Iowa's Worst Train Wreck
The Green Mountain train wreck is the worst ever railroad accident in the state of Iowa. It occurred between Green Mountain and Gladbrook on the morning of March 21, 1910 and killed 52 people.
A train wreck earlier that morning at Shellsburg meant that the Rock Island Line trains were being diverted from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo over Chicago Great Western tracks via Marshalltown. The trains concerned were the No. 21 St Louis-Twin Cities and No. 19 Chicago-Twin Cities; which had been combined into a ten car train; the two locomotives travelling backwards, tender first. The new combined train now had two wooden cars sandwiched between the locomotives, a steel Pullman car, and other steel cars.
At a place between Green Mountain and Gladbrook, just east of the Marshall County border the lead engine left the tracks and hit a clay embankment coming to a sudden stop. The steel cars sliced through the two wooden coaches: a smoking car and a ladies' day coach containing many children. There were no fatalities in the Pullman cars; one of the uninjured passengers said "I saw women in the coach crushed into a bleeding mass, their bodies twisted out of human shape. I have seen what I shall see all my life when I dream". A relief train arrived two hours after the accident "The sight was one of horribly crushed, mutilated, and dismembered bodies".
No official cause was ever released for the wreck, nor were any charges of neglect made although the crash did result in the introduction of new safety procedures.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Forty Persons Are Injured
Many of the dead are mutilated beyond recognition. Nearly all the fatalities occurred in the Day Coach and Smoker, which were smashed to kindling wood. Spreading rails the cause.
Marshalltown, Ia., March 22.
Forty-five persons were killed and forty were injured, many of them fatally, in a wreck four and one-half miles north of Green Mountain, of a Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific train.
The train, which was a combination of No. 19 from Chicago and No. 21 from St. Louis, bound for Minneapolis, was being detoured over the tracks of the Chicago Great Western road. Running at about thirty miles an hour in a cut north of Green Mountain it struck a spread rail, it is believed.
The pilot locomotive jumped the track and with a terrific force was buried in an embankment of soft clay. A second locomotive, coupled behind the first, rolled over, and the impact of the sudden stop hurled all the rear cars forward.
A coach, a smoker and a Pullman car were smashed to splinters, almost all of the occupants being killed or injured. The superstructure of the Pullman was literally shaved off and was jammed like a ramrod through the smoker and day coach.
List of Killed:
List of Injured:
The bodies were found horribly mangled and broken up. The injured were terribly cut and mangled. Arms and legs were broken, hips broken, chests crushed and some but slightly resembled human forms. Some took their injuries stoically and bravely, others were screaming hysterically and still others were so far gone only weak moans came from their broken and crushed bodies. The ground around the crushed day coach soon became muddy from the blood which flowed from the many wounds and assumed a dark red color.
The Alliance Herald - Box Butte County, Nebraska - March 24, 1910 [Transcribed by Dennis Danielson]
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Cause of wreck is still unknown
No cause yet brought out for terrible Rock Island wreck disaster
Investigation continues: many witnesses examined
M. C. Einwalter, Rock Island Conductor Who was On The Wrecked Train, Important Witness Of Morning Session - - Commission Hears Story Of Pilot White's Heroism At The Wreck
Altho the railroad commissioners of Iowa had, up to adjournment at noon today, examined twenty-six witnesses, and had taken a vast bulk of testimony, they are apparently no nearer the exact cause of the derailment which resulted in the terrible loss of life on the Rock Island train near Green Mountain on March 21 than they were before they began.
The investigation reached the point today when Rock Island employees who were on the wrecked train and first at the scene of the disaster were examined. The principle witness of the morning sitting was M. C. Einwalter, of Cedar Rapids, conductor on the Rock Island train No. 19. He, however, was not able to give a reason for the disaster.
Tells Of Wreck Scene
Mr. Einwalter was on the witness stand for more than an hour. He recited all of the details of the movement of the train from the time it left Cedar Rapids until it was wrecked and in addition he described the scene of the wreck and what was done for the dead and the injured.
Einwalter said that John White, the dead pilot, told him before the train pulled up to the Great Western station here, that he did not think that the Rock Island engines could be turned on the "Y" here because of their length and weight and the shortness of the curve of the "Y".
The conductor said the he was sitting in the second car from the rear of the train when the wreck happened. "The first notice I had," he said, "that anything was wrong, was when I felt a jar. I was satisfied something was derailed. I told the breakman to take his flag and go back and protect the rear of the train. At the second jar the train stopped. The jars were only apart, maybe a second."
Goes To Get Help
"I left the car at once," continued Mr. Einwalter, "and went to the head end of the train. I went around it and on both sides to get an idea of the condition of the wreck and how many were killed and injured. I then started for a farm house about a quarter of a mile away. I met a man with a team, and he hauled me. I do not know what time the wreck occurred, but believed it was 8:20 or 8:25, because, when I got to the farm house to telephone Gladbrook, it was between 8:40 and 8:45."
