Friday September 27, 1957

Getting the Halloween Spirit

With Halloween almost upon us my thoughts have turned to the ghost stories that I had heard when I was kid.  Many stories are told about the ghost towns and abandoned mines throughout the San Juan Mountains. Even many of the towns along our own valley have stories of spirits that walk the night.

Black Rock has its favorite story about a miner who died trying to save others during a cave-in.  Many say that you can hear the pick of the ghost of “Big John” down in the mine.  The valley’s favorite story happened on the railroad at an area now known as Scruggs. 

Over the last 60 or so years since the wreck of the Purgatory & Devil River’s rescue train the ghost of engineer Lester Scruggs has been seen wandering the rails waving his lantern.  Many believe that he is trying to warn oncoming trains of his accident. 

On Halloween night the Purgatory & Devil River railroad will be running the “Scruggs Special”.  Blanchard Springs Station Master Duane Richardson stated that, “We have so many people down there every Halloween looking for Lester’s ghost that is was creating a hazard to them and to the train crews. 

We are going to start offering a trip down into Scruggs on Halloween night to let the passengers go ‘Ghost Hunting’.  The railroads history has become legend and none more so than the story of Lester Scruggs.  Maybe someday we will know what finally became of him.”  

Searching the archives we found the original article of the wreck printed September 12th 1894.  It has been reprinted below to further explain how this legend started.


Mercy Mission Meets Disaster

The heavy rainfall in the area over the last few weeks has created flood and slide conditions that have many in peril.  Otto Mears suspended operation of the Purgatory & Devil River railroad into the canyon for fear of washed out or buried track along Bitter Creek.  

With Many towns running low on vital necessities, P&DR engineer Lester Scruggs, fireman Ernest Bass and conductor John Harp volunteered to run a train into the valley to bring the much needed supplies.  The train left Blanchard Springs two days ago and made it as far as the Bitter Creek Canyon Bridge only to find it washed out. . 

Fireman Lester Scruggs said, “We was backing up when we heard the slide coming.  There wasn’t nothin’ we could do but hold on.” 

Conductor Harp was on top of the train preparing to set the breaks as the rocks and mud came down the mountain.  “It was getting dark and you couldn’t hardly see.  All I could do was stand there as the engine and 3 cars were carried into the Creek.  I saw Ernest climb out the cab window.  I climbed down and helped him up but never found hide nor hair of Lester.  I figured he is trapped in the wreckage.”

Otto Mears said today that, “I have lost a friend and a good employee.  Lester helped to build this railroad.  We are trying to make repairs and get supplies into Bitter Creek and up to Freeman’s Gap.”  

The locomotive was pulled from the creek earlier today but the engineer’s body was not among the wreckage.  Crews are searching along the creek in hopes that he might be found.


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