Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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Oelwein Daily Register|
October 23, 1937
Killing 10, Injuring 19 at Grade Crossing
MASON CITY, Ia., Oct. 23 -- (UP) -- A new streamlined Rock Island "Rocket" train crashed into a bus loaded with high school students at the southwest city limits here today, killing ten persons and injuring eighteen yesterday.
A coroner's jusy of three Mason City business men today viewed the scene of the train-school bus crash which killed 10 persons and injured 19 others at a grade crossing here late yesterday. The jurymen -- Vern P. KIRK, Harry P. HANSON and Frank F. SHEPLER -- went over the ground carefully under the direction of Coroner J. E. McDONALD. Then they were taken to view the bodies of the victims before being excused until 10 a.m. Monday when the formal inquest will be held.
Coroner McDONALD released the bodies to their families after the jury had completed its work.
It is planned to conduct individual funerals Monday at the homes of the victims.
Seven of those killed were students at Renwick high school, two were instructors and one was the school bus driver. The pupils had just completed a tour of Mason City's industrial plants when the Rocket, new streamliner of the Rock Island railroad between Kansas City and Minneapolis, smashed into their bus, cutting it in two.
Mason City, Ia., Oct. 23 -- (UP) -- A pile of bricks at the roadside and deafening screams of two dozen students were studied today as possible causes of a train and bus collision in which seven high school students, two teachers, and the driver were killed and 19 persons hurt.
The bus was returning the students to Renwick, Ia., after a day long tour of Mason City industries. The Rock Island Rocket, streamlined passenger train bound from Kansas City to Minneapolis, struck the bus at a crossing. The bus burst, and bodies and wreckage were strewn for 700 feet along the right-of-way.
The injured received cuts, bruises, broken bones and other injuries not expected to prove fatal. All Mason City's medical facilities were required to care for them.
Miss CEDAR died at Park hospital early toady. She suffered a fractured skull, fractured right thigh and other injuries.
Of the surviving occupants of the crash, eight were released from hospitals after observation and treatment of minor hurts.
The injured at Park hospital were:
Those at Mercy hospital were:
None of those in Mercy hospital was reported seriously hurt.
Students who were released from the hospitals were Corwin PEER, 15; Robert OPPENDAHL, 15; Donald ENGH, 16; Charles HEGGEN, 16; Richard HUNTLEY, 15; Lorraine KLASSIE, 15; Helen LATCH, 15, and Anna MILLS, 16, all of Renwick.
Separate investigations of the tragedy were started today, one by Coroner J. E. McDONALD and the other by railroad officials. The inquest is expected to be held Monday.
C. L. BAKKE, Rock Island superintendent at Des Moines arrived last night to conduct the road's investigation. He was to be assisted by C. J. BROWN, Kansas City, general manager and by other officials from Chicago.
George R. SIMPSON, Des Moines, engineer of the train continued as far an Manly, the next division point, where he regularly is replaced by a new crew.
He was badly shaken by his experience and said the train was traveling only about 25 miles an hour when it struck the bus.
SIMPSON said he had no chance to see the bus approach because a pile of bricks obstructed the view, both for him and for the bus driver.
The pupils had just completed a tour through the Mason City tile and brick company plant, near the railroad tracks. The road which the bus was on was a private thoroughfare and consequently was not protected by the customary crossing signals.
The train was running about five minutes behind schedule as it approached the crossing. The children in the bus were laughing and shouting so the bus driver may not have been able to hear the locomotive's whistle.
The bus was broken into by the impact and was carried at least 400 feet down the track. Bodies of several of the dead were badly mangled, some almost beyond recognition.
One body was found a block from the crossing. The tangled wreckage of the bus was scattered along the right of way.
Passengers on the train and first arrivals at the scene of the tragedy told of horrible suffering of the students. Some of the survivors were able to assist themselves to their feet and hurry to the aid of their companions but most of them were too shocked or hurt even to remember details of the accident clearly.
As soon as word of the accident reached Renwick, 50 miles south west, parents and relatives of the school children came hurrying in caravans. Pathetic scenes were enacted at the mortuaries.
The students were members of a vocational class at the Renwick high school and the tour through Mason City industrial plants had been arranged as part of their studies.
Mason City, Ia., Oct. 22 -- (UP) -- Corwin PEER, 15-year-old Renwick high school student, was one of the survivors of the school bus crash at Mason City. His eyewitness account follows:
"The bus was torn in two.
"I was riding in the very last seat. I had no idea we were going to hit anything.
"It all happened so suddenly, I found myself on the ground, outside the wreckage. I was not injured except for a few bruises.
"I looked around for my girl friend, Lavonne HELMKE, 16. She was not badly hurt either."
Anna MILLS, 14, another survivor, said the accident occurred so quickly that she had "no recollection of what happened." She suffered an ankle injury and was permitted to move about the hospital.
Another Renwick student, Robert OPPEDAHL, 15, who was seated in the rear of the bus said he did not hear any whistle and didn't see the train until it virtually was on top of the bus.
"The bus driver applied the brakes then," OPPEDAHL said, "and for a while everything went black for me. I must have been knocked out.
"Then I looked around the wreck and could hardly believe what I saw. I saw some bodies which I couldn't identify. But I recognized Rex SIMPSON, the bus driver, Miss ROSS, the English teacher, Mr. MORTON, the commercial teacher, and Donald AMESSON and Jimmy BELL."
Vern MOTT, Mason City coal dealer who was driving about 100 feet behind the bus when the crash occurred, gave the following account:
"I heard the Rocket whistle. Then I saw the train coming at about 20 or 30 miles an hour. I was terribly surprised when the bus continued to the crossing and didn't slow up.
"When the bus and train reached the crossing at the same time the Rocket hit the bus squarely in the center and the bus popped as though it were a watermelon being dropped.
"Bodies popped out of the bus. Children screamed and it was the most terrible thing I have ever seen. It was terrible."
MOTT said some men from the brick and tile yards ran immediately to the scene of the wreck and that he was the next to reach it.
By J. J. LEARY for the United Press.
Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 23 -- (UP) -- I have seen a lot of horrible things, but I'll never forget the sight of the pitifully mangled bodies that greeted my eyes when I climbed down from the train at Mason City last night.
I was the first to reach the victims, after the train had dragged the school bus more than 300 yards. Without turning around I counted parts of seven bodies.
Girls and boys were moaning and crying and the driver was sobbing.
I didn't feel any impact when we hit the bus, although I sensed something was wrong. I knew we still were a mile south of Mason City and we were grinding to a stop. I happened to be looking out the window and was amazed to see the wheel of a car flying by. I realized then that we must have hit a car.
I hurried out as quickly as I could. The sight of the hurt and dead was revolting. I saw one boy whose body was clipped right in half. There was a miscellaneous assortment of legs and arms strewn along the railroad right of way.
The women and girls on the train were sobbing and waving their arms helplessly. I walked over to the driver but I could see he was dying. (Rex SIMPSON, the driver of the bus, died on his way to a hospital.)
One of the trainmen hurried over to a house to call the hospital and some ambulances. Our train was held up for an hour and seven minutes. It was an hour and 15 minutes late when it pulled into Minneapolis.
I hope I never have to experience anything like that again.
NOTE: As a consequence of this train-school bus wreck, school buses are mandatorily required to stop at all railroad crossings before proceeding on.
Transcriptions and note by Sharon R. Becker April of 2011
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