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Troop Train Wreck: - A Home Front Tragedy

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National Guard units across the United States were federalized during the weeks and months immediately after war broke out on the Korean peninsula. World War II veterans found themselves on the way to yet another distant battlefront, and guardsmen with little or no combat training were assigned to military bases near and far from their homes for accelerated courses in warfare. Wives and children, mothers and fathers, and family friends gathered on hometown streets for tearful farewells to the townsmen who were so abruptly and unexpectedly called to active duty because of the new war now raging in the Far East. Destined for Germany once their training was complete, no one was sure when they would be with their loved ones again. But at least they would be safe at the training camp and in Germany. At least they would not be casualties of the war in Korea.

In the communities of Carbondale, Honesdale, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, no one watching train "PX5444 West" chug down the tracks could predict the great tragedy that awaited the guardsmen of the 28th Division just one state away and less than one day after they pulled out of the Wilkes-Barre train station en route to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Although the guardsmen did not serve in Korea, many of the soldier passengers on PX5444 West nevertheless became Korean War casualty statistics when the troop train they were riding in was struck by the Spirit of St. Louis in the early morning hours of September 11, 1950.

LIFE Magazine article

The wreck of the Pennsylvania National Guard troop train was recorded in LIFE magazine in 1950. Each week, the nationally-distributed magazine brought its readers the latest news about happenings on the home front and in the Far East. The wreck of PX54444 West was no exception. The story appeared on LIFE magazine pages 42-43 of Issue No. 13, September 25, 1950. It was entitled, "Farewell and Return."

The Keystone

"The Tragedy of PX5444 West"
by Richard C. Jacobs and David Apple

The Keystone (Official Publication of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society)

Vol. 21, No. 3, Autumn 1988

Panoramic view from the north side of the tracks looking towards the west. Part of the side sheets of P70 #1870 can be seen in the pile of wreckage. Engine #5576A has already been pulled a short distance to the east. (PRR photograph; collection of Charles Horan)
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It was well into the second week of September, 1950. The torrid heat of August was waning into the more bearable days of early autumn. It was a time when children gave up the joys of summer to begin another nine months of school studies and homework. The "Whiz Kids" of Philadelphia, led by Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn, were about to capture the National League crown. It was also a time when United States military men and women were embroiled in a war thousands of miles away in a small country called Korea.

Among the many units called up to active duty was the 28th Infantry Guard Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the famed "Keystone Division." This Division was to be transported to Camp Atterbury, Indiana for additional training before shipping out to West Germany. The movement was going to require several trains. One of these trains, with Lt. Col. Frank Townend in command, departed Carbondale, Pennsylvania, via the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 10th, with 429 troops of the 109th Infantry Regiment riding in ten coaches, one X29 express car, and one USA kitchen car. Upon arrival at Wilkes-Barre, another X29 express car and a second USA kitchen car were added to the train, along with six coaches containing 226 troops of the 109th Infantry Artillery Battalion. Battery "B" was in the last two coaches of the train.

To the U.S. Military, this train was identified as MAIN 4063 (Carbondale) and MAIN 4064 (Wilkes-Barre). To the Pennsylvania Railroad it was known as Pennsylvania National Guard train No. 4.

Leaving Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at 4:30 p.m., they began the long overnight trip across Pennsylvania and Ohio into southeastern Indiana, and would be arriving at camp about 1:30 p.m. the following afternoon.

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The troop train departed Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at 1:40 a.m., September 11, with a fresh crew and engines. The consist was as follows: K4s #5444, T1 #5526, two X29 express cars, five coaches, one kitchen car, five coaches, one kitchen car and six coaches—a total of 20 cars. To the Panhandle Division dispatchers and operators, this train would be known as PX5444 WEST.

W.G. Lancaster of Pittsburgh, flagman on the troop train, was riding in the last car when he began to hear something dragging on the roadbed from either the west end of his car or the east end of the 19th car. Using the signal cord he attempted to signal the engineman, Peter Longstreth of Oaksdale, Pennsylvania, to stop the train. However, a valve broke, and he had to use the conductor’s valve to set the brakes. With the train stooped about 2 miles east of Dennison, Ohio, it was found that the steam line between the 19th and 20th cars had dropped and was dragging along the roadbed. While brakeman W. W. Jones of Columbus and conductor E. D. Doak of Carnegie, Pennsylvania made repairs to the steam line, flagman Lancaster protected the rear of his train. With repairs completed, the troop train proceeded on into Dennison, Ohio, where both engines took water from a standpipe at the depot. While taking water, another following passenger train acknowledged the stop signals given by flagman Lancaster and eased to a stop. Brakeman Jones and conductor Doak, with the assistance of two special duty enginemen, again worked to secure the steam line.

With their locomotive cisterns filled, PX5444 WEST left Dennison, Ohio, passing "Urich" tower (M.P. 91.6) at Urichsville at 4:13 a.m., and "Newcomerstown" (M.P. 107.9) at 4:28 a.m. Approaching Shurtz’s crossing (a private farm lane on the Shurtz farm on the east side of West Lafayette, Ohio) the brakes suddenly went into emergency and the train came to a stop at 4:38 a.m., with the east end of the rear coach 185 feet west of signal 1149. Before the train had reached a stop, flagman Lancaster dropped off a lit five-minute fusee between the rails. Upon a full stop, he got off the rear and proceeded east with his flagging equipment.

After placing two torpedoes, he continued east with lighted red and white lanterns and additional fusees. Behind the train, the Panhandle Division was built up on a long fill, about ten to twelve feet above field level. To the east, the track was tangent a distance of 1.54 miles, entered a 30 degree curve to the left for 1.456 feet, then was tangent another 4.19 miles.

When flagman Lancaster was about 400 feet to the rear of his train, he observed the headlight of an approaching train about three to four miles distant. He turned and looked at signal 1149, noted it was "dark," indicating the oncoming train had not yet passed signal 1129, which should display "approach" (rule 285). (Signals are approach lighted.) At this point, he stood in the middle of the westbound track and began giving "stop" signals with his red lantern. When the approaching train was about 2,000 feet east of him, he lit a five-minute fusee and began waving it. Getting no acknowledging whistle signal from the rapidly approaching diesels, he yelled a warning to the crewmen on the ground near the rear of his train. He then jumped to the side of the track and hurled the burning fusee at the windshield of the diesel just before it barreled past him. Turning around, he noted that signal 1149 indicated "stop" (rule 291).

Douglas C. Hasbrouck, a junior engineer-track in the M-of-W Department, assigned to Coshocton, Ohio, was on board PX5444 WEST, acting in the capacity of passenger Representative. Mr. Hasbrouck was riding a coach about the middle of the train when the brakes went into emergency. Just getting out of his seat, he met Lt. Col. Townend and together they walked to the rear of the train for an explanation. They got off about four to five cars from the rear of the train with brakeman Jones and conductor Doak, noting that flagman Lancaster was already walking eastward. They also noted an approaching headlight about three or four miles distant.

Panoramic view looking southeast from track level. At the extreme right is the Shurtz farm. (PRR photograph; collection of Charles Horan)
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The problem was the steam line again. This time it must have hit the roadbed, bounced up, struck the air line and caused a separation, with the brakes going into emergency. Mr. Hasbrouck continued, "There was no way that I could tell how fast the train was coming or how close it was. I assumed it was inching up behind us at about 15 mph, prepared to stop. The flagman was well back from our last car; he was waving his lantern and I’m sure he had the impression that there was no danger. The flagman was the first to realize that the train coming up was going a lot faster than 15 mph, and was not prepared to stop. When the closing distance reduced to between 1,000 feet and a quarter of a mile, he started yelling. We had time to run and jump down the embankment and go over a fence, tearing the pants’ legs off of my suit in the process. The passenger train came through the darkness like a silent, unstoppable monster."

After one unnecessary stop, engineman John Shustick of Columbus was looking forward to a fast non-stop trip home. Approaching West Lafayette, his engine, T1 #5526, was running very well and he had not had any trouble with the front drivers slipping. They were running along at about 70 mph when the air pressure went out of the train line. Grinding to a stop, the fireman on K4s #5444 hit the ground with lanterns and fuses to provide flag protection on the eastbound train, as train No. 32, "THE ST. LOUISAN" was due shortly. Engineman Shustick, along with a special duty engineman, climbed down off the big engine and started walking eastward alongside their train looking for the problem. They could see the headlight of the following train and realized it was approaching the rear of their train far too fast. The headlight vanished with the sound of a tremendous crash. Visibility was only slightly obscured at the time, account of light patchy fog.

On the Panhandle side of Pennsylvania Station in Pittsburgh sat the Pennsy’s "crack flyers," No. 31 the "SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS", poised for departure. With 240 passengers aboard, the train consisted of one mail storage car, one R.P.O. car, one baggage car, four Pullmans, a twin-unit diner set; two Pullmans, five coaches and one lounge-observation car. The engines assigned at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were #5774A and #5776A, a pair of big Baldwin class BP 20 diesels.

At 2:08 a.m. the engineman notched the throttle back and the BP20 set burbled west through #1 tunnel, 29 minutes late, and 28 minutes behind the troop train. (Note: The engine crew of No. 31 and their families suffered plenty of emotional grief on account of a mistake, therefore this crew remains unidentified.)

I will mention that the engineman entered the service of the PRR in May, 1902, as a fireman and was promoted to engineman in 1913. This train was his regular turn westbound. He was known as a "slick runner," and often boasted at the Spruce Street Enginehouse in Columbus, Ohio, about how he could make up lost time. The fireman had been with the PRR for over 30 years, and had been firing and running on the Panhandle Division since 1939. He had worked with this engineman many times and thought he was a good one. Though late, everything went well with No. 31 until they reached Mingo Junction, Ohio. At that point, the operator at "Mingo Junction" tower advised them by trainphone that they would be going through the siding at Broadacre, Ohio because of a stalled freight train. The entrance to this siding was "WU," controlled by the operator at "Acre" tower (M.P. 57.4). Coming back out onto the main, the engineman checked his watch and found he had lost another minute: they were now 30 minutes down.

