Mackinaw, IL Train Wreck, Nov 1903

Thirty-One Men Killed

Accident on Big Four Wipes Out Gang of Workmen.

Only Four of the Crew Escape Alive, and of Those Twp are Seriously Injured In Collision.

Peoria, Ill., Nov. 19.-Thirty-one men were killed and at least fifteen injured in a head-on collision between a freight train and a work train on the Big Four Railroad between Mackinaw and Tremont this afternoon. Bodies of twenty-six of the victims have been taken from the wreck, which is piled thirty feet high on the tracks. Five bodies yet remain buried under the debris.

So far twelve of the victims only have been identified, the other bodies being unrecognizable even by those who knew them and are aware of the fact that they are among the dead.

All of the dead and most of the injured were members of the gang on the work train, the crews of both engines jumping in time to save their lives. The collision occurred in a deep cut at the beginning of a sharp curve, neither train being visible to the crew of the other until they were within fifty feet of each other. The engineers set the brakes, sounded the whistles and leaped from their cabs, the two trains striking with such force that the sound was heard for miles.

The boiler of the work train exploded, throwing heavy iron bars 200 feet. Conductor JOHN W. JUDGE, of Indianapolis, who had charge of the freight train, received orders at Urbana to wait at Mackinaw for the work train, which was due there at 2:40 P.M., but failed to stop. The engineer of the work train, GEORGE BECKER, had also received orders to pass the freight at Mackinaw, and was on the way to that station.

The collision was witnessed by RUSSELL NOONAN, a farmer’s boy, fourteen years of age, who telephoned to Tremont.

A special train with four physicians was made up in a few minutes, and in less than half an hour was on the scene. At the same time another train arrived from Pekin, bearing Superintendent C.H. BARNARD of the Big Four and three physicians.

One of the last bodies recovered was that of WILLIAM BAILEY of Mackinaw, who had been lifted thirty feet into the air and held in place by two steel rails which had been pushed up between the engine and the tender of the work train.

The workmen had been engaged in laying steel rails at different points along the track, and three of the freight cars were heavily loaded.

The injured were taken to the cabooses of the relief trains, where temporary hospitals were improvised and their wounds taken care of. One caboose was taken to Morton and the other to Tremont. The dead will lie beside the road all night, or until the arrival of the Coroner of Tazewell County in the morning.

Out of thirty-five men who constituted the crew of the work train, only four are living, and two of these are seriously injured.

The New York Times, New York, NY 20 Nov 1903

--------

Thirty One Perish In Railroad Wreck.

Freight and Work Train Collide on the Big Four.

Out of Crew of Thirty Five on Latter Only Four are Alive.

Crash of the Collision is Heard For Miles.

Accident Due to Conductor Disregarding Orders to Wait at Station. Throng of Women and Children Around the Debris.

Peoria, Ill., Nov. 19.- Thirty-one men were killed and at least fifteen injured in a rear end collision between a west bound freight train and a work train on the Big Four Railroad, between Mackinaw and Tremont, at 2:15 o’clock this afternoon. Up to the present time the bodies of twenty-six victims of the wreck have been taken from the mass of debris, which is piled thirty feet high on the tracks, while five yet remain buried under a huge pile of broken timber, twisted and distorted iron and steel. So far only eleven of the victims have been identified, the remaining being unrecognizable.

All the dead and most of the injured were members of the work train, the crews on both engines jumping in time to save their lives. The collision occurred in a deep cut at the beginning of a sharp curve, neither train being visible to the other crew until they were within fifty feet. The two trains struck with such force that the sound was heard for miles around.

Boiler of Work Train Exploded.

A second after the collision, the boiler of the work train exploded with terrific force, throwing heavy iron bars and splinters of wood a distance of 200 feet. The following is a list of the dead who have been identified:
ROBERT KING, aged 43, Tremont, leaves a widow and three children.
THOMAS TROY, 50, Tremont, single.
WILLIAM EADS, 30 years, Tremont, leaves a widow and three children.
CHARLES E. MEYERS, 50, Bloomington, leaves a widow and five children.
GEORGE SMITH, 50, Bloomington, leaves a widow and three children.
GEORGE HARMON, 38, Bloomington, leaves a widow and four children.
JOHN DORAN, 33, Bloomington, single.
JOHN SMITH, 30, Bloomington, single.
FRED BACHMAN, 60, of Danvers, single.
JOHN SHAW, 23, Mackinaw, single.
STEVEN CUTLER, 28, Mackinaw, single.
Twenty unidentified bodies mangle beyond recognition.

Conductor JOHN M.W. JUDD, of Indianapolis, who had charge of the freight train, received orders at Urbana to wait at Mackinaw for the work train, which was due there at 2:40 p.m. Instead of doing this he failed to stop. The engineer of the work train, GEORGE BECKER, had also received orders to pass the freight at Mackinaw, and was on the way to that station. The work train was perhaps five minutes late and was running at full speed to make up the time.

Thrown Thirty Feet Into the Air.

The collision was witnessed by RUSSELL NOONAN, a farmer boy, 14 years old, who hastened to a nearby house and telephoned to Tremont.

One of the last bodies recovered was that of WILLIAM BAILEY of Mackinaw, who had been thrown thirty feet into the air and held in place by two steel rails which had been pushed up between the engine and the tender of the work train.

The workmen had been engaged in laying rails at different points along the tracks. Brakeman, J.N. HYER, of the work train was thrown seventy-five feet from the track and sustained a broken leg.

The injured were taken to the two cabooses of the wrecked trains where temporary improvised in which to remove them.

The dead men are residents of neighboring towns and the scenes about the wreck this evening were beyond description. Wives and children of the men who were missing thronged around peering at the unrecognizable forms removed form the debris. Out of thirty-five who constituted the crew of the work train, only four are living, and two of these are seriously injured.

The Daily Express, San Antonio, TX 20 Nov 1903

--------

Held Responsible for the Wreck.

Bloomington, Ill., Nov. 28.- Deputy Sheriff Molga of Tazewell county this afternoon placed under arrest at Urbana Engineer GEORGE BECKER of the Bid Four Railroad work train which was wrecked near Tremont and which accident resulted in the death of sixteen workmen. Conductor HASTINGS, who had been arrested at Indianapolis by Sheriff Clay, was lodged in jail with BECKER at Pekin. Both will be given a preliminary hearing today.
1Sunday World-Herald, Omaha, NE 29 Nov 1903