My 1945 Michigan Train Crash Story by Richard Desautels (MHS '50)

Do I have memories of the 1945 train crash!  I used to hangout in the summer at the grain elevators in Michigan.  I'd meet the farmers unloading grain and sometimes ride with them back to their thrashing site and then back to the elevator with the next load.  It was something to do. 

The day of the crash I was at the farthest west elevator, which was right alongside of the tracks.  I was looking out the north sliding door to watch the express train, which normally didn't stop in Michigan.  There it came, but instead of flying by it stopped, still on the bypass tracks.  The engine was directly opposite me, two tracks away.  I could see the engineer and another man talking using strong motions and words.  The other man, I think he was the brakeman, quickly went down the ladder from the cab to the ground and began running as fast as he could to wards the end of the train to the east.  The engineer stayed in the cab, then after sticking his head out of the window as far as he could so he could look back hurriedly began climbing down the ladder.  Before he could reach the ground I heard another train coming from the east, brakes screeching.  But it couldn't stop in time.  It ran into the last car of the express, crushing everything into the front half of the car, the top of the car hanging open over the engine.  These were steam engines so the high engine heat and the escaping steam quickly killed many and scalded others. 

I ran to the crash scene at the end of the express.  There was no noise, no shouting or crying.  By the time I got there passengers were descending from other cars, milling about, not knowing where they were or what to do, not knowing the depot and downtown Michigan was on the other side of the train.  Soon people from Michigan began arriving and fire trucks from surrounding towns and ambulances from Grand Forks and Devils Lake arrived.  Then began all night rescue efforts.  Big electric spotlights were brought in from somewhere so they could keep working.  They couldn't use electric metal cutters because it would burn people still entrapped so they used saws and whatever.  Soon officials from Great Northern Railway Company arrived and took over the rescue effort.  Benson Drug Store was the only source of medicine and bandages.  I don't remember what the Great Northern did with the passengers, the trains of several cars were each full, must have been hundreds of people.  Suppose they crammed second train passengers into the first train cars, unfastened the last (crash) car and continued west.  Then unfastened engine from crash train and pulled remaining cars back to Grand Forks. 

One particularly bad scene at the crash, which I imagine everyone there remembers, was a women hanging out a window, her head and upper half down over the outside of the car, on top of the glass shreds in the smashed window.  She was conscious and sometimes would move her hands, but could not get free of the metal debris inside the car holding her lower half.  Finally, rescuers got on top of the car above her and put tied together bed sheets under her arms so to raise her upper body away from the car sides so rescuers on ladders could work on cutting her free. 

When doctors got there they went up ladders and gave her sedation shots.  After several hours they got her free but she was already dead. 

Richard Desautels

MHS '50

Spring Hill, FL