East of Dennison, Ohio, No. 31 received an "approach" indication (rule 285), followed by a "stop and proceed" (rule 291) in the next block. He was flagged by flagman Lancaster of the troop train, which the engineman acknowledged with two short blasts of the air horn (rules 14G:29), bringing his train to a stop near Jewett St. At this point, the fireman got on the trainphone to "Urich" tower and inquired as to what train was ahead of them.

Shortly the preceding train departed. When the wayside and cab signals flipped to "approach" indication, the engineman eased the throttle out enough to run the train at about medium speed through Dennison and allow the troop train to get well ahead of them. The engineman then picked up "clear" signals (rule 281) for the next 20 miles.

Dan "Danny" Clark was holding down the third trick dispatcher’s desk for District "C" ("Acre" to Newark, Ohio) of the Panhandle Division. Dispatcher Clark always felt that any train that got into trouble out on the railroad once would get into trouble again. Therefore, he decided it might be best to run PX5444 WEST into the siding at "Isleta", four miles east of West Lafayette, and allow trains Nos. 31 and 41 to run around it. His chief dispatcher overruled him. PX5444 WEST continued on.

Passing "Newcomerstown" tower at 4:35 a.m., 40 minutes late, the speed was reduced from 76 mph to 54 mph to comply with speed restrictions. Signal 1129 displayed an "approach" indication, as did the cab signals. This signal, as well as all others, was called by the fireman, and acknowledged by the engineman. He silenced the cab signal warning whistle with the foot pedal and made a service brake application, reducing the train speed from6 7 mph to about 50 mph. Upon releasing the brakes, the speed picked up to 70 mph on the descending grade. (Note: The grade for westbound trains was gradually descending from M.P. 83, site of former tunnel #10, to just west of M.P. 114, about one-half mile east of the accident site). The engineman initiated a service brake application when he observed flagman Lancaster, who was about 400-500 feet from the rear of his train. Both the engineman and fireman suddenly saw the rear of the stopped train, and without releasing the service brake application, the engineman put the train brakes into emergency.

Map drawn by Andrew J Hart
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Vic Crouso, an operator the Pennsy at "Custer" tower in Jewett, Ohio, was en route to work and was traveling east on U.S. Rt. 36 (now Ohio Route 751), which runs east from West Lafayette, and was about 100 yards south of the tracks. Passing Shurtz’s farm he looked over to the railroad, noticed a stopped passenger train, and saw that the markers on the last car were lit. He also noticed a diesel-powered passenger train just a few car lengths from the rear of the stopped train and rapidly closing. Operator Crouso naturally assumed the speeding train was being run against the current of traffic, around the stopped train. It was a little cool that morning, the windows were rolled up, the car radio was turned up, he was on his way to work, and he turned his attention back to the road. He was 21 that day and had other things on his mind.

Operator Jack Hall at "Morgan Run" tower was awaiting PX5444 WEST. Presently he contacted dispatcher Clark and advised that he could see the headlight in the distance, and the train appeared to be stopped about West Lafayette.

About a minute later he was back on the dispatcher’s line, reporting that the circuit had gone down on #2 track.

The tape from the speed recorder on engine #5774A fixed the speed at 48 mph at the moment of impact. The time was 4:42 a.m.

That Monday morning, Matilda J. Porteus and her husband were still in bed, but awake. They lived in a valley about three miles south of the railroad, and when conditions were right they could hear the trains as if they were in their yard. That morning their window to the north was open, and the conditions were right. Mrs. Porteus related, "We heard the diesel train. then a thud, grating of metal, and other unusual noises, and realized something terrible had happened."

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Junior engineer-track, Douglas Hasbrouck continued, "I will never forget the tremendous crash as the two-unit diesel hit the back of our train. After the crash, there was an eerie silence broken by moans. I ran up to the head end of our train to make sure we got a phone call out, then waited for the ambulances."

The brakeman of No. 31, John Brangman of Columbus, jumped off of his train near flagman Lancaster, "We evidently hit something up there." "You sure did fella, you hit a troop train!" replied Lancaster.

The impact was severe. The 20h and last car, P70 #3131, was hurled up into the air, coming to rest on its right side with the east end (impact end) of the car on top of the east end of the 18th car, P70 #3130. The west end came to rest in a field on the south side of the track. The car was about at a right angle to the track. The center sills of this car, built of 18 inch ship channels with top and bottom cover plates, were broken as a direct result of the impact. The 18th car, P70 #3130, was derailed on its east end, and the superstructure on the same end was crushed for approximately 20 feet. Apparently, the underframe of engine #5774A was deflected upward and struck the 19th car, P70 #1870, above floor level and sheared the super-structure off as the engine drove through the car. Except for the centersill and a portion of a side sheet, there was nothing left of this car: even the trucks were destroyed. This car had received class repairs in August of 1943, at which time the vertical collision posts were reinforced.

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The lead engine, #577a4A, eventually swerved to the right and came to a stop on its left side at a right angle to the track, the front of the engine was in a field to the north. The rear of the roof area was up against the 18th and 20th cars. The front truck and fuel tank were torn from the underside, with both trucks being badly damaged. A portion of the underframe was broken out ahead of the front center plate, and the rear coupler was broken. The superstructure was badly damaged ahead of the cab, along the left side and at the rear or east end. Engine #5774A was derailed slightly to the south, but remained upright with its rear, or west end, up against the underside of #5774A. The underframe on the west end was broken, and the superstructure damaged. The first, second and third cars of No. 31 were derailed, but not seriously damaged.

The consist of PX5444 WEST sustained damage at several points through the train. The 17th through 13th cars were only very slightly damaged. The 12th car, P70 #1512, received damage to the vestibule end sheets, doors, and steps on the west end. The coupler carry iron on the west end was broken and the coupler dropped to the roadbed. The west truck was derailed. The coupler carry iron was down on the east end of the 11th car, P70 #1210. The 10th through 4th cars had very slight damage. The 3rd car, P70 #892, had bent vestibule end sheets and doors on the west end. Both ends of the second and first cars, X20 box express #100468 and X29 box express #53957, were bent inward and the inside linings were loosened. The west end of the first car mounted the end sill of the tank of T1 #5526 with the coupler passing through the end sheet.

Looking west from the south side of the tracks, P70 #3131 is down over the embankment. (Coshocton Tribune photo; Shurtz family collection)
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Engineman Shustick and the special duty man hurried down the embankment to the overturned #5774A. There they helped the crewmen out through the windshield of their engine. He then returned to his engine where he found the tank punctured. His fireman had already started dropping the fire.

Engineman Pete Longstreth of the #5444, realizing there had been a wreck, hurried to a nearby wayside telephone and contacted Operator Jack Hall at "Morgan Run" tower.

Within a few minutes, telephones and alarms began to ring all over West Lafayette (pop. 1,106) and Coshocton County as Mrs. Shurtz began placing calls. They knew there were going to be many dead and injured. Ambulances were needed, doctors, nurses, oxyacetylene tanks with cutting torches and men to wield them, blankets, bandages and cots. The carnage was terrible.

Mike McCafferty, the conductor on No. 31, got on a wayside telephone and called the District "C" dispatcher’s Desk in Pittsburgh. "We’re in one hell’uva wreck," he said. "We hit the rear end of a troop train, and there must be at least a hundred killed."

A large tent set up for first-aid is seen beyond the wreckage of P70 #1870 (LIFE photograph; collection of Coshocton Fire Department)
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At the time of the accident, fog was light and patchy. Before the rescue forces began arriving, one of those famous Tuscarawas valley fogs settled in, and it was getting ticker by the minute.

Ambulances responded from West Lafayette, Coshocton, Dover, Newscomerstown and Urichsville. Harold Howell, driving a Packard ambulance from the Bonnell Funeral Home, was the first o arrive at the scene. The lane at Shurtz’s farm was the only access road to the wreck site, and it was only one lane wide. When Mr. Howell turned into Shurtz’s lane, he stated, "The fog was so thick I could hardly see the wings on the hood ornament." He further related that while racing his first load of injured to Coshocton Memorial Hospital, he was roaring down (old) US Route 36 with red lights and siren on when his left door handles "clipped" the door handle of an Ohio Highway Patrol car en route to the wreck. He too had his lights and siren on and neither saw the other except at the moment of passing.

Tom Lear of West Lafayette recalls his father, a physician, receiving a call for help about 5:00 a.m. as did Dr. David E. Brown, Jr. These were just two of the many local doctors who responded.

Looking to the south is the Shurtz farm. The trucks in the foreground are a PRR M-of-W late-1940s International Harvester and a West Lafayette fire truck. (LIFE photograph; collection of Coshocton Fire Department
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Several of the women in West Lafayette rushed to the scene to take on the duties of nurses, while others provided large pots of coffee and tried to comfort the soldiers.

One of the men who responded was the husband of Matilda Porteus. Upon hearing the crash through their open bedroom window, he jumped out of bed and shortly received a call to come and help. He spent most of the day at the wreck, working with a torch crew. For him it was a very traumatic experience; he returned home violently ill. Several of the rescue workers were combat veterans of World War II, but they had a very hard time with this.

Initially, bodies of the dead were laid in the field south of the tracks, and covered with blankets. The death toll was going to be high. Many of the bodies were mangled, mutilated and decapitated. Richard Bonnell, a West Lafayette mortician, quickly contacted Jack and Ruth Philips, owners of West Lafayette Transfer Co., and requested the use of their Quonset hut warehouse to set up a morgue. It was located on Railroad Street, across from the wood frame PRR depot.

