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Engine went through bridge, tragically killing two brothers


Posted By: Connie Ellis (email)
Date: 12/18/2010 at 17:05:51

SOURCE: Elkader, Iowa MARKET BASKET, JULY 14, 1986
AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE: Bertha Schuchmann
Contributor: Connie Ellis (Not related)


James Crane of Volga wrote in his diary on Thursday, July 21, 1898: "George Schuckman and John Schuckman killed tonight, their engine went through the bridge at Volga City with them."

George, 37, and John Schuchmann, 31, were entering Volga that evening with a water tank, separator and traction engine they had just purchased that day from Stemmer and Dittmer of Elkader. They left Elkader about 1:30 p.m. with their new outfit and reached the covered bridge over the Volga River in Volga about 7:30 p.m. that evening.

They first ran on the bridge with steam and then ran the thresher by hand until the front wheels were almost over to the west bank. Then one said, "It is too slow" and turned on the steam. This added to the strain of the bridge that was already old and rotten. The bridge broke. The front of the machine reared into the air and the rest of it went down through the flooring carrying George and John with it.

Both men were probably killed instantly since the backs of their heads were crushed and their bodies were terribly bruised and mangled. Another brother, Fred Schuchmann, 29, who was along as a water hauler, was walking along side the machine at the time. He jumped and grabbed onto a rod on the side of the bridge and escaped with his life.

A coroner's inquest was held following the accident at which George Tinkham, a witness, testified: "I was coming toward the bridge about 7:30 p.m. that evening and met George Schuchmann standing near his traction engine about 300 feet from the bridge. I shook hands with him and said, 'You are not going to cross that bridge with your engine? I would not advise you not to do so but I do not believe it to be safe.'

George said, 'I believe I will try it.' John Schuchmann, a brother of George, was on the bridge inspecting it before this and when he returned he said he did not believe it to be safe. George then went and looked at the bridge. After he returned, the separator was started, George and John got on the engine and started on the bridge. They went about 25 feet without planks, then stopped, and then they started to run the engine across by hand, turning the fly wheel. When they started to run it by hand George asked me to get on and steer it for them. I got on and we moved the engine about two spans length when George told me to get off and they would turn the steam on. George and John got on the engine and ran it until the front end of the engine was close to the end of the bridge. I was standing about the middle of the bridge when the rear end of the engine went through, tipping over backwards taking the planks and timbers with it and burying George and John under the rear end. They had planks on their water tank for use in crossing bridges but did not use them at all."

Fred Schuchmann also testified at the coroner's inquest. A jury composed of J.D. Welch, J.W. Lee, and C. Massy returned a verdict of "Accidentally killed by a traction engine going through bridge no. 8 and falling upon them."

There was no awaited family supper that night for John and Elizabeth and their three children, Otto,6; Edwin, 4; and Hedwig, 2, nor for George and Magdalen and their family of six children ranging in age from two months to 12 years.

James Crane again wrote in his diary on Sunday, July 24, "Hot day 101* in shade. I went to the funeral. George Schuckman and John Schuckman buried today."

The funeral service was held in the German Lutheran Church at St.Sebald and they were buried in the cemetery behind the church.

This summer (1986) Edwin Schuchmann, 92, now a retired pharmacist from Oelwein, Iowa, and his son, Dale, visited the site where Ed's father was killed. The abutment of the bridge is still visible a short block south of the present bridge in Volga.

An account in the July 28, 1898 issue of the Elkader Register said this: "One of the sad things about this accident is the fact that George leaves a wife and six children and John, a wife and three children who are practically left without anything. Both brothers were formerly members of the Modern Woodman, one carrying $3,000 and the other $2,000 in insurance. It is reported that through the efforts of the pastor of their church, who is opposed to such organizations, they were persuaded too give it up."

Ed says that his family moved to Illinois for about two years shortly after the accident where they lived with relatives. With the help of others she (Elizabeth) kept her family together. She mainly did housekeeping for others and while she had chances to remarry, she did not." Ed says, "I think my mother was very much in love with our father. He was a very handsome and a good man."

Elizabeth died in 1955 at the age of 85, after being widowed for 57 years. Hedwig died in 1904 from fever and is buried in the cemetery at Hawkeye, Iowa in Fayette, Iowa. Otto, 94, a retired farmer, lives at rural Hawkeye.


Photo: from "The Market Basket", July 16, 1986
Edwin and Dale Schuchmann are pictured at the site where Edwin's father lost his life in 1898. The stones of the abutment are visible at the left. Pictured, left to right, are Edwin and Dale Schuchmann and friends, Sharon and Ray Farrell, of Elkader, and Gerald Brooks of Volga.

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