Monday, April 5, 2010

Railroad Memories - Jack Prather

This was taken from the Oral History given by Jack Prather done March 6, 2007 in Russell, Iowa

Over the hill, from the old farmhouse, about 2 more miles down into a valley, the railroad came through and there was a big coal mine down there.  He thinks it was the Olmitz mine.  When John, Sr. and Isaac were big enough to handle the lumber, they cut props for the mines.  The mining was pretty big around Russell for quite a while.    The railroad came in from the east and handled all the coal in Lucas County.  Another big mine in this area was just east of Williamson, the Tipperary Mine.  There was a big mine in Williamson and it was one of the last mines to shut down.  The one in Williamson shipped its coal out on another railroad, The Rock Island Railroad.

One thing Jack remembered clearly was the Train Depot on the

North side of the railroad tracks.  Every morning at about nine o’clock, a steamer used to come through Russell with a passenger train.  He wasn’t sure how much it cost to ride it, maybe fifty cents.  It went to Chariton and passengers got off to go shopping or visit friends or family.  About three-thirty or four o’clock a return train came back to Russell.  That’s how a lot of people got to Chariton and back again.  Martin Kenton ran the depot for the railroad.  Jack used the depot to send and receive some of his own freight.  They had a good freight business in those days before trucks took so much of it away from them.  There was a 10 x 15 foot room off the depot that was usually half full of freight.  A fast mail train went through every day picking up the hanging bag of mail without even stopping. 

Jack was involved with cleaning up after the big train wreck that happened near Don Turbot’s house.  Don lived in Omaha at the time and Jack had to handle the details with the railroad for Don.  Jack had been fighting with the railroad for about five years about a drainage ditch at that railroad crossing.  At that time there was no drainage ditch under the tracks, so after every rainstorm, the water backed up against the track and flowed back into the crop fields and ruined the crops.  Jack had the County engineer and the Railroad engineer at the site together and all they would do is argue and end up getting nothing done to take care of the problem.   Jack would walk the tracks with the big shots from the railroad and lots of the railroad ties were rotted out and all of a sudden one afternoon about 2:30 they had a big train derailment.  They piled up 37 cars just like dominos.  There was an old boy in one of the cars with a dog and some other guys’ way down on the end of the train that didn’t get hurt.  No one got hurt.    Lowell Simms was one of the higher ups in the railroad and he came to the scene and rescued the “tattle tales” out of the engines.  A big outfit from St. Louis or Kansas City came up to move the cars off the tracks and get the mess cleaned up.  A couple of hours after the wreck, the sky opened up and dropped about three inches of rain making the clean up almost impossible.  There was a huge lake from the water backing up against the track and all the mud that came with the water.  They rolled in with all this huge machinery and the division superintendent was there.  The superintendent said it was customary for them to get permission from the landowner to operate their machinery to remove the railroad cars. Jack told him he couldn’t give permission until he had talked to Don Turbot, the owner.  The superintendent tried using the threat of “this is Interstate Commerce, so we don’t really need permission”.  Jack replied that Mr. Turbot worked for an insurance company and a whole division of lawyers who might have something else to say about that.  Jack told the Superintendent they could start around the edge of the property, but not to cross over onto the land until he had talked to Don.  Finally Jack got in touch with Don and Jack told him about the situation.  The superintendent told them all the things they were going to do to straighten the land back up, but Don said that’s just fine, go right ahead, but Don wanted them to put everything they were going to do down in writing and witnessed by two people with their signatures.  Jack gave the answer to the Superintendent and he said he had never heard of such a thing.  Well, Jack said, I am just a go-between.  He had the Superintendent go over and talked to Don on the phone.  After the conversation, the Superintendent was still not willing to proceed under these terms.  The Superintendent called the Vice President of the Railroad and explained to him what was causing the delay.  After he heard the explanation, the Vice President told the other Super he had better get that piece of paper signed and get busy cleaning up the mess, no more delays.  There was a carload of really nice big onions and a carload of rice on the train.  The big machinery came in and started to move boxcars and they were so strong they pulled the ends of the cars right off.  They really had power.  Whatever was in the cars got spread all over the ground, onions, rice, and plywood, creating a real mess?  After they got things moved around and stacked up, they had an auction.  A salvage man named Slater, from Salinas, KS came in to do the auction.  He was unable to get around in the mud and had people moving him around the wreckage.  He even flew into Chariton and had a man meet him there with his Cadillac and drive him out to Russell.  Everyone thought Jack was going to get the plywood, but Slater was buying it at a higher price than what Jack could get it brand new, so Jack didn’t buy any of the lumber.  Some of the stuff they just gave to Jack because he hadn’t gotten anything yet.  About a pickup load of stuff.  As far as the onions went, the inspectors decided that if a sack was broke open they condemned them and threw them into a pile, but if the sack was intact, they could sell them.  Jack decided he wanted some of those onions.  He went out there with an end loader to get some and the state inspector said he could not have any of those condemned onions.  Jack asked him what he was going to do with them.  The inspector said he was going to bury them.  Jack immediately told him he was NOT going to bury them.  No one had given him permission to do that or to even be on the land.  Jack told him to get off the land and stay away.  Jack told him there was enough stuff buried around there already, he wasn’t going to bury anything more.  The inspector left.  Later Jack was talking to the Vice President and he said he would like to have some more of those sacks of onions.  Jack had given away most of the loose onions.   But Jack didn’t think he had any left because they had been sold that very afternoon.  The Vice President called down to the wreckage superintendent and asked him if he had ten bags of onions saved back.  The superintendent didn’t think there were anymore.  After asking a couple of times, the wreckage superintendent said, “Oh, yes, we do have”.  So Jack went over there and got a couple of bags of onions.  When they got all done, they gave Jack a cost-plus contract to clean that mess up.  They told him to clean it all up and put a drain under that track like Jack and Don had been asking for, for years.  The contract stated that they could come on the site, but they didn’t have any control of what was being done.  They couldn’t tell Jack what to do.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everything reported is factual with the exception of how the derailment occurred. How do I know? I made a "run" with the very brakeman who was riding the engines on that very derailment 35 years ago. I am a BNSF Conductor who lived in Russell 36 years ago. He told me that there was a piece of rail that was standing vertical and that is what caused the derailment, not that ties. Signed, Dave A. Robb