Seventeen of the injured were later taken from Coshocton Memorial Hospital to an airfield at Zanesville and flown by C-47 transport to the hospital at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

Upon receiving word from the head end of PX#5444 WEST, the PRR sprang into action. Truckloads of men and equipment began to arrive in force shortly after daybreak. The wreck train from Dennison arrived at 8:28 a.m., the Columbus wreck train at 9:15 a.m., Steubenville wreck train at 9:40 a.m. The wreck train from Scully Yard was reported "by" Burgettstown, Pennsylvania at 7::32 a.m. The Dennison wrecker had No. 31’s baggage car re-railed at 8:45 a.m. and the R.P.O. car five minutes later. Prior to the arrival of the Dennison wrecker, No. 41, the "Cincinnati Ltd." Was brought up and coupled to No. 31’s cars and pulled them back to Newcomerstown.

Leroy Shivers, a PRR track welder, had left Dennison around 6:00 a.m. with his helper and was en route to Cadiz, Ohio to work on some yard tracks. Shortly they were flagged down and told to report to the wreck site. They arrived around 7:00 a.m. His helper unloaded the tools, took one look at the carnage, jumped into the truck, drove back to Dennison, parked the truck and was never seen again. Around 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, Leroy was cutting away the side sheets of P70 #3130 and discovered a body buried under some seats. Later, the last three bodies were found when wreckers lifted the rear of #5774A. they had been crushed under the left side of the engine.

Surprisingly, the roadbed was in pretty good shape. The track gangs, using jacks and bars, realigned both main tracks, and replaced one broken rail. Track #1 was in service for scheduled speed at 7:16 p.m. and Track #2 at 8:30 p.m.

Bob Spitler, an operator assigned to "Morgan Run" tower (M.P. 118), was off duty at the time, however he was rushed to the scene and pressed into service. Using a field telephone attacked to the lineside wires, he issued the train orders to get the wreck trains and relief trains to the site. He then spent the day handling messages, rounding up the engine and train crews involved so that Panhandle Division officials in Pittsburgh could get preliminary reports.

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Operator Vic Crouso, upon arriving at "Custer" tower, learned of the wreck he had nearly witnessed. With no trains to run that day, Crouso spent his time listening in on operator Spitler’s traffic. At one point the engineman from No. 31 was on the wire and admitted to the division superintendent that it was all his fault. He thought that the troop train was going into the siding at "Morgan Run," and that by the time he reached the siding the troop train would be in the clear, with the switch lined and locked for him.

The accident brought traffic on the Panhandle Division to a halt, forcing several detours. Eastbound train No. 32, "the ‘St. Louisan,’" due by West Lafayette at about 5:05 a.m., was stopped at "Morgan Run" tower and held at that point. At 6:35 a.m. the coaches from this train were taken by the engine up to the accident scene to be used as a relief train. The engine then returned to the rest of the train. The shortened consist of No. 32 then left "Morgan Run" at 9:25 a.m. via the Wheeling and Lake Erie RR to Canton, Ohio then the Eastern Division to Pittsburgh. Also eastbound behind No. 32 was No. 26. The schedule for this train was annulled and the train held for use as a second relief train. Trains Nos. 6 and 12 were routed over the Baltimore and Ohio RR from Newark, Ohio to Wheeling, West Virginia, then the PRR Wheeling Branch to Weirton Junction. After No. 41, the "Cincinnati Ltd.," pulled the remaining 14 cars of No. 31 back to Newcomerstown, No. 41 departed north over the PRR’s Marietta Branch to Dover and the Baltimore and Ohio RR to "M&C Junction" on the Eastern Division, then west to Orrville finally down the Akron Branch to Columbus, arriving eight hours, 19 minutes late. Following No. 41 on the same route, No. 31 left 15 minutes later at 8:50 a.m. with an 11sa on the point. However, this train continued west on the Eastern Division to Crestline, then over the New York Central to Columbus, arriving nine hours, 58 minutes late. Train No. 31, the "Indianapolis Ltd.," operated from Mingo Junction via the River and Bayard Branches to Louisville, Ohio, Eastern Division to Crestline, then over the New York Central to Columbus, arriving nine hours 58 minutes late. Train No. 21, the "Indianapolis Ltd.," operated from Mingo Junction via the River and Bayard Branches to Louisville, Ohio, Eastern Division to Orrville, then the Akron Branch to Columbus, being five hours, eight minutes late. Following this same route as far as Orrville were No. 3, "The Penn Texas" and No. 67, "The American"; from Orrville they continued on to Crestline, then over the NYC to Columbus. They too were late, No. 67 five hours, ten minutes; and No. 3 five hours, 51 minutes. Operating from Pittsburgh to Crestline over the Eastern Division, then the NYC to Columbus where another mainline train, a Baptist Special running as 2nd No. 3 and trains No. 11 and 205, combined.

Operating later in the day via their regular route were trains No. 13 and 27 westbound, and Nos. 204, 66 and 4, eastbound, all with delays of up to two hours, 45 minutes. K4s #5444 was used as the engine for the relief train, leaving "Morgan Run" at 3:10 p.m. for Ft. Hayes U.S. Army base in Columbus. On board were 398 soldiers off of the troop train. The coaches from annulled No. 26 were not needed, and were sent on to Pittsburgh that evening. T1 #5526 was hauled dead to Columbus for repairs. The remains of PX5444 WEST were taken to a siding in Coshocton after being re-railed.

Said Engineman Shustick, "I couldn’t believe this could have happened, and I couldn’t sit down—I just walked the ground for about eight hours."

Several of the troops from the train were used to secure the area, being relieved by a Military Police unit from Ft. Hayes. The 27th Recon Company of the Ohio National Guard at Coshocton provided cots and plenty of food at their Armory. Another unit provided a large tent and cots for a first-aid station at the scene.

Through the morning hours, small groups of soldiers from the train gathered in clusters in the fields adjoining the tracks, or just stretched out. Some went to nearby homes to place telephone calls back home to let their folks know that they were safe. Three soldiers went to the home of Waive and Ruth Ripple to place their calls and, while there, were served hot rolls and coffee. During the early afternoon, Mrs. Jane Shaw rode her horse through some back fields to the scene. There, one of the soldiers approached her and asked her if he could ride the horse. After about ten minutes he dismounted, thanked her, and walked off to a group. She recalled that he seemed so despondent.

The American Red Cross units from Coshocton and Columbus dispatched supplies and food, but more importantly, they sent blood and plasma. The Columbus unit also sent their canteen truck.

Radio stations WTNS in Coshocton through a radio-telephone hook-up to a radio station in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, broadcast live news and interviews to the Wilkes-Barre area. Soldiers were encouraged to send messages to their families and loved ones back home.

‘Throughout the day the vehicle traffic in West Lafayette was almost choking, but was kept moving through the efforts of the local police, the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Department and the Ohio Highway Patrol. Even the local Boy Scouts of America troop assisted.

The Columbus wrecker on the right and the Dennison wrecker on the left are at work. One of the trucks from P70 #1870 can be seen in the center of the photograph. (PRR collection; collection of Charles Horan)
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Commercial establishments in town donated whatever was needed. The Women’s Auxiliary of American Legion Post 46 prepared rolls, coffee and sandwiches to the rescue workers, PRR employees, military men and law enforcement officers, all donated by local grocers and restaurants.

All through the day, morticians from throughout Coshocton County worked to identify the bodies and get severed arms and legs to the corresponding torsos. Later in the day, a U.S. Army pathologist was flown in from Washington, D. C. along with medical records. There was also the embalming process and getting the remains ready for shipment back to Wilkes-Barre. Everyone working in the West Lafayette Transfer Co. warehouse had to wear a mask, as the stench was terrible. For many of the people involved, they had never seen so much violent death at one time. The U.S. Army relegated the procurement of caskets to the local morticians. They had to meet certain specifications such as: same manufacture, same style, same grade, and be gray in color. It was no small task to locate a large number of identical caskets on such short notice and get them picked up or delivered to the warehouse. They scoured every funeral home and distributor in east central Ohio, but they found them.

The toll was high. Thirty-three Pennsylvania National Guardsmen lost their lives. On the evening of Saturday, September 9, 1950, the eve of departure, the men of Battery "B" of the 109th Field Artillery Battalion had held a farewell dinner at O’Connell’s Kingston House in Kingston, Pennsylvania. It was their last joyous gathering. Battery "B," 109th F.A. Battalion, which lost only one man in all of World War II, lost 21 in a matter of a few seconds in this accident. In addition, 258 passengers, including some on No. 31, were injured, plus three R.P.P. Clerks, five Pullman Co. employees and 12 train/engine service employees of the PRR. The engineman and fireman on the "Spirit of St. Louis" were treated only for shock, cuts, bruises and sprains; Baldwin Locomotive Works "built ‘em good."

On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 13, 1950, a special passenger extra east departed out of Columbus hauled by two diesel locomotives. The consist in this order was: three B60 baggage cars; one P70 coach; two Pullman sleeping cars, and bringing up the rear was class Z74D business car #7510, "Pittsburgher."

Upon arrival at Coshocton, the last three cars were dropped, while the rest of the train continued the additional seven miles to West Lafayette, Ohio. The train was backed into the depot siding across Railroad Street from the West Lafayette Transfer Co. warehouse.

(Click picture for a larger view)

Approximately ten minutes later, the doors of the Quonset hut warehouse were opened. Inside could be seen the rows of gray caskets, most of which had already been crated. On barely audible orders from their captain, a detail of eight Ohio National Guardsmen snapped to attention and marched inside. The first crated casket was lifted, placed on a handcart and pushed about 100 feet to the farthest B60 baggage car. The eight Guardsmen then lifted the casket up and into the car. They then marched smartly back into the warehouse. This was repeated until all 33 were aboard, eleven crated caskets to a car.

The train then pulled out on the main and returned to Coshocton for the remainder of its consist.

Thirty-three men of the 109th Field Artillery Battalion had been brought back from Camp Atterbury, Indiana to serve as escorts for their fellow soldiers. These men were loaded aboard the two Pullman cars.

