleft in the rocks, two hundred feet wide and a hundred and fifty deep. In the ravine below a mountain stream struggled and fought its way into the valley – deep, deep down it seemed to lie at ordinary times, but in winter weather the stream became a torrent of tremendous force, and rose to a terrific height.

Such a sudden swell took place on the 19th of November, 1867, after twenty hours of heavy and continued rain. Wilhelm Springel was, of course, on duty all day, and not coming home towards evening, Carl set out to pay him a visit at his post, carrying with him his father’s supper.

The night was one of black darkness, but the lame lad struggled along on his crutches, the breath half blown out of his feeble body, his ears dinned by the fury of the storm.

He was within a hundred yards of the bridge – renowned in the neighbourhood as a triumph of engineering skill – when a stronger blast than usual made him totter on his crutches, while, at the same moment, an awful crash made itself heard above the raging of the storm.

It was – it could be nothing else but the bridge giving way, Carl felt sure. In an agony of haste and terror, he pushed on towards the spot, calling frantically on his father’s name. But how could he hear him through the tumult?

The lad pressed on still further. He was on the railroad track now, and the first object he stumbled against was his father’s haud-truck, the red light yet burning on it, but no father near.

And beyond that – ten yards further? Ah, the sight was too awful! The dim glare o’ the lantern showing a cruel gap where the bridge had been; a fearful chaos of shattered masonry and timber and boiling waters.

“Father, father!” cried Carl again in his horror, but no voice answered. “He has gone down with the bridge!” shrieked the poor fellow. For a second or two he lingered as if paralysed by the sight of the fearful chasm, holding tightly the useless supper can; then a sudden thought filled his soul to overflowing, and gave him new strength to do and dare.

The night train! That was due. If father lay below in that awful gulf, who would warn it of its danger? Who would hold it back from that leap into nothingness which it must inevitably take if left to pursue its course unchecked?

“I must do it,” said Carl with clenched teeth. Up above no signal was shining; there was only one lame boy and a few moments of time to save a train full of human beings.

The boy threw away his crutches, climbed on to his father’s truck, and worked it steadily back towards the great city. What mattered it that he steered straight into the jaws of death? He should stop the train; he would make the driver see him and learn the danger ahead.

It was all as Carl knew it would be. Round the curve of the mountain, like a glittering serpent, came the night train speeding on – ever nearer, nearer, till the line trembled under its weight.

Then Carl stood up as well as he was able on his track, and raised the red light wildly above his head, waving it backwards and forwards to attract the notice of the engine driver. He had lost all snese of personal danger; he was only bent on saving the train.

“The bridge – the bridge is down!” shrieked the boy. Only just in time came the warning. The engine driver, always on his guard at this spot, turned off the steam, and the train, with its crowd of living beings, was arrested on the brink of the abyss.

But where was Carl the while? Carl and the truck?

Hurled fifty feet into the air by the on-coming train; the boy was never again to be recognised as the living Carl Springel, but was found afterwards a lifeless and mangled corpse among the rocks.

A tombstone stands in a graveyard in South Germany, on which glitters in letters of gold this inscription:-

Aged 14.
“He died the death of a hero and martyr, and saved two hundred lives.”

The memorial was erected by those saved by the lad’s heroism, the only recognition they could make of a brave and unselfish deed.

Hampshire Telegraph, 11th April 1891

Related Gems

Comments (1) »

  1. Tom McCaffrey
    In the year 2015, on the 15th day of August at 10:09 pm

    If this event occurred in Ireland it would be the subject matter of a great ‘Country AND Western’ Song. A very sentimental nation to be sure begorrah!

Leave a comment

Solve this puzzle to prove you’re not a robot