When a Near-Tragedy Became a Catalyst for Change at Dante – November 1974

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, Dante resident Roy Mabry asked about an incident involving a collision between a train and a school bus on the railroad crossing near Sawmill Hollow at Dante. I remembered seeing the article and the accompanying photos in our CVT archives but could not recall the date. Yesterday, I found the material (while looking for something else, of course!).

The Dante crossing as well as several other area crossings were known to be dangerous due to limited visibility. Though local residents had voiced their concerns, nothing had been done to correct the dangerous conditions – until the morning of November 6, 1974. Imagine the horror of the engineer of a Clinchfield locomotive upon seeing his worst nightmare come true – a school bus on the tracks! Thankfully, no children were on board the bus at the time of the collision, and no one was injured in the accident. But…



At 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, November 6, 1974, an empty school bus which had just delivered 62 elementary school children to Arty Lee school in Dante was struck by Clinchfield Railway Engine No. 3021 at the crossing on Highway 627 in West Dante. The driver of the bus, Archie Sexton, escaped without injury, but the bus knocked over a power pole and tore a section of chain link fence at the Dante Tennis Court as it went down the embankment at the railroad crossing after being hit by the train. According to Sexton, he was driving the bus from West Dante into Dante and stopped at the approach to the railroad crossing with the bus in in second gear. After he had started across the tracks, the train hit the bus in the side.

By Thursday morning, a group of concerned parents had organized, and a delegation went to the Russell County Courthouse in Lebanon to see the appropriate authorities about securing their cooperation in getting proper crossing signals installed. In the meantime, other parents were picketing the railroad company at the crossing where the accident occurred. The delegation at Lebanon was assured of a Friday morning meeting with the appropriate officials.

At 10 a.m. on Friday, November 8, 1974, the parents’ group along with other interested citizens met with representatives of the Russell Cunty School Board, the Russell County Board of Supervisors, Clinchfield Railroad, and the Virginia Department of Highways, at the Russell County Courthouse in Lebanon. The parents were told that crossing signals would be erected at both the West Dante crossing where the bus was hit, and at the Hamlin crossing when the next construction season begins in the spring. The citizens responded that they will require some sort of crossing protection between now and then. Dr. Roy Smith, a member of the Board of Supervisors stated that he though the Board would probably agree to pay a crossing guard at the West Dante crossing until the signals were installed.

As a follow-up, the Dante group was assured that the Board of Supervisors would pay a crossing guard, then met at the Dante Elementary School on Friday afternoon and chose Mrs. Ruth McCoy for the post at $2.00 per hour, and selected Norma Salyers as her assistant to fill in if Mrs. McCoy should be unable to perform the duties of her job at any time. The guard will be stationed at the crossing from 7:30 a.m. until the last bus leaves each morning, and from 3:00 p.m. until the last bus leaves each afternoon.

A spokesman for the Dante parents’ group said that this arrangement will satisfy the group, but only until spring. She said the group would continue to function if there are any delays in getting crossing signals up by then.


The newspaper clipping below is from the Thursday, November 7, 1974 edition of the Bristol Herald-Courier:


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