The conductor said that in his judgement the train was running at the rate from twenty to twenty-five miles an hour when it was wrecked.
Asked if he thought it was safe to run a train pulled by engines backing up he said that he considered that it was if the speed was not too great and conditions were not unfavorable. He admitted that there was more danger when engines backed up than when they pulled the train running forward.
Found Marks On The Ties
The conductor said he found marks on the ties back toward the highway crossing, but that the marks, which were apparently made by the flanges of the car wheels, were not deep. This indicated to him that they were made by light trucks, probably those under the smoking car.
He said that there were eighty-seven passengers on his train and that he had found seventy-one tickets, which presumably belonged to Conductor Nauholz. He had no way of knowing, he said, how many passengers were on the other train.
While describing the wrecked cars, he told of the condition in which he found the dead and the injured lying together, and how they were taken out and the injured carried to the Pullman sleepers in the rear of the train.
He said that while the wreckage did not take fire at once, that twice during the forenoon fire broke out in the debris, but that both times it was out before it had gained any headway.
John White A Hero
A story of the heroism of John White, the Great Western conductor who piloted the train was brought to the commission by Superintendent J. A. Gordon, of the Great Western. He read a letter received from E. A. Murphy of Vinton. Murphy was on the wrecked train and very soon after the wreck started for a farm house to give the alarm and get help. He wrote that while going along the country road he heard someone calling. He turned around and waited for the man, who proved to be White. He said the White was covered with dirt and water and that he appeared badly injured. White said that he did not think he was hurt internally.
White, Murphy said, told him that he was going for help, so they went together to the farm house. White was so badly hurt he could not return and Murphy got a physician and had him cared for. After being brought to this city White died at St. Thomas hospital that night.
Equipment Was Good
That the equipment of the train was modern and in a state of good repair was the testimony given by Division Superintendent W. H. Given of the Rock Island. Mr. Given said that all the coaches of the train were comparatively new cars, and he gave the dates when some of them were built. He said part of the equipment belonged to the C., B. & Q.
Mr. Given said that the speed of the train could not have been great else the cars would have buckled more. He said that the company had not had its investigation yet, and that he had not been able to arrive at a conclusion that would warrant him in giving a cause of the derailment. He said that on examining the track he found wheel marks on the ties, outside of the east rail and between the rails.
Engineer Is Called
E. S. Pritchard the Rock Island engineer, who was on engine 1008, and who was the only engineman who escaped with his life, was called. Before his testimony was fully begun he was step aside so that others could testify before him.
Others who were examined this morning were Claims Attorney George E. McCaughan, of the Rock Island, Chicago; and Dr. N. E. Mighell, F. M. Wilbur, and W. P. Estel, all of this city.
Tuesday Afternoon's Evidence
Nineteen witnesses, all of them Great Western officials or employees, were examined by the commission during its two sessions Monday. None of these witnesses, however, was able to throw any material light on the subject, and just before the hearing adjourned Tuesday evening Commissioner W. L. Eaton, who is examining the witnesses, announced that the commission would like to have any one who knew any thing that might aid in the investigation to come before the commission and tell what they knew.
The witnesses examined during Tuesday afternoon's session were railroad employees who had either had a part in operating the wrecked train or had been to the scene of the wreck soon after the disaster.
Cause Of Wreck Suggested
A broken brake beam on the head tender, which was found after the tender had been picked up, was suggested as a possible cause for the derailment. None of the railroad men who saw in it a chance for an explanation of the derailment would say that it was the cause, and all of them were as willing to believe that it was broken by the derailment as they were that it was broken before the tender went off the track.
Division Master Mechanic T. H. York, of Des Moines, was the first of the witnesses who mentioned it, but he admitted that there was no way of determining weather the break beam had dropped before the accident or after it. He said that he had examined the engines and the tenders and the track and that he found nothing that would indicate a reason for the derailment.
Say Track Was Good
Much of the time during the afternoon was spent examining witnesses who were informed regarding the condition of the track. These without exception, testified that the track was in a normal and good condition, and that while it might have been a trifle soft, its condition was better than usual for this time of the year.
A detailed statement of the condition of the track, of the renewal of ties and rails and the work done in ballasting was obtained from Division Roadmaster William Flynn, who examined very closely. His knowledge added nothing, however, of value to the investigation, excepting that the track was safe and in good condition. Flynn said that, judging by the flange marks on the ties, the engines had run 240 feet off the rails, before they were stopped by the bank.
Farmer Gives The Alarm
It is interesting to know as a bit of history of the wreck that the first news of it to reach the railroad company was telephoned to Gladbrook by a farmer who lived near the scene of the wreck. The alarm was transmitted to A. C. Steven, chief dispatcher for the Great Western, by the agent at Gladbrook. Mr. Stevens said it was 8:30 o'clock when the news first reached him. He then told of the steps taken to get relief to the scene.
Evening times-Republican. (Marshalltown, Iowa), March 30, 1910 [Transcribed by Dennis Danielson]
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