Misty Bruns


As the people of Contra Costa county were enjoying the festivities of the Christmas season, the town of Byron comes together.

Quong Ching, husband and their entire Chinese wedding party were headed for Fresno but were all killed in the accident. Photos courtesy CoCohistory.org.

It started out as a day of joy for Quong Ching, who married that day in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and boarded the Owl train of the Southern Pacific from San Francisco to Fresno with her groom and bridal party. Ching and her new husband along with their friends were in the front of the Owl train celebrating the marriage.
From the Antioch Ledger December 27, 1902
“The owl limited left San Francisco at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, with the Fresno day coach attached to the rear. The train was due at Byron at 6:55 o’clock, but a defected oil feeder caused numerous delays and finally brought the laboring engine to a complete standstill about 100 yards this side of the Byron station, ten minutes behind time.”
The conductor William Dolan took frantic efforts to get the Owl train off the tracks, because he knew that the Stockton Flyer train was just 10 minutes behind him. All efforts did not work, and time was lost. Conductor Dolan then sent brakeman G. B. Cole with a lantern running down the tracks to hopefully catch the Stockton Flyer train in time. Cole waved the lantern and the engineer J.M McGuire of the Stockton Flyer saw him, reversed the engine and applied the air brakes, but could not avoid the collision that was about to happen.
The Stockton flyer plunged into the back of the Owl train with a force that could be felt like an earthquake to the walls of homes and heard for hundreds of yards away.
“The crash of the collision had brought the entire population of the village (Byron) from their homes and as quickly as human feet could carry them a large force of men was at work with axes and crowbars, breaking open windows, ripping away timbers to release the helpless victims within.”
“Here sympathetic women from nearby homes rendered heroic service, binding up the gaping wounds of the mangled and applying soothing oils and lotions to the scalded.”
The town of Byron heeded the call to help by telephoning the physicians to come help, wagons were pressed into service to help transport the wounded. Some were taken to the Methodist Church where a fire was burning to help warm the wounded and dying, and to the Congregational Church where survivors were given every comfort possible.
In total, 20 lives were taken including the entire bridal party of Quong Ching, and 21 severely wounded in the Owl train crash of 1902 according to the Antioch Ledger, December 27,1902.

The changes that took place after this collision is stated on the cocohistory.org site as follows:
The Byron disaster and other train crashes caused the passage in 1903 and 1910 of amendments to the Safety Appliances Act of 1893. Bills were passed in 1907 and 1911 that improved workers safety and train maintenance. New automatic train control and other safety devices were established under the Transportation Act of 1920. Once a common occurrence, the Byron type tragedy would finally become a rare event on American railroads.