75 Years ago Today marks the anniversary of an act of uncommon courage.
That courage lead a porter for the Pennsylvania Railroad to overcome fear, and jump into action to save the passengers on a runaway rail car that was careening backwards down the mountain between Cresson and Altoona.
Sadly it would be his final act, as he ultimately died during the wreck but the stories of his sacrifice, and the gratitude towards him from the passengers, still echo Today.
Mark Frederick of Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum told the story to Photojournalist Bob Fleegle.
“On the early morning of February 28, 1947, the passenger train called ‘The Cascade Mirage’ was coming down the mountain, kind of through Bennington Curve, and sleeper car, a Pullman Car, got decoupled and actually disconnected from the rest of the train.”
“This sleeper car ran by itself down the mountain for about three and a half miles.”
“At some point, everyone, you know, awoke from their beds including Lee Keys, a porter for the Pennsylvania Railroad. And, he thought, ‘boy, this is it! I need to do something!’ And so he ran to the vestibule of the car and tried to manually turn the brake to the entire car.”
“And this effort ended up not working, and it eventually did end up running into an embankment, and he was pinned between the car and the mountainside.”
“Most of the time when you think of a Pullman Porter, you know, their job is to help load luggage, or punch tickets, or serve food. Believe it, or not it was a dangerous job, and these people sacrificed a great deal to serve these people. Lee Keys’ bravery is just quite remarkable when considering that.”
“This accident happened only ten days after the infamous wreck of the Red Arrow, on February 18th. And, unfortunately, it was on the same part of track on Bennington curve. Since the Red Arrow was, in fact, only ten days prior, the equipment that they had used to clean up that wreck was actually still on site at the time.”
“So, sadly, this equipment that was used only a little more than a week before was used to also aid in the clean up efforts, and the rescue operations for this passenger car as well.”
If you’d like to learn more about Lee Keys, or hear other stories like his you van visit the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum.