In the 19th century when railroads were being developed, many feared the new technology was dangerous. Anti-railroad propagandists in Philadelphia played to these fears with posters showing q terrified woman fleeing a train with the warning, “Mothers, Look Out For Your Children,” who might suffer a “Dreadful Casualty” if they ventured anywhere near the tracks. Their fears were echoed by residents of the northern part of Shelby County, Missouri, who, according to the 1884 History of Monroe and Shelby Counties, announced they “didn’t want any railroad running through their neighborhoods, scaring the stock and killing men, women, and children, besides setting the woods and fields afire.
Like most propaganda, only portions of these statements were true. Certainly, children should not play on railroad tracks. Yes, sparks from passing locomotives did sometimes cause fires. However, the image of a train charging off the tracks and running down women and children was a wholesale attempt to frighten people into voting against railroad proposals.
In the early years, railroad accidents most often involved railroad employees such as brakemen, firemen, and railroad yard workers coupling cars. Inventions such as the Westinghouse Air Brake and the automatic car coupler made railroad work safer. Dangers still existed when trains derailed, when trains collided, or when people or vehicles were on the tracks.
On Thursday, August 4, 1938, the reality of the dangers of the collision of a train and a car were made vividly clear. Missouri Pacific train # 14, under the control of Engineer B. V. Elkins of 923 East Third Street, Sedalia, Fireman C. C. Sullivan of 621 East Eleventh Street, Sedalia, and Conductor H. J. Brummerhof of St. Louis was running about seventy miles an hour, faster than normal because the train was running about three minutes late. At Hoy McConley’s crossing about two miles west of Dresden north of what is now Highway 50, the train struck an old Model T car driven by Sam Fisher, 40, of Stokely.
In the car with Fisher were his father Newton Fisher, 64, his son-in-law Nathan Faulconer, 42, of Barefoot, and his granddaughter Ruth Taylor, 15, also of Barefoot. George Anderson, who lived on the Noah DeHaven farm about two miles north of the accident site, and his nine year old son Jack Anderson were riding on the right side running board. They were going to Dresden to see a free show.
Fireman Sullivan first saw the car partially on and partially off the tracks and screamed. Engineer Elkins told reporters that he had not seen the car but knew when Sullivan screamed that they were going “to hit something.” Both the Sedalia Democrat and the Sedalia Capital were very graphic in their description of “wreckage flying through the air” and bodies “mutilated beyond recognition.”
Elkins told reporters that he braked after the train struck the car, but that the train traveled “25 pole lengths” before coming to a halt. He backed the train to the site of the accident and crew members began to help the victims.
All four passengers were killed instantly. George Anderson suffered a concussion; he never regained consciousness and died on Monday afternoon. His son Jack survived with minor injuries.
Next week’s column continues the story of the crash and its aftermath.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.