Cable Car Hit by Steam Train - 1894-1895 Newspaper Articles
Collected by Joe Thompson

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These articles, from The San Francisco Call, discuss an Oakland Cable Railway car which was hit by a Southern Pacific Seventh Street local steam train. I haven't found much information about the poor young lady who was killed in the accident, 22 year old teacher Miss Mae Coates. The spelling of her name varied in different stories. Her fiancée, William Harrison Waste, a young attorney, went on to become member Number One of the State Bar and Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. He married three times (he was widowed twice) and died in 1940. His great-grandson has documented his story on a website: Waste Family History.

Oakland Cable Car Oakland Cable Railway Car One at San Pablo and Park Avenues in Emeryville, the outer terminal. This was the car hit by a Southern Pacific local train. (Source: [group 3:29], Frank B. Rodolph Photograph Collection, BANC PIC 1905.17146-17161--PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley). April, 1999 Picture of the Month.

Cable Car Nearly Struck by Steam Train

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Sunday, April 20, 1890. Page 8.

The 1894 collision was not the first time a train got too close to a cable car at the intersection.


As a cable car was approaching Seventh and Broadway, from First street, yesterday, the 12 o'clock train from Brooklyn was coming along. The conductor went ahead of the car to note if trains were near, and signaled the gripman to stop. The gripman misunderstood the signal and crossed in front of the approaching train. The car just cleared the train, which was within a car length when the cable car was crossing the track. This recklessness with regard to the crossing on the part of the cable-car men been noticed frequently, and several times persons have jumped off the the street-car rather than run the risk of me cable stopping or tbe car catching so as to stop It on the crossing.

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Cable Car Struck by Steam Train

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Wednesday, December 5, 1894. Page 12.

Note that it would have been dark at 7:15pm in December.


She Was Killed and He Seriously Hurt.


Miss May Coates and Attorney W. H. Waste the Victims.


Distress of the Survivor and the Young Lady's Relatives -- Cause of the Collision.

A frightful accident occurred last night at Seventh street and Broadway, in Oakland, where two streetcar lines (one a cable and the other an electric) cross the broad-gauge local train track, on which trains run every half hour in the day and hourly after 7 p.m., and at a point at which just such an accident has been long expected.

A cable-car of the San Pablo avenue line was run into by the down train from Fruitvale, and one passenger was killed and another badly bruised, at 7:15 last evening. The train was late, it is stated, and should have been at the stopping place in the next block at 7:09. The fact that travel was light at that hour on the streetcar line is the only reason that it was not a full car and that more lives were not sacrificed.

W. H. Waste, a well-known young attorney, and his fiancee -- Miss May Coates -- were riding inside the car, the only passengers aboard, and intended getting out on the opposite side of the street to take this very train to the city, where the young couple were to attend the military tournament at the Mechanics' Pavilion.

Just as the rear end of the cable got fairly on the down track there was a terrific crash. The engine, with the heavy train behind it, plowed ahead through the debris of the wrecked streetcar, which was lifted and turned about like a straw, and the occupants were thrown, cut, bruised and bleeding by broken glass and shattered timbers, at least thirty feet to the sidewalk in front of Kent's corner.

In a moment tender hands raised the injured people and carried them out of the fast-gathering crowd. The young man, Waste, appeared the stronger and was able to totter about a bit, but he was forced to be still while the patrol was sent for. He was worried about the young lady, who was lying helpless, but breathing faintly. She appeared to take some stimulants offered, but seemed badly hurt.

The patrol was on hand in a few minutes, and Mr. Waste and Miss Coates were taken to the Receiving Hospital, but the poor girl, it was noticed, was dead when the hospital was reached. She had died on the way. She was laid on the operating table and an examination showed an ugly fracture at the base of the skull, on the left side, which, no doubt, rendered her unconscious from the first. The wounds of Mr. Waste were all about the head and consisted of at least half a dozen gashes, but fortunately none of a dangerous character.

He said when spoken to that he did not feel much pain, but be mourned constantly for the young woman. When told that she was dead his actions were pitiful and he upbraided himself.

"Her poor mother!" he cried. "What will she say? How can she be told of it?"

Waste's story is substantially as above. He thought, however, that there was one other passenger in the car, and he was also of the impression that the conductor was inside collecting his fare, or had been immediately previous. The conductor at this point should be out to pilot his car across the track, as is customary.

The crash seemed to be at the rear or closed portion of the car, as the back end is all torn out, that side having been struck where Waste and the young lady sat.

