This is from http://www.whitecountyindiana.org/history/chxxxii.htm#great
Concerning the original bridge at this location built in 1871, and how in 1878 the West end collapsed under a freight train killing two railroad employees. It gives details about the former bridge's structure and construction. Published by Lewis Publishing Company in 1915 in two volumes. Enjoy this single report from this book. JN
GREAT RAILROAD DISASTER, JULY 17, 1878
At the noon hour of the above date the west span of the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge at Monticello fell with a crash that could be heard for miles, carrying with the wreck twenty-five cars. All of the ears were wrecked except the caboose, and the engine and tender were included in the debris. It took 100 men nearly a week to clear away the wreckage. The engineer was killed and the fireman had one of the most remarkable escapes recorded in railroad history.
The story of the casualty is told by the Monticello Herald in its issue of Thursday, July 25, 1878, the following items, taken from its files; covering the substantial points: "The number of cars that went down was 25, 18 of which were loaded with grain, one with furniture and the remainder with empty flats.
"The engineer's body was recovered only Thursday morning, after an all night's search. The marks on it indicated that the unfortunate man must have becn killed in the fall, though the disfiguration was not near as great as in the case of the watchman. After the coroner's inquest the corpse was taken to Logansport, where deceased resided, and thence to Chicago, where it was interred. It was Beam's intention to quit the road and go onto a farm and he was making his last trip for that purpose. He left a wife and two children.
"It required the force of 100 men and two engines to remove the debris so that the bridge builders could commence operations, and it took them three days to do it.
"The watch of Louis Beam, the engineer killed in the accident, was found in the wreck hanging on its accustomed nail in the cab. The watch was not only ticking, but indicated the correct time of day and was entirely uninjured.
"The little daughter of conductor Riddell had been promised a ride on the engine after the train reached Monticello, but fortunately she forgot all about it and remained in the caboose.
"The escape of Ed Laing of this place, the fireman on the ill-fated engine, is almost unparalleled in the history of railroad accidents. Standing on the same engine with Beam and Durfee, who were both killed, he went down in the crash a distance of 75 feet, with no opportunity to jump, and was found alive and but slightly injured beneath the wreck. He frankly says he doesn't know how he was saved.
"At the coroner's inquest Thursday several railroad experts were examined as to the cause of its giving way.
"The first witness called was J. Zecker, road master and superintendent of bridges on west half of third division, who testified as follows: 'Have been superintendent for ten months, west span has been built six years. The bridge is the Howe truss, built of pine, three breat rods, and considered the safest and best length from 65 to 68 feet high. * * * My opinion is that the car went off the track by some cause, either by rail spreading or brake beam coming down. If a car is loaded it is liable to brake at any span. There are marks on the ties to show that a car or cars were off the track. There was no safety track on the inside, but a guard rail on the outside. Safety tracks on inside are not considered any better. Last examined the bridge on the 8th or 9th of July, 1878. Local going west on 17th inst. stopped on west end of span that went down. Gave orders for trains to go slowly over the bridge on the 17th and prior to that date.'
"C. Riddell, conductor train No. 13, received orders from J. V. Vinson, agent, on 17th to run all trains slow.
"J. Becker of Pittsburgh, Pa., civil and chief engineer of the P. C. & St. L. Bg. Co., said: 'I wrote the specifications and made the contract for the building of the three western spans of the bridge over the Tippecanoe river and superintended its construction and its erection. The contract was made July, 1871, and the bridge was constructed immediately afterwards, the western span being the last one erected. The bridge was built by J. K. Miller & Co. of Steubenville, Ohio, of Allegheny white pine, with oaken keys and clamps, and of a superior quality of iron, furnished by a Pittsburg firm whose material we have frequently tested and always found of a very superior character. The timber for the bridge, like the timber of every other bridge that I ever built, and I have built several hundreds of them, was rather green, at least it was what might be called not seasoned.
"'It was framed at Steubenville, O., and shipped from that place to this for erection. The railroad is to use green timber in their bridges. No doubt perfectly seasoned timber would be preferable and if properly protected is undoubtedly more durable, but it would be almost impossible to procure seasoned timber for bridges. The bridge was painted shortly after its erection, which was probably from four to five months after the timber was sawed and planed. I think that the complete painting of green timber without permitting it to dry out, would hasten the decay, leaving the spaces between the different chord pieces and the entire lower surface of both chords unpainted for the purpose of drying out the entire moisture.
"'I never made a report to the P. C. & St. L. R. R. Co. relative to the condition of the bridge since its erection in 1871, my duties being simply that of engineer of new construction work, the mending and repairs of all structures after their completion being placed in charge of the division superintendent. I have looked at the bridge and can not conceive any cause for its destruction unless it was done by the sudden concussion of some vital parts or by a derailed car or misplaced rails.
"'The dimensions of the structure, I consider ample for all requirements and the age of the bridge could not yet have impaired its efficiency. Heat may have caused it,'
"We, the coroner's jury, sworn to enquire into and ascertain the cause of the death of Louis Beam and Jerome Durfee, after viewing the bodies and having heard evidence and made inquiry do find that on the 17th of July, 1878, while local freight train No. 13 going east with engine, tender and twenty loaded cars were passing over the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Saint Louis Railroad bridge across the Tippecanoe river at Monticello, White County, Indiana, said engine, tender and cars by reason of west span of said bridge breaking were precipitated into the Tippecanoe river causing death of said Louis Beam and Jerome Durfee.
"Wm. Spencer, Foreman; Robert Clark, Henry Snyder, James H. McCollum, James A. McConahay and F. M. Mullendore."