Train wreck kills engineer, fireman, injures other crewmen

By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist

March 18, 2014

American folk music abounds with ballads detailing train wrecks and the brave engineers who died in those accidents. Often in these songs, the engineer is pushing to make up lost time and drives too fast around a curve or down a mountain. Sedalia, as a railroad center, lost many residents to train wrecks.

At 4:43 a.m. on Feb. 17, 1920, M.K. & T. passenger train No. 5, enroute from Sedalia to Parsona, Kan., rounded a curve near Lewis Station and derailed. Two engines left the tracks and overturned, dragging three baggage cars, two coaches and a chair car off the tracks. Lead Engineer Connie Doyle, of 605 S. Osage Ave., and fireman Joseph B. Jones, who lived in a multi-family dwelling favored by railroad workers at 1007 E. Third St., were crushed in the engine and died instantly.

The accident injured several crew members. The engineer of the second engine, J. W. Murrell, also of 1007 E. Third St., was thrown from the engine and suffered a broken arm, a severe cut on his forehead and many bruises. Fireman Thomas Bohon, of 501 E. Fourth St., sustained serious bruises when he jumped from the engine to the tender as the engine left the tracks.

Flagman Roy Spillers, who had been riding in the rear of the train, rushed to the aid of those in the leading cars. He suffered scalding burns as he attempted to rescue Bohon and others. Express Messenger Ernest Baumhoffer, of St. Louis, was bruised but was able to assist in the rescue efforts.

Clouds of steam from the firebox hampered rescue efforts. Passengers heard cries from the wreckage and rescued express messenger Charles Kelly, of St. Louis, who was pinned under a 150 pound safe and a pile of trunks in the baggage car. Kelly received a fractured ankle and cuts on his legs. Surprisingly, no passengers were injured.

The M.K. & T. wrecker car arrived on the scene from Sedalia around 6:30 a.m.; a wrecker car from Parsons was on the scene. The two wreckers lifted the lead engine off engineer Doyle. Clearing the tracks of all the derailed cars took several hours.

Three Pullman cars carrying the injured workers and Doyle and Jones’ bodies were brought back to Sedalia via a detour onto the Missouri Pacific Line through Nevada, Mo. The deceased were taken to McLaughlin’s Funeral Home.

The injured were taken to the Katy Hospital on Hancock Avenue in Sedalia. They were X-rayed, examined and treated. Railroad surgeon E. F. Yancey told Sedalia Democrat reporters the injured were doing well and would recover.

According to the Democrat, 45-year-old Doyle was one of the oldest engineers on the Katy system, having worked for them for 27 years. One of the “most reliable and trustworthy employees,” he had never had an accident until the morning of his death.

Doyle was married to the former Maimi McBride and had a daughter, Marion, a student at William Woods College in Fulton, Mo. He was active in the Shrine Club of the Masonic Lodge and of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.

Jones and his bride had come to Sedalia in late 1919 when he began working for the M.K. & T. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen.

Investigators from the railroad interviewed the train crew and passengers in an attempt to determine the cause of the accident, but had not been able to identify a definite cause. Crew members said the train approached the curve “at a high rate of speed.” The railroad reported that No. 5 had left Sedalia at 3:55 a.m., 25 minutes late.

Like the folk-song engineers Casey Jones and Steve of the doomed Old 97, it appears Doyle was hurrying to get the train to its destination on time.