The gripman was saved because in front, and it must be that the conductor was also about the front somewhere. The gripman of the car, No. 1., was Billy Josephs, and the conductor is John Wilson, but neither of them would talk when approached on the subject. No doubt both had been considerably shaken up.

One witness paid the conductor was out piloting the car, and that the flagman became confused and gave the wrong signal. He has a red and a white lantern, with the white signaling to come ahead, while with the red he warns off or stops teams or cars. The flagman is C. A. Blethen and his story is that he gave the right signals. He said he stood in the middle of the street between the up and down roads, and while he warned off the streetcar with the red light he waved the train to come on.

An eyewitness says that the fault lay with the train. It was late and coming on fast. He thought the streetcar was safe over, but expected to see an express wagon run down. He said the conductor of the cable-car was out, and as usual had motioned his car to come ahead. He said he did not see the flagman at all.

The unfortunate woman who came to so untimely an end, Miss May Coates, was well known in Oakland, where she had resided a number of years. She was a teacher in the Garfield School and 22 years of age. She had a large circle of friends, among whom she was much beloved. She resided at 612 Fifteenth street with her aged mother, whose sole reliance and support she was.

The news of the sudden bereavement was broken gently to the mother last night and she was prostrated. The young woman had left the house so short a time previously light-hearted and happy, her last words to the mother being, "Don't get lonesome, I'll be home early." Miss Coates' body was taken to the undertaking parlors of the Coroner at 8:30 o'clock last evening and an inquest will be held to-day.

Her escort, Mr. Waste, the young girl's fiance, is a well-known young attorney of Oakland, and for a long time was reporter on one of the local papers. He had but recently started in on what appeared a career of promise, and would shortly have made the young woman his wife. He is still at the Receiving Hospital, and at a late hour, although suffering much from his own cuts and bruises, is inconsolable over the sad death of the young woman, he resides at 2224 Durant avenue, Berkeley, and is president of the Epworth League of Alameda County.

Drs. Dunn and Johnson examined into the cause of Miss Coates' death after the body was taken charge of by the Coroner and found that the death wound was in the right side and not in the head. Several ribs were broken and her internal injuries were such that death must have been almost instantaneous.

The latest story as to the cause of the accident is that the signals were properly given by the flagman, but that the conductor of the cable-car got confused and misunderstood them and motioned the gripman to come on, and that the gripman let loose his brakes. Then suddenly it flashed on both the conductor and gripman that they would be run down, as the train was bearing down on them, and they tried to stop; the gripman again applied the brakes, but they slipped on the wet track, and the conductor ran to the front of his car and tried to brace it back with his shoulder, because of failure of the brakes to hold, but it was too late. One witness said he saw the conductor trying to bold his car back with his shoulder against the dashboard. It is thought the theory of the railroad company will be that everything was moving all right and with safety, but the car brakes would not hold on the wet tracks.

Conductor Wilson and Gripman Josephs were arrested by Chief Schaffer and Officer Quigley last night and charged with manslaughter. They were later released on their own recognizance. There was a report that William A. Belden, the engineer of the local, had also given himself up, but the report was not confirmed.

The real cause of the accident was determined later. It was stated on good authority last night that the rotten cable of the San Pablo avenue line was to blame. The gripman, as was usual, let loose his grip and applied the brakes, but the grip was caught in a broken strand of the cable and the car sped forward in spite of the efforts of the gripman and conductor to stop it. This cable, it is understood, has been In use twenty-three months, and it is well known that the average life of a cable is one year. A similar accident occurred on the same road at Broadway and First street about a year ago, but no one was hurt. The cable-car jammed into the last car of the Alameda local by being caught in a broken strand of the cable. No other harm was done than to slightly disfigure the car and coach.

At 11 o'clock last night the body of Miss Coates was taken to the home of her mother by the Coroner. At that hour young Waste was resting well at the Receiving Hospital under the influence of a sleeping potion. In his waking hours he mourns so much over the fate of the young lady that the doctors fear some injury may come to him.

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Tuesday's Disaster

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Thursday, December 6, 1894. Page 8.

The gripman is referred to as a motorman in this story. Superintendent Martin took the job in April.

Tuesday's Disaster.