J. A. Appleton, PRR vice-president—Central Region, was aboard his business car "Pittsburgher." With him were Major George L. Ford from Fort Hayes at Columbus, representing the Ohio Military District; Colonel J. Floyd Kuhns, Deputy Adjutant General, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, and from Pennsylvania State Police headquarters in Harrisburg was Captain Emmett Donovan. The required trainmen rode in the P70 coach.

The funeral train departed east from Coshocton at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, September 14, 1950 for Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The enginemen assigned at each division point were under orders not to exceed 40 mph. All passenger and freight traffic was to be halted in advance of the funeral train. There were to be no delays.

As the funeral train entered Pennsylvania Station in Pittsburgh shortly after 4:00 a.m., it was met by top officials of the Western Pennsylvania Military Sub-district. A contingent of 200 from Headquarters and two Companies from the 218th Anti-Aircraft Group of the Pennsylvania National Guard presented arms. During the 37 minute station stop, two huge floral wreaths were placed aboard, one from the 28th Division Society. The other, a huge wreath of white chrysanthemums, with a simple card attached reading, "Pittsburgh’s Tribute."

(Click picture for a larger view)

As the funeral train eased out of the station, "Sergeant Robert P. McKeown of Homestead Park sounded, "Taps."

Arriving at Altoona at 7:15 a.m. the official party was joined by Paul W. Neff, Superintendent of the Susquehanna Division. A dining car was cut in between the last Pullman and the business car to serve breakfast for the 33 escorts.

The funeral train proceeded east to Tyrone, where it diverted onto the Bald Eagle Branch. At Lock Haven it continued east over the Susquehanna Division mainline through Williamsport and Lewisburg to Sunbury. Entering the Buttonwood Branch, the 33 victims began the last leg of their homeward journey.

Coming into Wilkes-Barre, the funeral train was stopped briefly at Hazle Avenue to allow the escorts to move forward into the baggage cars to drape the Stars and Stripes over the crated caskets. This completed, the funeral train continued on to the Lehigh Valley Railroad depot, the very depot they had departed from just five days before. Arrival was 1:20 p.m. The depot was draped in long folds of black cloth.

Thursday, September 14, 1950 was a dark and gloomy day in the Wyoming Valley area of Pennsylvania. In Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, flags were flying at half-mast. Major Luther Knifen had ordered by proclamation that all business and social activities be suspended between the hours of 1:15 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

A few thousand people were crowded into the depot area where Color Guards of Honor stood at "Present Arms!" All were silent. Among the crowd was Pennsylvania Governor James H. Duff. The baggage car doors opened, and one by one each flag-draped casket was unloaded and placed on three-quarter ton weapons carriers.

By mid-January of 1951, Altoona had rebuilt BP20 #5774 completely, as evidenced by this unusual PRR photograph of a product from an outside builder. (PRR photograph; collection of the Altoona Association of Model Railroaders)
(Click picture for a larger view)

Lt. Colonel Frank Townend, Commander of the 109th, was to lead the funeral procession. Unfortunately, his plane was grounded by inclement weather in Ohio. In his place were Major Robert Kostenbauder, Executive Officer of the 109th, and Lt. Harry Webber, Executive Officer of Battery "B". Behind them, marching with fixed bayonets, were 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen of the 11th Infantry. Following would be six armored half-tracks of the 104th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Harrisburg. Next came the 33 weapons carriers, each with an eight-man Color Guard of Honor, plus the escort. Bringing up the rear were six more armored half-tracks.

As the funeral procession departed the depot, the bells of the city’s churches began to toll. Simultaneously, 105mm Howitzers of the 967th Armored Field Artillery began a 33 gun salute from the Kingston side of the Susquehanna River.

An estimated crowd of about 100,000 citizens lined Market Street as the funeral procession slowly made its way around one side of the town square and over the Susquehanna River bridge to the Armory at Kingston. The crowds was totally solemn. In the crowd were about 100 townspeople from West Lafayette, invited by the citizens of Wilkes-Barre.

The funeral procession arrived at the Kingston Armory at 2:00 p.m. A planned flyover of 25 bombers from Philadelphia Air National Guard, 111th Bombardment Squadron from Philadelphia, and 2 5 fighters of the 146th and 148th Fighter Squadrons from Pittsburgh and Reading had to be canceled on account of bad weather. Instead, three small planes form the Wyoming Valley Airport came in low, dipped their wings in a salute and scattered hundreds of red and white carnations over the funeral procession.

The armored weapons carriers were lined up in neat rows inside the armory. There the escorts of the 109th Field Artillery Battalion relinquished the remains of their "buddies" to the grief-stricken families.

There were scores of floral wreaths and sprays, many from posts of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other fraternal organizations. One giant wreath stood out—yellow mums on a background of gilded leaves and bearing a banner inscribed, "From the Citizens of Coshocton to the Citizens of Wilkes-Barre."


The Panhandle Division was a busy division that night. At least two other troop trains had preceded PX5444 WEST, scheduled tightly. PX5444 WEST was by "Newcomerstown" tower at 4:28 a.m. No. 31, the "Spirit of St. Louis" at 4:35 a.m., seven minutes later, followed by No. 41, the "Cincinnati Limited" at 4:41 a.m., just six minutes later.

A Road Foreman of Engines arranged for engineman Shustick to be returned to Pittsburgh later that day. After the prescribed hours of rest, he left Pittsburgh that night with another mainline train for Columbus. When this writer asked if he felt uneasy passing the site of the accident, he replied, "No, I was concerned abut the safety of my train."

Investigators at the wreck scene found two burned fusees, one between the rails, and the other off to the north side of #2 track. This one had a blunted end from impact against the windshield of #5774A.

Radio station WTNS of Coshocton received a glowing letter of commendation from the officials of the City of Wilks-Barre, Pennsylvania for their public service in this time of tragedy. The late John Terry of WTNS was the newsman that provided the coverage.

The citizens of Coshocton County, and West Lafayette, Ohio in particular willingly gave of themselves, their time and their resources to help their fellow man in his time of need. They deserve all the praise and recognition they can be given. Major General Daniel Strickler, Commanding General of the 28th Division, stated that "too much could not be said for the way citizens of Coshocton County went all out to help the soldiers."

Today, the Shurtz farm, lane and crossing are still there. However, the lane crosses only one set of rusty rails now. The once-famous "Spirit of St. Louis" is gone, preceded by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Gone too are signals 1129 and 1149. Many of the people involved in the rescue work or provided aid and assistance, too are gone.

Tom Lear of West Lafayette relates "Conrail engineman Terry Urban recently told me that railroaders remember West Lafayette…they have a soft spot in their hearts for the people of West Lafayette."

The Philadelphia Phillies dropped four straight to the New York Yankees in the 1950 World Series.


"Interstate Commerce Commission", Ex Parte No. 173

"The Columbus Dispatch: The Columbus Citizen; the Ohio State Journal - Collection: The Public Library of Columbus and Franklin County

"The Coshocton Tribune" - Collection: Coshocton Public Library

"Times Leaders" - Collection: Osterhout Free Library, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

"Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" - Collection: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Copies of Official PRR correspondence and records. Collection: Charles Horan

Special Thanks:

  • To the following Pennsylvania Railroad employees, now retired, who so willingly answered my many questions about their first-hand experiences: these gentlemen spent quite a bit of time answering questionnaires and telephone calls: John Shustick, Douglass Hasbrouck, Leroy Shivers, Bob Spitler, Dan Clark, Vic Crouso and Paul Suttner.
  • To the many people of West Lafayette, Ohio for taking the time to respond to the questionnaires, and especially to those who gave of their time for interviews.
  • To the members of the Coshocton Fire Department and the Shurtz family, for sharing their photographs, for without them, the story would be almost impossible to tell.
  • To David Apple, for his tireless effort in preparing the questionnaires, organizing the interview session, and securing the photographs. Dave is a high school history teacher in West Lafayette and a local historian.
  • To Ms. Jean F. Reddick, librarian, Coshocton Public Library, for her research.
  • To fellow PRRT&HS member Charles Horan, for the use of his PRR files which provided much invaluable information.

Emergency Responses

When the troop train wreck occurred, it did not take long for emergency response teams and individuals in Coshocton County to respond. The Coshocton Tribune and other newspapers dated on and about September 11, 1950, tell the story of how local individuals and groups rallied around the victims of the troop train wreck. Copies of the stories were given to the Korean War Educator by Dan Markley of West Lafayette, Ohio. Many of the stories have been reprinted below.

It is interesting to note that while the Coshocton newspaper carried these stories, it continued to print other breaking local news, including the fact that while the troop train tragedy was being dealt with on the home front, word had been received that local boy Bernard Fagan had been wounded in action in Korea. Fagan was a member of Coshocton’s Battery F of the Ohio National Guard and he was also a well-known local amateur boxer.

From the Coshocton Tribune, September 11, 1950:

"Hospital Staff Functions Capably in Emergency; Townspeople Rally to Aid"
by Charlotte Parrish

Rescue workers, the Red Cross, town ministers and many others flocked to Coshocton Memorial hospital early this morning to lend a hand. The hospital staff was faced with the greatest emergency in the town’s history. Ambulances and cars were delivering blanket-wrapped figures, all GI victims of the train wreck near West Lafayette.

"Please, sir, what happened to my brother. Please try to find him. He was in the car ahead. I could hear him calling for help." "My buddy…please, sir, try to find Pfc.__he was sitting by me when we crashed. He went flying through the window. Please, I gotta know what happened to him, God, mister, I gotta know." Queries such as these were made constantly by the lessor injured as they reached with shaking hands for cigarettes or wiped grime-stained faces with grimier hands.

Fracture cases were rushed to the X-ray rooms. Doctors rushed to give blood transfusions, to stop bleeding wounds. Little by little those with slighter injuries were sent to the armory and the more serious cases placed in beds in a hastily set up emergency war. One youth with a peach fuzz beard, waiting his turn in the x-ray rooms, kept saying over and over…"Forget about me…find my brother…my twin brother."

