The second, eerily similar head-on collision between trains in Idaho occurred at Orchard, about 30 miles southeast of Boise on November 25, 1951. This time, both engines were diesel, and both were moving. The crew in the westbound freight spotted the oncoming engines and made an emergency stop. As that train was coming to a halt, Brakeman Ted Royter leapt from the four-engine train and ran to pull a switch that would route the eastbound engines onto a spur line. He arrived too late.
The grinding crash killed three crewmen in the lead eastbound engine and two in the westbound diesel cab. Of the 185 cars being pulled by the engines, 43 of them derailed, tearing up tracks as they tumbled and skidded. Three men in the caboose of the eastbound train escaped injury, as did two men in the westbound train’s caboose.
The sensational wreck, which happened on a Sunday, brought out carloads of people from Boise to see the pile-up. Police estimated that 5,000 people came to see the aftermath of the collision. A Boise camera club would later hold a special meeting to show photos club members had taken. (Note: If anyone has one, please post)
In both of the train wrecks all the crewmembers who might have shed some light on what happened perished in the collisions. There was no evidence that either of the engineers of the speeding trains had attempted to slow down.
The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) investigated both wrecks without coming to a conclusion about the cause of either. But after the second collision the ICC “indulged in speculation,” according to the April 21, 1952 issue of Railway Age, a trade publication for the railroad industry. The investigators thought conditions might have been right for the occupants of both cabs of the diesel-electric locomotives to have been overcome by toxic gases seeping in from the train’s exhaust.
This speculation was bolstered by testimony of the operator at the Orchard station who tried to signal the speeding train to stop. It blew through the station without slowing down. The station operator did not see anyone in the cab and noted that all the windows and doors were closed.
The ICC’s report included weather conditions that indicated that the exhaust from the train could have travelled along with the engines because of the speed and direction of winds, finding its way into air vents. Under those conditions carbon monoxide poisoning could happen quickly and without preliminary symptoms. An autopsy had not been conducted on the engineers in either crash, so determining the exact cause of their incapacity—if they were indeed unable to control the engines—could not be determined.