The Power of Geotourism: The D&H Trainwreck of 1946

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dh“The sun shone brightly August 26, 1946, and the sky was blue — a gorgeous summer day in the Adirondacks. The southbound train on the Adirondack line of the D&H was bubbling with excited children–318 of them–all headed south to New York City to return to their families after a summer at camp in the Adirondacks. Neither they nor the train’s crew knew that at that very moment passenger train 181, from Saratoga Springs, chugged steadily northward toward them—unaware of their presence on those very same tracks.”

“The trains were traveling in what was called a “dark zone,” an area in which written orders had to be issued. The southbound extra had been instructed to pull off onto the siding at The Glen and wait there until the regular train has passed before resuming its trip south. Whatever the reason, around 10 a.m. that sunny August morning, the two trains met each other at a point about two miles south of The Glen. Engineer Frank Keehan, coming from the south, ordered his crew members to jump as he clutched the throttle and headed toward certain disaster. When the two engines collided, Keehan’s coal tender upended, pouring tons of coal onto Keehan, snuffing out his life but not his memory.”

Local storyteller Persis “Perky” Granger submitted this “D&H Trainwreck of 1946” story to the Lakes to Locks Passage and National Geographic Geotourism website in April 2011, prompting questions about why she would want to share such a morbid story at the same time that the Saratoga and North Creek Railway was making its debut. But Perky was insistent that it was a part of the memory of her community and the page was made active. In October 2012, Perky received a comment on her posting from a Mike Keehan, the grandson of Engineer Frank Keehan who wrote that he was “gratified to see this article and the recognition of his efforts and sacrifice.”

But the story doesn’t end there …

In March 2013, Perky received yet another comment.

This time from a Kathleen Keehan Allen, another grandchild of Frank Keehan, who offered to share photographs of her grandfather, with other men that may have been part of the crew, and planned to send the article to Frank’s 3rd grandchild, Kathleen’s cousin, Anne Louise Keehan, who lives in Perth, Australia. Perky wrote in one of her comments, “Ray Flanigan, who researched the topic extensively was unable to find the final court findings, but said there were indications that the crew of the other train never worked on the railroad again … some time ago I spoke with a man in California who believed the other engineer was his grandfather, and he said he had always sensed there was a ‘family secret’ that lay just below the surface. When he read the story, he became convinced that this was it.”

There may never be a meeting of the descendants of the two engineers, but through stories and photographs a family and local historians were brought together to share the memory of these tragic events and the heroic actions of Frank Keehan. Kathleen Keehan Allen wrote “I am so grateful to find this story by ‘Googling’ my grandfathers name.” That is the power of the Lakes to Locks Passage and National Geographic Geotourism website!

The Lakes to Locks Passage and National Geographic Geotourism website is administered by Lakes to Locks Passage, Inc., a designated All-American Road in the collection of America’s Byways serving Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Washington, Warren, Essex and Clinton Counties. The website relies on user-generated content to create a guide to the places most respected and recommended by locals.

Geotourism is a trademark of the National Geographic Society, which is defined as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographic character of a place –its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.

Content from this article was used with the permission of Persis Granger