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Fairdale Train Accident


The first week of July, 1923 was hot and dry. Crops were showing the effect of the weather and farmers worried about their fields and stock. July 4th celebrations had been observed, and people were doing their best to put up with the lack of badly needed rain. For a short time their attention on the weather was replaced with the news of a serious train derailment near Fairdale on July 5.

The wreck resulted in 27 cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad to leave the track spilling cattle, hogs, corn and fresh produce. The Genoa Republican reported, “the train, according to witnesses, was going about 27 miles per hour when it is thought one of the trucks on a heavy laden car broke and headed for the ditch. (A "truck" in railroading is a locomotive or railroad car wheel assembly usually having two or more axels.) So great was the momentum it could not stop until some twenty-seven cars left the tract and the complete demolition of sixteen had taken place”. Within minutes doctors from Monroe Center and local volunteers arrived to give assistance and first aid. A special train was sent from Rockford to transport the seriously injured to local hospitals.

The Chicago bound train had made stops at Savannah, Lanark, and Davis Junction. It was reported that at these stops several men boarded the train to hitch a ride in two gondola cars near the center of the train. Killed outright were George Henton of Chicago; Clarence Livingston of Council Bluffs, Iowa; Walter Reeves of Omaha, Nebraska and a Mr. Stevens. The three who died later in a Rockford hospital were F.R (or E. R.) Hood of Magna, Utah; John Houck of Iowa and a man listed by his initials S. L. The seven men who recovered from their injuries were Jesse Clark, Atkinson, KS; Fred Flan, Chicago; Walter Gorgola, Chicago; Albert Jentry, Kansas City, MO; Herman Schroeder, Chicago; Jack Smith, Havanna, Cuba; and Eugene Wisdom of Minneapolis, MN.

While newspaper reports at the time called these men bums and tramps, at least one of the men, John Orin Houck appears to be simply a man trying to support his family. His obituary in the Adams County Union-Republican (Corning, IA., 11 July 1923) told that Mr. Houck, of Corning, came from a family of railroad men. His father, Henry, and uncle, George, were also killed in a similar accident five years earlier at Charlton, Iowa. Only 23 years old when he died he left a wife, a 16 month-old daughter, and extended family members. His body was returned to Corning for burial.

Some of the others killed in the crash were identified but buried in paupers graves in the Cronktown cemetery. A recent query to the Joiner History Room regarding these graves prompted volunteer Ann Marie Babich and Cooky and Gary Ikeler to visit the cemetery with divining rods to see if they could locate the graves. They found five square, stone markers and the divining rods indicated more burials. We must assume that some of the graves were for the crash victims.

Thanks to Jim Kline, Genoa, for helping to pinpoint the date of the derailment and to Craig Pierce, Genoa Library, for a copy of the Genoa Republican article.