The Great Aspinwall Train Wreck of 1944
Two Engines Collide
A collision involving two engines occurred May 30, 1944, with the screeching sounds of the wheels heard as far as Manning. The accident was caused when a west bound freight train ran through an open switch and crashed into an engine loading livestock on the siding. The approaching freight had been signaled but it was coming too fast and was carrying too great a load to stop.
The accident happened at 8 a.m. on Decoration Day. Louie Ehrichs was pumping water for his cow and saw the collision; the westbound train "went right down into the stockyards and hit the other engine, knocking it over," his widow Clara recalls. The second engine was backing to connect with the loaded stock cars, and therefore only its engine was involved; 17 cars on the other train were derailed. Five carloads of coal were piled into one huge heap, and a carload of syrup was smashed and dripping. The caboose was also badly damaged.
Louie and Clara Ehrichs ran down the hill to the tracks and crawled under a railroad car to the other side. Both engines were tilted to the side, puffing away. The east-bound engine, said to be the largest owned by the Milwaukee, had its rear end sunk deep into the ground and the rails were scattered in all directions.
The big engine reminded Clarence Stammer of an old sow stuck in a mud hole: the engine kept chugging as the rear dug lower and lower into the ground. A special train was sent from Milwaukee to help pull the engine free; it took six men to carry the 20 to 24 foot long cable which was used to reel the engine upright.
Someone finally came and shut off the power of the engine. Only three men had been injured, one when he jumped from the engine into a barbed wire fence. Another had apparently seen the approaching danger and jumped out at the section house.
Lucille Lamp Boell, her father Hubert, and sisters had just finished milking and were ready to go into the house for breakfast when they heard the terrible crash at their farm a mile north of town. The hung the milk pails on nails and immediately drove to Aspinwall.
The engineer was sitting on the ground by the wreck. "He was holding one hand with his other hand, still wearing his leather gloves," Lucille said. "His wrist was broken and bones extended from his arm."
The three injured men were from Perry and were taken by ambulance there.
Goldie and John Meeves, who lived northeast of the underpass, also heard the collision and came to see if they could help. "One car lay to the right of the tracks, the next to the left," Goldie said. "The engines were wedged in next to the elevator, and it's a wonder no buildings were hit."
The main line was not damaged, as the crash occurred entirely on the side track. Wrecking crews began to clear up the next day, and for the most part of the next week, most of the people around Aspinwall forgot their work at home as the watched the clean-up crews. A number of local men helped out, including Henry Jansen, who furnished a team of mules.
This account of a train wreck involving two trains in Aspinwall on May 30, 1944, was submitted by Holly Ehlers