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Instead of pulling to the side track at Riley to let the oncoming passenger train pass, the engineer thought he could beat it to the station at Pine Bluff. He was backing wildly around a curve through a rock cut when he saw the passenger train. He threw his train into forward and jumped, but it was too late.

Runaway Train

Shortly before one o'clock on the afternoon of October 26, 1886, passengers waiting on the platform at Riley for the passenger train due in from Pine Bluff were startled when an engine and tender went by at a high rate of speed, running backwards. As reported in the Madison Democrat newspaper the next day: "In a few minutes whistles were heard, and parties spoke up - 'There's a collision!'  It seemed that only a few moments passed until the same engine came back.”

The engine and tender had been sent west from Madison to assist a disabled freight train. Instead of pulling to the side track at Riley to let the oncoming passenger train pass, the engineer thought he could beat it to the station at Pine Bluff. He was backing wildly around a curve through a rock cut when he saw the passenger train. He threw his train into forward and jumped, but it was too late. His engine struck the passenger train head on and crushed it, raising a cloud of steam and sending scalding hot water flying in all directions. Engineer Thomas Dolan was trapped, his leg crushed by the wreckage. Then a fire broke out in the mail car behind the tender, coming within three feet of the engineer before he was pulled to safety (his leg was later amputated). Meanwhile, the unoccupied engine ran all the way to Verona before it stopped on its own.

Henry Schwenk, who had been hitchhiking on the train, was killed in the wreck. He was standing between the tender and the mail car, and was crushed through the end of the mail car by the tender and instantly killed.

Martin Kelley, who had misread a time card and sent the train on through, was charged with manslaughter. While awaiting trial, he was involved in another fatal accident. On November 3, only eight days after the train wreck, he was driving a horse-drawn wagon too fast around a corner in Madison when it turned over. Martin’s brother James was thrown from the wagon and instantly killed.

Mark Gajewski