Back in Time: Stillwater Junction train derailment

The train derailment of 1928 took place at Stillwater Junction. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

BY BRENT PETERSON
GAZETTE COLUMNIST

As railroads continued to grow and trains became more common in the area and the safety of the railroad engines and cars were questionable at best. There were many accidents and derailments that occurred every year. One of the most exciting accidents occurred on Jan. 23, 1888 when two engines met head on just a couple miles south of Stillwater.

Conductor Barney Waters had just registered out of the Stillwater station at 7:40 a.m. traveling south out of Stillwater. His train consisted of a “smoking and baggage car” as well as a passenger car. This train was making its usual run of the day. There were twelve passengers on the train as they pulled out of the station for this ill-fated trip.

The train leaving from Stillwater Junction, about three miles south of Stillwater, was engineered by Frank Carey. His train had no cars attached. Carey, it was said, was new to the area and had no knowledge of the regular schedule of the trains of the area.

About five minutes into the run, the train from Stillwater was straightening out of the big curve beyond the Oak Park bridge, near Kirchoff & Weisel’s slaughter house, the fireman Peter Copeland, “sprang to the engineer’s side shouting, ‘an engine’s coming’ and threw himself into the snow drifts at the side of the track. The engineer, J.A. McLaughlin, shut off steam, set the air brakes, and just as the two great engines came together, flung himself out of the cab window. Had he remained inside one second longer he would have been ground to powder by the tender which was driven forward off of its tracks, and flattened against the boiler head by the baggage car which also left its forward tracks” according to the local newspaper.

Want to keep reading? Grab the May 12, 2017, edition of The Gazette, at newsstands through May 18. Subscribe to The Gazette to read Peterson’s column in its entirety each week. Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. Contact him at [email protected].

The Stillwater Junction depot in 1890. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)