Nothing was more discussed in Oakland yesterday than the fatal disaster at the intersection of Broadway with Seventh street which resulted in the death of Miss Mae E. Coates. There were no new developments, all the, sad particulars having been fully reported yesterday morning. Miss Coates was the only child of Mrs. Fannie T. Coates, whose husband, the late James M. Coates, died In San Francisco many years ago. The unfortunate young woman was educated at the State Normal School, and has been a teacher In the Garfield School for the past four years.

Coroner Evers will hold the Inquest at 10 o'clock this morning. It may then be developed who, if anybody, was responsible for the deplorable accident. The funeral will be held from the Asbury Methodist Church (South), of which she and Mr. Waste were both members, at 11 o'clock on Friday morning.

Mr. Waste is still at the Receiving Hospital and on the high road to recovery. One or two ribs were broken, but otherwise his injuries are only superficial. The poor fellow worries incessantly and is forever trying to convince himself that the whole thing is only a horrible dream, but he cannot forget the reality.

Conductor J. H. Wilson and Motorman Josephs, who were arrested for manslaughter, were not arraigned In the Police Court yesterday morning. Their cases were continued until to-day in order that the authorities may first hear the verdict of the Coroner's jury.

Superintendent Martin of the San Pablo avenue cable line denies that the cable is worn out. He says that the car slipped along the wet track on which the brakes would not hold. Notwithstanding the superintendent's denial, however, the opinion is general that the accident was caused by a loose strand from the cable catching in the grip. Some stories are to the effect that the conductor motioned the car to cross ahead of the engine, but other eyewitnesses say otherwise. The inquest, however, will probably discover the true cause.

Inquest on Cable Car Struck by Passenger Train

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Friday, December 7, 1894. Page 8.

Note that the cable car had only wheel brakes, and no sander. Modern San Francisco cable cars also have track and emergency brakes.


Miss Coates' Death Due to Carelessness.


All Cars Should Be Stopped at the Crossings.

A Coroner's jury yesterday censured the Oakland Railroad Company for the fatal collision at the intersection of Seventh street and Broadway which resulted in the death of Miss Mae Coates and the serious injury of her betrothed, William H. Waste.

The inquisition proceedings were begun shortly after 10 o'clock. Coroner Evers conducted the examination of the witnesses, but from time to time he received suggestions from Attorney J. C Martin, who represented the railroad people, and Assistant District Attorney Lincoln Church. The latter's presence was probably in consequence of the proceedings in the Police Court, where Gripman W. F. Josephs and Conductor J. H. Wilson appeared for their arraignment on the charge of manslaughter. The cases were then stricken from the calendar, ostensibly because no complaints had been filed against them, but in reality because it was understood that the accident would be investigated by the Grand Jury. Mr. Church therefore was present to obtain information for the public inquisitors.

A large number of gentlemen, who were eye-witnesses of the tragedy, were examined, but their testimony for the most part unimportant as they had not noticed the details nf the accident because they turned away their heads just before the crash came.

C. M. Willard, the engineer of the locomotive, testified, in substance, that he had started the train in obedience to the signal of flagman C. A. Blethen. He saw the cable-car, but thought it would stop. Then when he saw that a collision was inevitable he put on the emergency brakes and reversed his engine, too late, however. The train did not come to a full stop until it had passed through the demolished car about two coach lengths.

H. M. Peters, the fireman, corroborated the testimony or the engineer. While the latter was applying the air brakes he noticed that the gripman of the cable-car was also lugging at his brake lever.

In their testimony Gripman Josephs and Conductor Wilson fully corroborated each other. They both claimed that the brakes were applied halfway between Seventh and Eighth streets, or about 160 feet from the point where the collision occurred, and they both insisted that the car with its light load slipped along the wet track the entire distance, notwithstanding that the brakes were hard set. Both were positive that the broken strand had not caused the accident, but they placed all the blame upon the wet and slippery tracks.

The examination of Josephs developed the fact that the San Pablo-avenue cars are not supplied with sand-boxes and that the brakes are only the ordinary wheel brakes. Had the car been supplied, as all the cable-cars in San Francisco are, with the track brake, which when applied lifts the wheels clear above the rails, the car would never have slipped 150 feet, if it really did slip that far.

Conductor Wilson testified that he had alighted from his car at the point where Josephs says he first applied the brakes, and ran ahead of the dummy to signal the car from the crossing as usual. As he ran along beside the dummy Joseph said to him, "Jack, she's sliding." At thirty feet from the railroad track they both saw the train. Wilson says he caught the side rails on the dummy and tried to hold the car back, but the wheels continued to slide until the collision. Such was Wilson's story.