A 19-year-old corporal had been patched up and was munching a ham sandwich passed out to him by the Red Cross. Apologetically he kept explaining, "We missed chow this morning, you know. It happened just as they came through to call us." The corporal went on to tell how his captain had been standing at the rear end of the last car and had seen the fast passenger train tearing down the tracks toward the troop train. "He coulda jumped to save his skin. But that guy has guts. He ran inside to tell us to hang on, we were going to get it."

Soldiers walking through the corridors of the hospital all morning presented a strange picture. One young soldier left the front door of the hospital on his way to a cot at the armory wearing a hospital gown and combat helmet. He wore bandages, too.

Miss Barbara Hahn, supervisor, calmly directed the work of caring for the injured. She took innumerable phone calls and aided Manager Richard Athey in meeting the vast emergency. "I have been a nurse for a good number of years and have often wondered just how this town and hospital would react to a real disaster," Miss Hahn said. "Today I found out. It was nothing short of a miracle. Every regular nurse was at her station and nurses and aides came flocking in who haven’t been around here for years. The doctors appeared as if by magic. The Red Cross and others had coffee and food here as the first victims were arriving. I can’t say enough for the response." Her remarks were echoes two-fold by Mr. Athey.

Blood on hand that had been provided by the Red Cross was put to use immediately. Additional blood from Columbus was delivered to the hospital shortly after a request was phoned.

Cots were taken to the armory, and the men of the local reconnaissance unit of the Ohio National Guard, part of the 37th Division, went to work to make the injured as comfortable as possible. A captain who had been on the wrecked train remarked, "I served with the 37th in World War II. Boys, we are in good hands."

A neuro-surgery specialist from Columbus was on his way to the hospital immediately on receiving a call from one of the local medics. Some of the boys were in need of skilled fingers.

It was still in the emergency ward and upper floors of the hospital two hours after the tragedy. Those able to talk had been taken away. White hands hung from the sides of beds as doctors were administering blood, or nurses were placing limp heads under oxygen. Some of the hands were wearing shiny new wedding rings. Many had talked to a minister before sinking into semi-consciousness. Many had said, ""lease sir, try to call my wife...or my mother.""

From the Coshocton Tribune, September 11, 1950:

"Reporter, on Hand Just After Train Wreck, Describes Scene of Confusion"
by Bill Wallace

The first gray light of dawn was shrouded by a heavy blanket of fog when I first arrived at the scene. Ambulances were arriving from Coshocton, West Lafayette, Newcomerstown, Dover, Uhrichsville and later from other nearby towns. A traffic snarl developed as the ambulance pulled down a one-lane road to the center of the troop train.

Although confusion reigned at first, you could feel the presence of army discipline and there was little noise or shouting. A few muffled screams came from the rear coaches but mostly ominous silence prevailed. Bodies were being taken from two of the rear coaches and it was obvious that torches would be necessary to free many of them from the wreckage.

The last coach of the troop train was tilted at a crazy angle across the tracks, crumpled and torn from the terrific impact of the Spirit of St. Louis. Three bodies hung limply from the bottom of the torn coach and one of them was swinging slightly as a group of soldiers carried out the unconscious form of a badly wounded corporal. I pulled my ambulance cot down the track and answered a hail from another group of soldiers kneeling over a still form on the roadbed. We started to load him for the trip to the hospital but I could tell he was dead and seconds later a passing medic verified this.

With the help of another group of infantrymen I loaded another wounded man into the truck and made the trip to Memorial hospital, which was already springing into emergency action. Returning to the scene of the crash, I helped load semi-conscious Jimmy Simerson of Wilkes-Barre into the truck. He was suffering from shock and apparently had some broken ribs.

Simerson was in the third-from-the-last coach at the time of the collision and remembered little of the wreck until he was hauled clear and was unloaded at the hospital. He frequently lapsed into unconsciousness during the ride to Coshocton.

The sergeant who accompanied me to the hospital on the second trip said he was in the wash-room getting ready for breakfast when the collision occurred. The wash basin at which he was standing was torn from the wall of the train by the impact and the sergeant was thrown against the after wall but suffered only bruises. The coach was a madhouse, he stated. Seats were ripped out and soldiers were lying on top of one another in the aisles. Broken glass was everywhere and many of the men were screaming for help.

Blanket-wrapped bodies were lying along the tracks and more were being added as the torches now in use burned through the tangled wreckage to release more and more men.

Ambulance drivers were setting up their own system of traffic handling and the injured were being taken out with more efficiency. None of the bodies was being taken from the scene until the army could make its check of the dead and missing. By 7 o’clock, Coshocton time, most of the seriously injured had been removed to hospitals and the work of the ambulances was largely finished. The hearses would come next.

From the Coshocton Tribune, September 11, 1950:

"Local ONG Unit Out in Full Strength to Feed Soldiers, Care for Injured"
by Grier Coleman

Under the direction of Commander John Dawson, Coshocton’s unit of the Ohio National Guard mobilized early this morning to help personnel of the 28th Division set up a clearing station at the local armory on Otsego Avenue. The full complement of the 27th reconnaissance company responded and within a few minutes after the call, dozens of cots, supplies of all types and food were flowing into the armory to supplement equipment of the Coshocton company.

At mid-morning three soldiers dead and 15 walking injured had been brought to the armory. The injured had been treated at the scene of the accident and at Coshocton Memorial Hospital. Officers of the 28th unit would not release the names of the dead or injured pending arrival of higher officials from the Pennsylvania division headquarters.

Facilities were ready at the armory to handle a large number of injured cases and provision was made to feed upwards of 100 men. A detachment from the local unit was dispatched to set up a feeding station at the scene of the wreck. Soldiers from the Coshocton unit set up a temporary hospital tent close by the wrecked railroad cars to be used to treat the injured as soon as they were removed from the mangled cars. On duty at the armory were nurses’ aids and a number of Coshocton women who were helping the soldier cooks prepare all the meals that might be required.

Coshocton business people answered the call for help for needed supplies and most of the necessary items were on hand by 10 o'clock. A steady stream of trucks brought the required supplies and most of the necessary items were on hand by 10 o’clock. A steady stream of trucks brought the required supplies. There were cots from the Soil Conservation Service station and the local Boy Scouts, beds and wheel chairs from the offices of local doctors and dentists and Red Cross directed the supply of other items to the casualty center.

"Traffic Snarl, Wreckage of Train Untangled as Order Comes to Scene"
by Bill Wallace

By 10:30 this morning order was complete and it was orderliness of many organizations. State highway patrolmen from all over this part of the state were directing traffic on Route 16 and helping handle the crowds at the scene. A highway patrol emergency trailer was at the scene of the crash and its loudspeakers were handling orders to the various organizations present from high-ranking army personnel.

Three Pennsylvania railroad wreck trains were unsnarling the tangle of wreckage and railroad trucks were on hand with emergency crews and supplies. Big army planes droned low over the wreckage.

Fire departments from Coshocton, West Lafayette and Newcomerstown were on hand and at least a dozen ambulances from a half dozen cities were still on hand. Railroad wreck crews crawled in and out of the windows of the smashed cars, using ladders as the only means of entrance. City police cars, sheriff’s cars and army cars were much in evidence.

The West Lafayette American Legion auxiliary had set up a tent and the women were dispensing coffee and sandwiches, a number of women carrying cans of coffee along the tracks for the workers and army personnel. Auto wreckers and other trucks with burning torches were pulled up near the tracks.

Newspapermen from the major dailies and wire servicemen and radio men from the networks were on hand. Dozens of cameras were in evidence, amateurs and newspapermen exposing countless films to record details of the tragedy.

A state highway crash truck with emergency workers and first aid equipment were lending help wherever needed. Doctors from nearby towns were present on a volunteer basis. The Coshocton National Guard was activated and was assisting the army officers at the scene. West Lafayette’s American Legion members had been helping handle traffic since an early hour.

And everywhere were the throngs of curious. The army had done a good job of blocking off one road but three lanes leading to the track bore steady streams of onlookers. Route 16 was lined with cars and parking was at a premium in a field near the crash.

"Extensive News Coverage Given Local Train Wreck"

by Howdy House

Widest coverage of any news event ever occurring in Coshocton County was given the troop train disaster Monday near West Lafayette. By 10 a.m. Monday the Tribune publishing plant was swamped with a small army of out-of-town newsmen--writers, photographers and technical crews for transmitting telephotos.

Press representatives streamed into Coshocton in the early forenoon by plane, train and autos, sent here by the three major wire news services—United Press, Associated Press and International News Service—as well as staff writers from big city newspapers and a Life magazine photographer.

All facilities in the two-story Tribune building were overtaxed as a flock of visiting photographers waited turns to develop picture negatives in the "dark room." News writers also took turns batting out up-to-the-minute news reports on the catastrophe.

Tribune telephones jangled incessantly with long-distance telephone calls from newspaper and wire service offices in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Canton, St. Louis, St. Joseph, Michigan, and other points. At least eight or ten calls came from Chicago newspapers and wire services alone.

Portable transmitting wirephoto sets were set up in makeshift manner in an office on the first floor. Visiting newsmen flowed in and out of the Tribune newsroom throughout the day, giving it the appearance of a miniature "Grand Central Station." Most dailies in surrounding cities also sent in reporters and photographers.

Special telephone lines were set up for news broadcasts, direct from the scene of the wreck, it was announced by Clarence C. Schmidt, manager of the Coshocton offices of the Ohio Bell Telephone Company.

A special line was strung to the scene from WTNS, this city, over which John Terry broadcast a graphic description of the wreckage Monday noon. A Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania radio station also had a special line hooked up tot he scene, Mr. Schmidt said. (Most of the dead and injured GI’s were from the Wilkes-Barre area.)

