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William J. "Will" Kirby 1871-1905


Posted By: Merllene Andre Bendixen (email)
Date: 6/21/2011 at 01:55:44

Will Kirby Killed
Engine Exploded Near Ely Monday Evening – Killed His Fireman and a Brakeman
Running 30 Miles An Hour
When Explosion Occurred and Twenty Two Cars of Stock Went Into Ditch
One of the saddest accidents that has been reported here for some time was the killing of Engineer Will Kirby on the Rock Island near Ely, a small station eight miles south of Cedar Rapids, Monday evening at eight o’clock by the explosion of his engine and besides killing his fireman named Smith and a brakeman named Kelly, twenty two cars loaded with stock were thrown in to the ditch and badly demolished. The Cedar Rapids Republican of yesterday gave the following account of the wreck:

“Three Rock Island trainmen were sent to a fearful death last night when freight engine 1422 exploded while running at a high rate of speed between Ely and Solon.

The dead:
FIREMAN C. R. SMITH, Cedar Rapids
BRAKEMAN P. KELLY, 428 C avenue, Cedar Rapids

The point where the accident occurred is about one and one-half miles north of Solon, just inside the limits of Johnson county. The train left Ely going south at 7:43, and the accident happened 7:58 as nearly as the railway men can tell. The details of the accident are meager, but it is known that a large number of cars were derailed and wrecked, including four or five cars of livestock, most of which were killed.

The unfortunate men died instantly, their bodies being hurled hundreds of feet. These were the only casualties. The trainmen were not injured.

Engineer Kirby is a single man whose parents live at Estherville. His brother is cashier of the First National bank there. He had recently come to Cedar Rapids to take this run.

Brakeman Kelly recently came here from Davenport. He is married. Fireman Smith came here from the far west, where he has had a run for several years on the Great Northern. His life story has been a sad one. For years he had been a fireman on the Great Northern and was just about to be promoted to an engine. He had built a comfortable home, but it was not a happy home and finally he decided to leave it. He came to this city and entered the service of the Rock Island, taking his first run as fireman on Sunday night. Last night, his second run, wrote the finish to the story of his life.

Since the disastrous explosion of Rock Island engine 1465 near Davenport recently when Engineer Calhoun and Fireman Kinney were killed and a number of other trainmen injured, railway men have shaken their heads when this class of engines has been mentioned. They are among the biggest and the most powerful class of engines on the road, but in some way the belief has been formed that they are unsafe. After the disastrous wreck near Davenport, December 18, there was an investigation by a number of Rock Island officials, and the statement was made as a result of that investigation that the wreck had been caused by low water in the boiler. But there were rumors after that to the effect that this was not the real cause of the explosion, but that it was rather due to defective construction of the engine itself.”

Will Kirby is a son of Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Kirby, of this city, and a brother of John P. Kirby, cashier of the First National bank. He was an exemplary young man and well-liked by all who knew him. He was very popular among the railroad men, being a member of the official committee that regulated the salaries of the engine men at a conference held with the Rock Island officials in Chicago last summer. The family will not mourn his death along, but everyone who knew Will Kirby will bow their heads in sorrow. He was thirty-four years of age at the time he met his death, and had lived an honorable and upright life. His remains will be brought here for burial, and funeral services will be held in the Catholic church Friday morning. The many friends of the deceased in this city extend their deepest sympathy to the bereaved family in their hours of profound sorrow.

A Special Train
When the news reached here Monday evening of the terrible railroad accident at Ely, in which Engineer Will Kirby was killed, a special train was chartered by John P. Kirby, cashier of the First National bank and brother of the deceased, and at one o’clock Mr. Kirby was hastening to the scene of the accident as fast as the train could take him. The run to Cedar Rapids was made in a little over six hours. The train was in charge of Engineer Kilgore and Conductor Wm. Sharer. (Estherville Democrat, Estherville, IA, February 1, 1905)

Kirby Train Was Gratis
Cedar Rapids Gazette: One of the invariable rules of the Gazette is to correct errors. It is absolutely impossible for a newspaper not to make mistakes and the only thing to do in honor is to promptly correct them. In this case it is regard to the Rock Island road charging Mr. Kirby, of Estherville, $500 for a train to take him to his brother, who had been killed in a wreck at Solon. We saw Mr. Kirby’s statement in the daily papers and had it from other sources also that the Rock Island made such a charge, and we censured the company severely for doing so. It seems, however, that the railway company did not charge Mr. Kirby a cent, but that when he applied for a special train there was nobody at hand who could give him the desired information, and in order that there might be no delay he simply put up a certified check for $500 in order to insure getting a train promptly. But we are informed by Mr. Farmer, the capable and genial passenger agent, that the company made no charge whatever; and so, finding that we made a mistake in censuring the company we take the first opportunity of expressing regret that the article in question should have appeared. The Gazette has no hesitancy in criticizing railway companies when they deserve it, but the Rock Island certainly did not deserve the warm proposition we put up to them when we sincerely though they had made such an exhorbitant charge, and for that reason we take it all back. (Estherville Democrat, Estherville, IA, February 15, 1905)

From a lengthy article about the wreck:
Engineer William J. Kirby, who met instant death while at his post of duty, is an old Cedar county boy, living for a number of years at Tipton. At one time he was engaged at other work, but the railroad appealed to him and a few years ago he secured a position as fireman. He was a conscientious and hardworking employee, learning rapidly and soon proved his efficiency by passing the examination for engineer. For a number of years he lived at Estherville, with his brother, John P. Kirby, cashier of the First National Bank of that city. Later he lived for a time with a sister at Emmetsburg. It was only a few months ago that he came to Cedar Rapids to live, to take a freight run out of this city. He was one of those jolly, whole souled fellows, who make friends with all whom he came in contact. He was especially in a happy mood yesterday afternoon, and more than one of his friends will remember the cheery greetings he was giving them yesterday afternoon, while walking along the streets, and just previous to starting on his last trip. He will be mourned by many. (Estherville Democrat, Estherville, IA, February 8, 1905)

Funeral of Will Kirby
The funeral of Will Kirby, who was killed in the Rock Island wreck at Solon, was held in this city Friday morning at 10:30 in the Catholic church. The church was crowded with friends who had gathered to pay their last respects to the deceased. Father Daly’s remarks were full of sympathy for the sorrowing parents and brother and sister. He spoke words of comfort to those nearest and dearest to the departed one, but, on occasions of this kind words cannot take the place of a dutiful son and loving brother. Those who were present at the church praise Father Daly in the highest terms for the excellent sermon prepared and delivered. The floral offerings were the finest ever seen at a funeral in Estherville. The pall bearers were Joseph Keeman, Thos. Brand, J. A. Kirchner, Thos. Conway, S. T. Howe and M. E. Howe, all engineers on the Rock Island and member of the B. of L.E., of which the deceased was also a member. The remains were interred in the Catholic cemetery, south of town, and were followed to their last resting place by a large concourse of sympathizing friends. (Estherville Democrat, Estherville, IA, February 8, 1905)


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