Officer Quigley, who stood on the northwest corner of Broadway and Seventh street, not more than forty feet from the scene of the accident, was of the opinion that the carmen, with a carelessness born of experience, had tried to get across the track ahead of the train, He saw Gripman Josephs manipulating his levers in the full glare of the headlight on the onrushing locomotive. He saw a woman on the rear platform. The next instant the engine struck the car, which whirled completely around. Almost simultaneously with the crash he saw a woman's body shoot horizontally through the air about four feet from the ground, and then fall upon the pavement at Kent's corner, he rushed to the prostrate form immediately and forced some whisky down her throat. He thinks that she was then alive. The physicians, however, say that death must have been instantaneous with her impact on the pavement.

Flagman Blethen also thought that the conductor signaled Josephs to go ahead, and that he obediently tried to do so. When he signaled the train with a white light he presented a red light toward the cable-car, which was then 100 feet away. He saw the conductor run ahead of his dummy, and didn't notice the cable-car again until it began the fatal passage of Seventh street. He said that he had received no instructions to flag the cars, and he complained that whenever he does so on his own responsibility the conductors pay no attention to him. He was not certain that they willfully tried to cross ahead of the train, but it seemed to him that the car was going a little faster than usual as it appproached the crossing, and from this be thought the grip held the cable.

Superintendent M. M. Martin testified as to the good condition of the cable to disprove the theory that a broken strand caused all the trouble. He stated that it was always considered safer to stop on the further side of the crossing so as to alleviate the possibility of a broken strand carrying the car into a passing train.

Superintendent Martin was the last witness, and after deliberating for several hours the jury returned the following verdict:

"And we do further recommend that the said accident and death were directly due to the neglect and gross carelessness ou the part of the Oakland Railroad Company in not requiring all of their cats approaching Seventh street to come to a full stop before crossing said street, and also for not providing all of said cars with sandboxes and appliances for stopping the cars promptly in such an emergency.

"From the evidence before us we believe that the gripman and conductor used their best endeavors to prevent the accident.

"And we do further recommend that the Council of the city of Oakland immediately pass an ordinance compelling the Southern Pacific Company of Kentucky to construct automatic gates at this and all other dangerous crossings."

In regard to the question of the erection of automatic gates at Seventh and Broadway Councilman Marshall remarked yesterday that he had been thinking of the matter for a long time and said that he would introduce an ordinance in the Council requiring the erection of such a gate just as soon as he could find out what kind of street gates give the most satisfaction. Mr. Marshall thinks that Conductor Wilson is not entirely blameless.

W. H. Waste, the other victim of the wreck, is improving rapidly. He was removed to Woolsey's Hospital yesterday, as he had entirely recovered from the terrible shock. It Is thought that be will be able to go to his own home within the week.

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Borne to the Tomb

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Saturday, December 8, 1894, Page 8.

The Epworth League was a Methodist youth organization.


Borne to the Tomb.

The remains of Miss Mae E. Coats were buried yesterday at Mountain View Cemetery from the Asbury M. E. Church on Clay street. When the services began at 11 o'clock the church was thronged with the friends of the deceased. The Garfield School, in which she had been a teacher, was dismissed, and many ot the scholars of Miss Coats were In attendance, besides all her fellow-teachers. Musical selections were rendered by quartet consisting of the Misses Ewing, Leo Park, Leo R. Weil, with Miss Copeland as organist. "To the Pastor -- DEAR SIR: Knowing you are to officiate at the funeral of Miss Mae Coats, I have taken the liberty to write you a few lines and cell you how very happy she was in school on last Tuesday. This was her natural disposition, but on that day she was unusually so. During the noon hour she was so frolicsome that some one suggested that she give a German recitation. She complied rather reluctantly, and sweetly and modestly recited 'How Quickly Fades the Rose.'

"Little did she or any one who heard her think how soon her sweet life would be at an end.

"Her devotion to her mother was another lovely trait. Recently she was asked to join a singing class which met on Wednesday evening. She declined the invitation, saying: 'That evening is always reserved for my mother. We go to prayer-meeting together, and I always try to let nothing interfere with that engagement.'

"In speak of her mother she said, 'We are so happy together. My mother thinks of every wish I express, and is constantly doing beautiful things for me. She has always done it, and I wonder that I am not really spoiled.'