In addition, special telephone lines were hooked up to the national guard armory, at the southern edge of the city, for U.S. army officials to keep in touch with officers in charge of wreck victims temporary billeted there; and another wire was run into the Coshocton County Red Cross office, Masonic building, Main Street.

"Thanks Expressed by Army Officer for Public’s Help"

A statement of "sincere gratitude" to Coshocton, West Lafayette and other communities giving assistance in yesterday’s troop train tragedy was issued today by Lt. Col. Frank Townend, commanding officer of the 109th Field Artillery Battalion from Pennsylvania, which was riding aboard the ill-fated train. His statement follows:

"On behalf of officers and men of the 109th Field Artillery battalion, I would like to publicly express sincere gratitude and thanks for the magnificent response of citizens of Coshocton and surrounding communities for the care and treatment of men involved in the rail disaster.

Fortunately when the wreck occurred we were close to a city well prepared to meet emergencies that within what seemed to be a matter of minutes a well coordinated emergency plan was in effect and efficiently being operated. We were all amazed at the tremendous amount of assistance which seemed to appear at the scene without any call whatsoever coming from us.

To single out any one service would probably be unfair. But we would like to mention the farm women of the neighborhood who first reported the accident and then appeared before daylight with containers of hot coffee.

This battalion will always be grateful for your prompt and willing assistance." (signed) Lt. Col. Frank Townend, commanding officer, 109th Field Artillery battalion

From the Coshocton Tribune, September 13, 1950:

"Added Expression of Thanks Comes from Army for Help in Emergency"

Deep appreciation for the untiring efforts of the many organizations and individuals who rallied to aid in the costly troop train wreck emergency Monday near West Lafayette was expressed today by U.S. army officials.

Brig. Gen. F. G. Brink of Fort Hayes, Columbus, chief of the Ohio military district, arrived Monday morning shortly after the disaster occurred to assist in the movement of the national guard units while in the state of Ohio.

Major Miller, Ohio military district provost marshal, who brought 16 military policemen to the scene of the wreck, commented favorably on the manner in which civilian police agencies controlled the crowds and traffic and assisted in the evacuation of the injured.

The commanding general offered a "sincere thank-you" from the army to the many organizations that worked throughout Monday and Monday night.

Special commendation was given the Ohio state highway patrol, under the command of Lieutenants Stark and Vance, for supplying signal communications to Columbus, roping off the disaster area and controlling traffic.

An expression of warm gratitude was extended to the Coshocton national guard unit, the 37th cavalry Recon Co., commanded by 1st Lt. John W. Dawson. The local guards furnished considerable Armory facilities to provide shelter and feed the men less seriously injured.

The medical and nursing staff at Coshocton Memorial hospital, and hospitals at Dover and Dennison, the commanding general said, "did a terrific job of administering to the injured." The acting district surgeon presently on duty with headquarters, Ohio military district, Lt. Col. Radzyminski, working with local physicians and surgeons, stated an excellent job was done in administering first aid at the scene of the wreck and hospitalizing casualties at local hospitals. Their quick action no doubt saved many lives.

Special recognition also was given to Red Cross workers and facilities, from national headquarters right on down to the Columbus district and the Coshocton office for meritorious service in furnishing a bloodmobile, nurses and mobile canteen.

Coshocton Salvation Army workers were given credit for being among the first to serve hot coffee and sandwiches to the army troops and rescue workers at the wreck scene Monday.

Commended for their wholehearted work in the emergency also were the following: Ladies Auxiliary, VFW Post 1303, Coshocton; Nurses Aid Society of Coshocton Memorial hospital; American Legion posts of Coshocton, West Lafayette and Steubenville; Coshocton Chamber of Commerce; the Coshocton County Disaster Corps; Sigma Beta Phi chapter of Coshocton; the Coshocton Moose lodge; the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in Coshocton county, and the Boy Scouts of Coshocton and Newark.

Coshocton business establishments—Pope-Gosser China Co., American Art Works, Edmont Mfg Co., General Electric Co.; Ohio Power co., Wright Vess Cola Bottling Works; Coca Cola Co; Kroger store.

General Brink stated that there might be other organizations and individuals worthy of mention that had not come to his attention. He extended "thanks" to the unknown volunteers and to the residents of West Lafayette, in general, for their fine hospitality.

"Firemen Given Credit for Aid at Train Wreck"

Dr. R.D. Hildebrand, Cross St., who assisted at the scene of the railroad tragedy near West Lafayette Monday morning, has asked that the Newcomerstown volunteer firemen be given credit for the part they play in any emergency. He declared:

"I knew I would have a tough time getting to the wreck through the fog Monday morning, so I went to the police station with the idea of getting an escort there. It was then suggested that they call out the emergency truck of the fire department and take it to the scene. Fire Chief Russell Bicker, Assistant Fire Chief Otto Haxton and Fireman Everett McElhaney went on the truck and took me to the wreck, and assisted there in every way possible."

Firemen Leslie Best and George Ames also assisted at the scene of the accident.

Dr. Hildebrand went on to say that this truck, purchased by the firemen and equipped by various lodges and organizations in the town, is unfit to be on the highway, and that even with the supplies they have, it is very inadequate to cope with an emergency.

Several months ago a fund was sponsored by the Business and Professional Women’s Club to buy a new truck for the fire department, and even though the response was good in the beginning, it has "bogged down."

Dr. Hildebrand feels that the truck should be equipped with medical supplies, acetylene torches, and other items that would be necessary in case of a catastrophe such as Monday’s. The doctor took two bags of equipment as did Dr. C.A. Hanson, who assisted at the scene, then when the need was greater at Coshocton Memorial hospital, went there and gave his services the rest of the day. Dr. Hildebrand stayed at the scene until he was relieved by army doctors.


From "Everybody’s Column" by Harry Yockey
West Lafayette Reporter, Date Unknown

ACTION. The telephone rings just as you’re shaving. It’s barely daylight and you wonder who’s calling. "Big train wreck at West Lafayette and many soldiers are dead," a voice says. You’re wide awake in a second. It’s Sports Editor Rex Ridenour, calling from the office where he arrived early to handle an accumulation of weekend sports.

"Toland Funeral home called. All available ambulances are on their way," he adds. That’s the tip-off it’s really a big wreck. You have him call Photographer Ralph McKee and others on the staff. All other news must be cleared early on this day.

You fumble with buttons as you hurry into clothes. Mrs. Everybody has coffee ready. You gulp it down and beat it to the garage. McKee’s waiting at the office with his camera, big supply of plates and bulbs. Off you speed.

The car’s low on gas and you stop at a Stone Creek road station. "What’s going on," the owner asks. "Ambulances have been speeding by here a mile a minute." You brief him and he wastes no more time, practically running for your change.

The dash is resumed. First the fog and then a truck crawling up a hill cause you to slow down. It seems like minutes before you can get around him. Then you’re through Stone Creek and heading into Newcomerstown, where small groups of early risers are gathered here and there.

Out of Newcomerstown and down the highway you roll. Finally cars are spotted along the road. Then you see the wreck. You see ambulances turning off and signal you want to do likewise. A Legionnaire sees it’s a press car and gives the okay. You head into a field where fire trucks, ambulances, patrol, police and sheriff cars are parked.

Now you really can go to work. Soldiers and Legionnaires are standing guard in a roped-off area. You call out "Press" and its the magic word that opens the gate.

McKee immediately begins to shoot pictures. You see Joe Wolfe, state patrolman. He points out Lt. Col. Frank Townend as the troop train commander. The colonel, although under great strain and looking tired, is extremely courteous. "You can take pictures of everything but our dead," he says. "You may talk to any of the boys about the wreck itself. But, none are permitted to divulge our strength. Neither can I give you the names of the dead until the next of kin has been notified. Otherwise I’m open to questions."

You take him at his word. Once you’ve gleaned all information he has you begin talking to soldiers and officers. McKee hurries up and explains the pictures he has shot. You suggest several more and once they’re taken he heads back to Dover.

You walk several blocks, hunting a telephone. A Legionnaire directs you to the Harry Schurtz home. You’re granted immediate entrance and permission to use the phone. But, a soldier is calling his wife at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. While you’re waiting Mrs. Schurtz hands you a cup of coffee and volunteers to fry some eggs and bacon. Several officers are in the kitchen eating same.

The coffee hits the spot. Finally the soldier reaches his wife. "Honey, this is Jim," he says. "I’m all right. Not hurt a bit. Now Honey, don’t cry. I’m talking to you so you know I’m okay. Some of the boys were not so lucky.

Roster of Casualties

Wilkes-Barre, PA Soldiers Killed:

  • Disbrow, William R. - Service Battery
  • Edwards, Sgt. William C. - Service Battery
  • Fletcher, Cpl. Joseph E. - Service Battery
  • Hornlein, Pfc. Martin - Battery B
  • Jackson, Pfc. Ronald J. - Battery B
  • Kuehn, Lester J. - Battery B
  • Okrasinski, Sgt. Bernard S. - Battery B
  • Ostrazewski, Cpl. Thomas M. - Service Battery
  • Royer, Recruit Richard A. - Battery B
  • Sobers, Recruit William F. - Battery B
  • Tierney, Pvt. William F. - Service Battery
  • Wharton, Sgt. Gilbert B. - Battery B
  • Zieker, Pfc. Donald C. - Battery B

Kingston, PA Soldiers Killed:

  • Harding, Pfc. Clyde - Battery B
  • Ludwig, Pvt. Wallace R. - Service Battery
  • Thomas, Capt. Arthur J. - Service Battery
  • Wallace, Recruit Thomas W. - Service Battery
  • Wellington, W.O. William M. - Battery B

Surrounding Communities Soldiers Killed:

