17.  Tales of Destruction...Penalty at Scrubgrass

John McLaurin tells of this disaster on November 24, 1872, "On a bright November morning Royal A. "Doc" Wright, the torpedo-agent, stopped at the station to send a dispatch.  The message sent, he invited the telegraph-operator, Henry J. Wolfe, to ride with him to the magazine, a mile up the river.  The two set off in high spirits, two dogs following the sleigh.  Hardly ten minutes elapsed when a dreadful report terrified the settlement.  From the magazine on the river-bank a light smoke ascended.  Two rods away stood the trembling horse, one eye torn from its socket and his side lacerated.  Beside him one dog lay lifeless.  Fragments of the cutter and the harness were strewn around promiscuously.  Through the bushes a clean lane was cut and a large chestnut-tree uprooted.  A deep gap alone remained of the magazine and barely a particle of the two men could be found.  Dozens of splintered trees across the Allegheny indicated alike the force and general direction of the concussion.  A boot containing part of a human foot was picked up fifty rods from the spot.  Wright's gold-watch, flattened and twisted, was fished out of the Allegheny, two-hundred yards down the stream, in May.  The remains, which two cigar-boxes would have held, were interred close by.  A marble shaft marks the grave, which Col. William Phillips, then president of the Allegheny-Valley Railroad, enclosed with a neat iron-railing.  It is very near the railway-track and the bank of the river, a short distance above Kennerdell Station.  The disaster was supposed to have resulted from Wright's using a hatchet to loosen a can of glycerine from the ice that held it fast.  A pet spaniel, which had a habit of rubbing against his legs and trying to jump into his arms, accompanied him from his boarding-house.  The animal may have diverted his attention momentarily, causing him to miss the ice and strike the can.  The horse lived for years, not much the worse except for the loss of one eye.  Wright and Wolfe were lively and jocular and their sad fate was deeply regretted.  Many a telegram George Wolfe sent for me when Scrubgrass was at full tide."

Cold November weather with snow on the ground in Pennsylvania would suggest frozen nitroglycerin (it freezes solid at 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit), which we know to be immune to the effects of hatchet blows.  Put this one down to, "cause unknown".  The marble marker that McLaurin mentions can be seen to this day in the town of Kennerdell, Pennsylvania, and marks the spot where the two victims are buried.

An interesting historical footnote is that on July 3, 1871, "Doc" Wright was the first recorded user of empty nitroglycerin cans as a signal device.  The Venango Spectator reported that Wright built a fire around a dozen empty cans to signal the arrival of Colonel John W. Forney as he came up the Allegany Valley Railroad on his way to Franklin.  As far as making noise, with just the smallest quantity of residual explosive, the empty cans probably have no equal.  They produce a deafening salute, accompanied by an extremely dangerous, unbelievably lethal, three pound cloud of flying copper and tin fragments.  During the time of the torpedo wars, moonlighters would often burn empty cans late at night, subjecting the residents of the oil regions to many a "Doc" Wright salute.

Contact us with questions or comments.
Copyright © 2000-2008 The Otto Cupler Torpedo Co. & AnaLog Services, Inc.

| AnaLog Home | Tales of Destruction Index | Previous Page | Next Page |

Last 10-20-10