"But she was not, for every one loved her, and she was always doing some kindness. She lived her Christianity every day, and others are better for being in her company, and the dear children will never forget her. Why she should be taken and so many useless ones left is a mystery we cannot solve. Yours sincerely,

Floral pieces were sent in by W. H. Waste, Mrs. C. M. Beebe, Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Blow. H. A. Fine. Asbury Epworth League, E. M. Gibson, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ellis. "Harper and Hazel," Mrs. Brooke Rose. Mrs. G. A. Carter, F. B. English, W. W. Blow, Mrs. A. Gibbs, Miss Sterne, Charles and Annette Lefere.

The pallbearers were Harry Dusinberry, Leo R. Weil, A. H. Blow, Robert Jackson, Harry Fine and Ross P. Bromley.

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Crossing Gates Proposed

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Tuesday, December 11, 1894, Page 9.

The City Council considered requiring automatic crossing gates.

Dalton introduced an ordinance requiring the railroad to erect and maintain at each street crossed by their tracks automatic gates or arms, which shall be lowered at the approach of every train. The ordinance was referred to the proper committee. If this ordinance becomes a law, such an accident as caused the death of Miss Coats last week could not occur.

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Tried for Manslaughter

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Saturday, January 12, 1895. Page 12.

The gripman was indicted.

Tried for Manslaughter.

The trial of W. F. Josephs, the gripman in charge of the car which was run into on the crossing of Seventh street and Broadway several weeks ago, resulting In the killing of Miss Coates and serious injuries to Attorney W. H. Waste, was begun yesterday. J. D. Manning testified that on the evening of the accident he was standing at the corner of Seventh and Broadway. He saw the cable car approach and slow down almost to a stop at about twenty feet north of the crossing. The conductor jumped off and ran ahead, and about the same time the gripman let go his brake and the car pulled forward.

At the same time the witness saw the local train approaching. He shouted to the gripman, "Get a move on." and a moment later the crash came.

Josephs was indicted for manslaughter. His defense will be that the car slipped on the track and he could not control it with the brake, as the rails were wet.

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A Settlement for the Killing of Miss Coates/Gripman Not Guilty

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Sunday, January 13, 1895. Page 8.

Southern Pacific, which owned both companies involved in the accident, settled with the mother of the young lady who was killed. I have not been able to find out what happened to the case of the young lawyer who was injured. The gripman was acquitted.


A Settlement for the Killing of Miss Coates.

The Railroad Company Pays to the Widowed Mother Five Thousand Dollars Damages.

Oakland. -- Mrs. Coates, the mother of Miss Mae E. Coates, who was killed in the collision between the Seventh-street local train and a San Pablo avenue cable-car on the evening of December 4, will not sue the Southern Pacific Railroad Company for damages on account of the death of her daughter. The company has offered to compromise and negotiations have been conducted by W. W. Blow, a personal friend of Mrs. Coates', with the result that the railroad company will pay $5000 to Mrs. Coates to-morrow upon her receipt in satisfaction of all claims.

It will be remembered that on the night of December 4 Miss Coates, in company with W. H. Waste, a young attorney to whom she was engaged, started to go to San Francisco. They took a San Pablo avenue cable-car for Broadway station and the car slowed down before crossing Seventh street.

The conductor ran ahead to see if the crossing was clear. The cable-car started forward and at the same time the local train reached Broadway and struck the car, overturning it. Miss Coates was thrown out and struck upon her heal, breaking her neck. Mr. Waste was badly injured and rendered insensible. He was taken to the hospital and finally recovered.

Mr. Waste has been under the care of a Physician since. Yesterday he was able to be on the street.

The gripman claimed that he attempted to stop his car when he saw the local train coming down upon him, but that his car slid on the rails. The Coroner's jury in the inquest upon Miss Coates severely censured the company. The San Pablo avenue cable road is practically owned by the Southern Pacific Company.

Miss Coates, the young lady killed, was a teacher in the public schools and the sole dependence of her aged mother.

Joseph Found Not Guilty.

Three minutes was the length of time that it required the jury to decide that W. F. Joseph, the gripman, was not guilty of murder in the death of Miss Mae E. Coates. who met her death at the time of the collision between a San Pablo avenue cable-car and the Seventh-street train. The witnesses were Dr. Johnson, M. M. Martin, George L. Nusbaumer, W. H. Waste and Judge Greene for the people. At the close of Judge Greene's testimony District Attorney Melvin rested for the prosecution and Thomas Garrity announced that he had no witnesses.

After reconvening at 2 p. m. the arguments were made and the case submitted. A verdict of not guilty was rendered.

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