  • Armbruster, Cpl. Carl - Plains, PA - Service Battery
  • Balonis, Pfc. Leonard - Plains, PA - Battery B
  • Barna, Corp. John L., Plains, PA - Service Battery
  • Carr, Recruit Eugene - Larksville - Battery B
  • Cox, Sgt. John W. - E. Plymouth, PA - Battery B
  • Dougherty, Recruit William J. - Larksville - - Battery B
  • Fargus, Recruit Hugh L. - Plymouth, PA - Battery B
  • Gallagher, Pfc. E.W. - West Wyoming, PA - Service Battery
  • Handlos, Pfc. Harold - Larksville, PA - Battery B
  • Luzenski, Cpl. Larry [birth certificate listed as Lawrence Leonard] - Trucksville, PA - Battery B
  • Martinez, Recruit Frank C. - Bronx, NY - Battery B
  • McGinley, James F. - Exeter, PA - Service Battery
  • Norton, Recruit Charles - Hanover Township - Battery B
  • Pudlowski, Pfc. Raymond - Hudson, PA - Battery B
  • Zabicki, Pfc. Edmund F. - Edwardsville - Battery B

Among the Wounded (there were 67 injured-not all listed below):

  • Bilski, Pfc. Edward - Wilkes-Barre
  • Brannan, Capt. Francis R. - Battery B
  • Compton, Corp. Lewis A.
  • Daubert, Cpl. Dal D. - Kingston
  • Daubert, Pfc. Dean - Dallas
  • Davis, Pfc. Thomas - Waymark
  • Dimirco, Pfc. Joseph
  • Dougherty, Pfc. John J. - Larksville
  • Edwards, 2nd Lt. Merle R. - Forty Fort
  • Fisher, Cpl. Francis D. - Larksville
  • Flecknoe, Cpl. Leonard - Wilkes-Barre
  • Foriet, Pfc. Donald
  • Gallagher, Pfc. Thomas
  • Giampa, Cpl. Arthur - Wilkes-Barre
  • Gulius, Cpl. Cyril G. - Hudson
  • Hall, Pfc. William
  • Hawke, Pfc. Fred D. - Edwardsville
  • Holbert, Cpl. James W. - Honesdale
  • Iyoob, Sgt. Ferdinand - Chinchille
  • Kudrak, Sgt. Joseph J. - West Pittston
  • Marshall, Cpl. Nicholas - Alden Station
  • Martinez, Recruit Ramon
  • Metzger, Cpl. Carl O. - Shavertown
  • Mishkell, Sgt. Kenneth - Wilkes-Barre
  • O’Connell, Cpl. Timothy - Honesdale
  • Phillips, Lt. Earl W. - Dallas
  • Quarequio, Pvt. Francis X. - Dallas
  • Roberts, Sgt. Lawrence D. - Scranton
  • Roberts, M/Sgt. Robert
  • Rooper, Cpl. John D. - Wilkes-Barre
  • Rowles, Pfc. Robert - Ashley
  • Sampson, Cpl. James - Wilkes-Barre
  • Sauerwine, Pvt. James - Wilkes-Barre
  • Schell, Pvt. Robert H. - Wilkes-Barre
  • Shortz, Capt. Robert - Dallas
  • Simonson, John - Wilkes-Barre
  • Talmadge, Sgt. Raymond - Wilkes-Barre
  • Thompson, Cpl. Robert J. - Forty Fort
  • Towh, Pfc. Frank - Wilkes-Barre
  • Vimishkel, Sgt. Kenneth - Wilkes-Barre
  • Walkoviak, Cpl. Leonard J. - Plains
  • Williams, Pfc. Albert - Wilkes-Barre
  • Yanck, Sgt. George
  • Yesirvida, Pfc. William - Wilkes-Barre

Railroad Inquiry

"Engineer Admits He Failed to Heed Signals"
"Inquiry Opened to Learn Cause of Train Wreck:
Flyer Engineer Admits Failure to Reduce Speed"


Pennsylvania railroad workers today told a story of an engineer’s failure to obey signals and the heroic and frantic efforts to flag down a speeding passenger train which rammed into the rear of a stalled troop train near Coshocton, Ohio, last Monday morning.

Slender, bespectacled engineer William Eller told how he failed to reduce his speed sufficiently when warned by a block signal almost two miles to the rear of a troop carrier he knew was running on the same track in front of him. The gaunt, hook-nosed 68-year-old veteran of the rails told his story to investigators of the interstate commerce commission, the Ohio public utilities commission, the army, and the railroad.

He estimated he was going about 50 miles an hour when he went through an "approach" signal. He should have been down to 30 miles an hour, which would have put him in position to stop on the following "stop and proceed" signal.

W.G. Lancaster, 34, Ingram, Pennsylvania, flagman of the troop train, told of frantic efforts to stop the speeding Spirit of St. Louis. He said his signals were ignored and he never got an acknowledgment from the cab of the New York-to-St. Louis flyer. Lancaster estimated the passenger train was still going 50 miles an hour when it passed him, although its wheels were throwing sparks from a heavy application of brakes.

G.A. Williams, Pittsburgh, maintenance of way engineer, introduced pictures and measurements showing the troop train was stopped 185 feet west of the "stop and proceed" signal. A burned out fusee was found 506 feet east of the accident and one at 365 feet. He said the distance between the "approach" signal and the "stop and proceed" signal is just under two miles.

Eller was the first witness called at a four-way investigation into the accident which killed 33 Pennsylvania national guardsmen and injured 67 others early Monday. The engineer, under questioning of Samuel Pringle, attorney for the Pennsylvania railroad, testified that he cut his speed at the Uhrichsville block when the wayside signal and his cab signal showed "approach." He said he knew the troop train was in front of him but he did not cut his speed to the required 30 miles per hour and when he hit the "stop and proceed" signal he slammed the brakes on full but it was too late. The diesel locomotive of the passenger train smashed through the fog and into the rear of the stalled troop carrier.

Eller estimated he was going about 40 miles an hour when he passed the Uhrichsville block. Pringle asked: "What did the next signal show?" "Stop and proceed," Eller replied. "What happened at that point," Pringle asked. "Everybody knows," Eller answered. Q - But what did you do? A - I put on the air. I started to brake. Q - Did you stop at the stop and proceed signal? A - No. Q - Did you see it? A - I did see it. Q - Did you see the rear end of the troop train at the same time? A - It was pretty close.

Eller was asked how far the rear of the troop train was from the stop and proceed signal. He estimated about four car lengths. Then he was asked the position of his brake when he went through the signal. "The brake was in the emergency position. I put on the air when I saw the signal glowing through the fog."

Eller said he saw the flag of the troop train ahead and the red and white light of the flagman through the fog but was unable to stop. Under questioning, Eller explained that he should have reduced speed to 30 miles an hour on the "approach signal" and be prepared to stop by the time the train reached the next wayside signal.

Eller left Pittsburgh 29 minutes late, driving a fast diesel two-unit. He said everything was going fine. "I figured the engine was feeling good and we were going right along." He detailed his trip from Pittsburgh up until the time he ploughed into the troop train. Between Mingo and Acre, he was told to use the siding at Broad Acre to get around a freight on the main track. He then picked up a clear signal, having lost only one minute on the siding.

At the Hamilton cut signal he got an approach block, ran it at reduced speed. The troop carrier was stopped in front of him but as he braked to a stop, the forward train started again. Eller said he "took it slow" "behind the troop train through Dennison, Ohio, to give the forward train time to get away. Then he got another approach signal, followed by a clear signal. This meant, he said, the troop train was six or seven miles ahead of him and he increased his speed.

The next signal was the one at Uhrichsville. He said the wayside and cab signals were working perfectly but that he failed to reduce speed sufficiently.

E.J. Kearns, fireman on the diesel of the Spirit of St. Louis, said he first saw the flagman of the troop train "through the haze and fog" while still about 50 car lengths away. He estimated the train was moving about 35 to 40 miles an hour.

Eller has been employed by the Pennsylvania since May 27, 1903. His fireman said he has known him many years and believed him to be one of the most alert and capable men in railroad service.

As the investigation started, the army was preparing to return the bodies of the victims to the Kingston, Pennsylvania, armory for burial. The bodies are to leave Coshocton, Ohio at midnight and arrive in Wilkes-Barre at 12:20 p.m. tomorrow.

Funeral Procession

"Veil of Sorrow Covers Pennsylvania Valley as It Prepares to Receive Dead"
Coshocton Tribune September 14, 1950

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - (UP) - Thirty-three soldiers who left here Sunday to serve their country return home today in flag-draped coffins. The Wyoming valley, its heart heavy with grief, was ready to receive them.

A funeral train bearing the caskets of the victims of the train wreck last Monday will arrive at the Lehigh Valley station from West Lafayette, Ohio. The station is the one in which the soldiers just four days ago said goodbye to families and friends on departing for army training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Their troop train was rammed in the rear the next day by a Pennsylvania railroad flyer near West Lafayette. The bodies were accompanied on the journey home by an honor escort of their "buddies" of the Wyoming valley’s historic 109th Field Artillery battalion.

Thirty-three open army weapons carriers waited at the station to take the coffins on the slow, half-mile trip to the Kingston, Pennsylvania armory. The route was identical to that over which the 109th traveled on its way to armed service.

The big guns of the 967th Armored Field Artillery Battalion were set up to boom a solemn salute across the Susquehanna river which separates Wilkes-Barre from Kingston.

The cortege route was lined with 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen wearing summer dress uniforms with combat boots, helmet liners, blue neckerchiefs, and white gloves. They carried sidearms.

The public was barred from the armory, to leave the bereaved families alone with their dead kin. Plans for a mass burial were abandoned, allowing each family to decide whether it wanted a private funeral service or one with full military honors.

The entire Wyoming valley was shrouded in sorrow. Flags flew at half staff, business houses closed and churches were crowded with worshippers offering prayers for the dead.

"People Stand in Rain to Pay Last Tribute as Funeral Train Departs"
Coshocton Tribune September 14, 1950

As crowds watched in silence, 33 coffins containing bodies of Pennsylvania guardsmen were placed aboard a special train at West Lafayette last night. The spectators stood through a heavy downpour to pay this last tribute to the young men who started out so bravely to serve their country, only to meet death when their troop train was rammed early Monday morning east of West Lafayette by the Spirit of St. Louis.

