Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Hoodoo Train, Engine 1313 by Mae Clair

Before launching into today’s Mythical Monday post, I invite you to visit me at the blog of Kristi Rose where I’m sharing ECLIPSE LAKE and also news of my next two releases. Do hop over if you get a chance. You can find the post here. As for Mythical Monday, today’s topic isn’t about a beastie or mystical place, but a cursed train tucked into Pennsylvania history. As a “Keystoner” I’m always intrigued by legends related to my home state. Thus, I invite you to ride on the hoodoo . . .

Most people are a little freaky about the number thirteen. Even if you’re not superstitious, most are conscious of the ill omens associated with a number tied to bad luck. Given that connection, it’s surprising the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had no qualms about rolling out Engine 1313 in 1888.

Many muttered no good would come of it, but the railroad wasn’t interested in superstition or idle gossip tied to ancient folklore. The engine went on the line with high aspirations, all quickly squelched when the train struck and killed two children during its maiden voyage. The engine was examined, found to be in perfect working order, and placed back on the track. It failed again when the train plunged off a railroad bridge killing twelve people including the train’s fireman and engineer. A month later, it collided with another train, resulting in the derailment of several cars and injuries to numerous passengers.

steam train with smoke exiting funnel rising up hill ** Note: Slight blurriness, best at smaller sizesPuzzled, inspectors thoroughly examined the engine but could find nothing wrong. Surely, the catastrophes couldn’t be tied to the assignment of an ill-fated number.

The train was placed back on the track, only to have its boiler blow as it laboriously chugged up a mountain. The train’s fireman was blown out of the car and badly injured. Once again the train was examined and once again, the engine passed inspection. Despite growing grumblings from railroad workers who whispered of bad tidings and ill omens, the train was returned to the line. For several months all went well, and the hoodoo taint of 1313 seemed a thing of the past. Then, when arriving at Manor Station, its brakes failed, causing it to ram another train. The fireman for Engine 1313 was injured in the accident just as many of his predecessors had been.

Officials at PRR pulled the train off the tracks and had their mechanics scour it for defects. Despite all the stories about brake failure, they couldn’t find anything wrong. The train was returned to operation, but it wasn’t long before catastrophe stuck. Engine 1313 failed to stop at a station when the engineer applied the brakes, resulting in the death of three people. PRR’s mechanics took the train to task but found nothing wrong.

Placed on the tracks yet again, 1313 was rolling through Sang Hollow when its oil can suddenly exploded, burning the fireman and engineer. The last straw for most of the workers, they beseeched PRR to pull the train from commission. The company finally complied. Whether or not PRR believed the jinx associated with Engine 1313, it was abundantly clear workers wanted nothing to do with Pennsylvania’s hoodoo train.

Which brings me to my question—how do you feel about the number thirteen?

I readily admit it’s one I don’t like, and I’m highly superstitious about it. By the same token, it’s my street address/house number, which doesn’t bother me at all. What a strange parallel. Could it be because one is mystical and the other mundane and common place? I’d love to hear your thoughts on hoodoo thirteen—and Pennsylvania’s Engine 1313. Please share!

20 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Hoodoo Train, Engine 1313 by Mae Clair

  1. What an interesting, yet horrible history of this train! I’ve never had a problem with the number thirteen. Honestly, I never really paid much attention to it, except for the occasional superstitions of Friday, the 13th. It’s amazing how far back superstitions go!

    • I don’t like the number 13, but I never thought twice about it when it ended up being my street address. It’s so weird that it bothers me in some areas and not others, but then I suppose superstition is like that. And as you said – – very old! Nice to see you here, L.J!

    • I might have gotten on the train when it first rolled down the tracks, but after all of those accidents? No way! I think I’ll just look for a safer mode of travel with a safer set of numbers 🙂

  2. I’m not too concerned about the number 13 in most ways, but something like this might make me think twice. I know a lot of hotels won’t have a 13th floor because of the superstitions. Another interesting one.

    • I do find it fascinating about hotels. None of the hotels I’ve stayed in have had a 13th floor and most hospitals skip it too. Even when it comes to room numbers, most places will forgo having a room #13 (this is giving me all kinds of ideas for a novel, LOL). It really says a lot about how ingrained that superstition is in our culture.

      • Agreed. Also the idea of never having 13 at a dining table is strong in my family. Odd, as I thought that idea was kind of Roman but it can’t be as my family aren’t.

      • I actually had that number for Thanksgiving one year. Weird, but I did notice it. Fortunately, meal was great, company was wonderful and all went well. Thirteen was kind to me that day 😉

  3. The train was definitely haunted. The railroad bigwigs didn’t believe in superstition, but I bet supernatural entities do…

    As for numbers, I’m not superstitious…much. But I do avoid major travel on Friday the 13th.

    • Something was definitely amiss with Engine 1313. Too bad it took the bigwigs so long to pull it from the tracks. It makes me wonder what happened to it . . . did it go to a railroad graveyard or was rechecked and put back in operation with a different number? I’ll have to see if I can ghost up those details.

      And I don’t think I’d undertake major travel either (like getting on an airplane) on Friday the 13th!

  4. That’s one haunted/cursed train. The number 13 never bothered me. In fact every Friday the 13th I hope for something spooky to occur, but so far I’ve been disappointed.

    • Well it looks like there are three Friday the 13ths coming up in 2015 (we only had one this year) so there’s opportunity for plenty of spookiness to come.

      I do like it when a full moon falls on Friday the 13th for that extra touch of weirdness. Just count me out of any plane fares that day!

  5. The only thing horrible about this story is the dumb eejits who ran the train still after all the calamities. Whether it was the number or not, something was amiss.
    “How many have been killed? Only 10? Ah sure, let’s give it another go.”

    • Sad, isn’t it, Cd? I imagine it had to do with the almighty dollar. As you said, whatever it was related to, there was something seriously wrong with this train. It shouldn’t have taken all those calamities to get it off the track!

  6. 13 was always one of our very favorite numbers. It turned out to be a heartbreaking year. However, there is a certain symmetry, dignity, and spirituality involved. Interesting post, as always. I hadn’t heard of this train.

    • Something very odd, Flossie. Twelve, as you know, is my favorite number and that turned out to be an extremely heartbreaking year for me as 13 did for you. Hmm. But we have memories and future joys to experience. Thanks for visiting!

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