A large floral wreath, expressing the condolences of Coshocton county people was put aboard the funeral train. The wreath was prepared and donated by Clary Bros., florists of Coshocton.

Just before the train pulled out, an honor guard arrived from Camp Atterbury, Indiana, made up of 33 buddies who survived the accident. Members of the West Lafayette and Coshocton American Legion and Auxiliary units, assisted by the veterans of both posts, were on hand last night to provide the honor guard with a lunch which they took to the train. Auxiliary members and other volunteer workers were on hand Monday to provide breakfast for about 50 members of the army and in the evening the West Lafayette Sorosis club and other residents provided a covered dish supper for those still on duty.

Little evidence remained today at the scene of the accident to remind people of the tragedy. Two of the three injured guardsmen who have been on the critical list at Coshocton Memorial hospital are improved, it was reported today by hospital attendants. The other five soldiers are continuing to show improvement.

"Our Hearts Are Heavy, Too"

Editorial - Coshocton Tribune
September 13, 1950

As the funeral train moves out, bearing the bodies of Pennsylvania soldiers who lost their lives in Monday’s rail disaster, the people of Coshocton county are deeply aware of the heart-ache of those in Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and elsewhere who have lost their sons.

Words are futile at a time such as this. But perhaps it will help a little to know that everything possible was done for your loved-ones at the time of the tragedy. Our community was mobilized, as never before, to administer to the dead, the dying and the injured.

No thanks are due us for this effort—you would have done as much for us. But always the people of Coshocton county will feel a certain kinship for you, dating back to this hour of sorrow. To us, these heroic dead are as much martyrs to their country as if they had given their lives on the field of battle.

Every effort must be pressed to fix responsibility for this disaster—and more important, to see that it cannot happen again. All through the last war, our railroads had a splendid record for safety in the transportation of troops. These stands must be restored as more and more men are moved by rail in the present crisis.

But this is no time for bitterness. Simply and sincerely in this solemn hour, those of us who helped to care for your boys would like to say: We join in your sorrow.


Flyer for the 50th Memorial Anniversary in West Lafayette, Ohio
(Click picture for a larger view)

Years after the troop train wreck, the tragedy is remembered thanks to memorials in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.

"Train Troops Remembered At Dedication"
West Lafayette Times Reporter
November 12, 1990

WEST LAFAYETTE - Thirty-three names engraved in a black Pennsylvania granite monument are a grim reminder that on September 11, 1950, a breakdown-prone troop train and the flashy Spirit of St. Louis crashed three-quarters of a mile down the tracks from the monument.

At the monument dedication Saturday, the victims were remembered—by local people, residents of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, hometown of the men in the crash, and members of the 109th National Guard of Wilkes-Barre. The event drew many, including survivors and those who wanted to pay respect to war dead on a Veteran’s Day weekend.

John Roper of Wilkes-Barre came because he was curious. A purple ribbon on his lapel designated him as a survivor, too. He doesn’t remember being in Coshocton County before Roper was asleep at the time of the 4:28 a.m. impact in 1950. He didn’t hear the cry of his commanding officer warning of the impending crash. He doesn’t remember the harrowing eight-mile ride by ambulance to Coshocton. Still unconscious four days later, he doesn’t even remember being transferred to the Wright-Patterson military hospital in Dayton.

After the dedication on Saturday, Roper walked from the monument site, located where the funeral rail car was parked 40 years ago, down the flag lined Main Street of the village to the American Legion Hall where veteran organizations hosted a reception.

Beatrice Davis Shaw was at the dedication with her sister and two cousins. She stood behind her tallest cousin, both as a shield from the chilling wind that kept flags in full flutter and from the memories that chilled her mind. It was evident she didn’t want to be at the dedication any more than she wanted to be in surgery 40 years ago. A registered nurse, she lived in the nurses’ home next to Coshocton City Hospital. Early that morning Drs. A.P. Magness and James Smailes told her to waken everyone. She asked why and was told that there had been a train accident.

"What are we going to do?" she asked. They didn’t answer, but she found out as soon as she reported to surgery. They worked until 11 that night without a break. She didn’t know any of the men’s names. She never met their families. Did she get tired? "When you are in surgery, you don’t get tired until you are all finished," she said.

Harold R. Howell came to the dedication not sure if he would remember anything more than the mechanics of the rescue work. He discovered, however, that as each name of the dead was read during a drum roll, he visualized each man and the condition of his body. A funeral director in West Lafayette, between funerals, he used his vehicle as an ambulance.

"It was a big old Packard," said Howell, "and it was so foggy that morning even after it should have been daylight, I couldn’t see the bird (ornament) on the hood. Once another ambulance driver and I didn’t see each other’s flashing red lights and our door handles clipped when we met on a sharp curve."

"As I was leaving to take more injured to the hospital on one run, an uninjured officer from the train asked to ride along, explaining he felt someone should be in charge at the hospital. "I was driving 65 to 70 miles per hour on that hilly and twisting road between West Lafayette and Coshocton by instinct. He asked me if I couldn’t go any faster. I said, "Sir, if it wasn’t foggy and you could see this road, you’d beg me to slow down." "I wasn’t afraid," he said. "I was young and there was a job that had to be done."

Chester Hill of West Lafayette and his wife, Katie, were thinking of his sister, Mary Louise Reed. She and her husband had heard the call for help over WTNS radio and came to pry the wreckage apart with their bare hands to get to the injured.

Rowena McCoy Easter came to the dedication with childhood memories. She and her family lived on a dairy farm and orchard along the Lafayette Road., the only one that connected the village with Coshocton. She was 11, but the sirens of emergency vehicles still echo in her memory.

Leo Dunlevy, a local man, looked over the three howitzers on hand at the dedication. He had never seen one of the guns before although during World War II he made up to 1,200 shell casings per day for them. An employee of MEMCO (Moore Enameling Company) in West Lafayette, he helped fill government contracts for the 105mm casings, 75mm bullets and mess kits. Dunlevy recalls MEMCO’s work received the "E" award for efficiency and each of the 1,600 employees had been given a lapel pin to wear for their achievement.

During the dedication, the West Lafayette Emergency Squad parked near the monument site and was on hand to assist a member of the honor guard who fell to the ground when his knee refused to support him while he stood at attention.

At precisely 2, personal memories of those gathered were put on hold. A precision four-plane "T" formation swooped over the village, a small dot on the Ohio map, then circled to pass directly over the monument. Ridgewood High band waited for the sounds of the aircraft to fade before playing, "God Bless America."

During the formal part of the observance, Mike Campbell, president of the Vietnam Veterans, Chapter 159, acted as master of ceremonies. Maj. Kenneth Kirk, chaplain of the 73rd Brigade of the National Guard, prefaced his invocation with, "It is fitting and proper that we gather together to honor those men who died here." Commander Jack Patterson of West Lafayette American Legion Post 466 for the past 10 years and "father of the monument" dedication, was main speaker and gave a chronological tribute to the monument’s birth

Young people were important to the ceremonies. Eric Shivers and Duke Young Jr. Unveiled the monument prior to Amy Hamilton’s reading the poem, "Wreck of a Troop Train" written by Fannie Stubs Emslie and published in her book, "Reflections," published in 1970. Other speakers who highlighted the train crash and military history were David Apple, local history teacher, and retired Maj. Gen. Frank Townend, commanding officer of the ill-fated troop train.

Floral tributes were placed at the base of the monument by representatives of both Coshocton County and the Wilkes-Barre residents. "Freedom is not free," noted one speaker and as emphasis to his words, it was announced that many of the National Guardsmen present at the dedication had already received orders to report for duty in the Persian Gulf. As Townend noted earlier in his address, the men on the train 40 years ago were responding to similar orders during the Korean War.

The dedication concluded with a nine-volley artillery salute and taps. Others on the planning committee and participating were Shivers, Young, Paul Golden, Jewell Terry Guinther and Ed Chapdelaine.


Letters to the Editor in Pennsylvania and Ohio newspapers brought responses from citizens who were willing to share facts, memories, and pictures related to the troop train wreck.

The Korean War Educator wishes to thank the following persons for their contributions to this section of the KWE Home Front page:

WVIA Public Television & Radio

Jerry Heller sent contact information and a copy of the documentary, "Tragedy of the 109th." Jerry produced the documentary, which premiered on WVIA on Veterans Day 2002. The program recently received an award for Best Documentary from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters. Heller took a camera crew to West Lafayette to shoot some video of a very impressive memorial park which is near the scene of the accident. He took actual photographs and intertwined them with interviews with survivors and emergency crews who responded to the scene of the accident. One of the real highlights of the documentary is actual film footage of the funeral train arriving in Wilkes-Barre, followed by the procession of caskets from the railroad station through downtown Wilkes-Barre en route to the armory in Kingston. (The film is the property of the 190th.) A copy of the half-hour documentary can be purchased for $22.95 (includes shipping and handling) from Jerry Heller, WVIA-TV, 100 WVIA Way, Pittston, PA 18640. Phone 570-826-6144. It’s a great video – highly recommended by the Korean War Educator.

Dan Markley

A resident of West Lafayette, Ohio and local historian, Dan kindly responded to a Letter to the Editor in the Coshocton Tribune. At personal expense to himself, he provided the Korean War Educator with numerous copies of era newspapers, as well as a complete set of 5x7 pictures of the train wreck. Dan gives public talks about the troop train wreck, and knows quite a lot of other history about the West Lafayette/Coshocton area. His address is: Dan Markley, P.O. Box 176, West Lafayette, OH 43845-0176.

Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society

Thanks to Chuck Blardone, Editor, PRT&HS magazine (Keystone), the Korean War Educator was granted permission to reproduce the story "The Tragedy of PX5444 West" by Richard C. Jacobs and David Apple. For more information about the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society, visit their website at www.prrths.com .


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