Monday, April 18, 2011

Train wrecks and resurrection

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy depot and hotel served rail travelers in Chariton from the 1870s until well into the 20th century, when it was replaced.

It's too darned quiet here before dawn this morning, waiting for the trains to run again after a major crash on the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe tracks west of Red Oak early Sunday.

Both the engineer and conductor of a coal train were killed when it slammed into the rear of a maintenance train on the east-bound tracks, closing the BN&SF main line across southern Iowa until wreckage is cleared and the tracks repaired. Such things aren't supposed to happen, but now and then they do, sometimes with tragic results.

The tracks are supposed to be open again early today, but apparently that hasn't happened. When it does, there will be a long procession as backed up traffic rolls east and west.

The odd thing about living with rail traffic, as nearly everying one in Chariton (where the BN&SF and Union Pacific intersect) does, is that we stop noticing the trains --- until someone tells us they're not running; then it begins to seem eerily quiet. So I'm looking forward to hearing the first whistles at the crossing a block east of here sometime today.

The trains have been running on the same route through town since the 4th of July, 1867, when the Burlington & Missouri River line (later CB&Q and now BN&SF) reached Chariton. A north-south route was added a few years later; then in 1913, the Rock Island's north-south route (now Union Pacific) was built through East Chariton.

And accidents always have happened. The tombstone here belongs to an uncle some generations removed, Dempsy Etheredge, who is buried in Bethel Cemetery --- known at that time as McDermott or Sargent.

Dempsy, a CB&Q conductor, died at Creston on Aug. 6, 1896, after being critically injured near Murray.

"On Wednesday night of last week he was doing the work of his brakeman, U.G. Wright, when in some unaccountable way he fell from a flat car and one limb was crushed by the wheels and the other dislocated at the ankle. He was conveyed to Creston in his own way car and at 6:05 Thursday morning died. The news of his death was a fearful shock to thousands of friends," the Albia Tuesday Union reported.

Dempsy's funeral was held at the Methodist Church in Russell after special rail cars had delivered his railroad friends and acquaintances from across southern Iowa to the depot and a procession of carriages then had transported them to the church. Since Dempsy had no children, he has by now for the most part been forgotten.


This week seems as if it's going to be a little too busy, or at least that's the way it looks before it  begins.

The Lucas County Historical  Society's annual meeting begins at 7 p.m. today at Pin Oak Lodge, at the marsh just south of town along Highway 14.

Our guest presenter will be David Peterson of Des Moines, who during his career as a newspaper photographer (he now freelances), earned two Pulitzers. The focus of the program tonight will be his award-winning coverage of the Iowa farm crisis of the mid-1980s (He gave these photographs recently to the Iowa History Center at Simpson College in Indianola).

I'm always amazed at what a photographer who also is an artist can accomplish. It's one thing, especially in these days of digital imaging, to stalk tombstones, chunks of scenery or even our friends and family and produce acceptable results.

It's quite another to approach people with an artist's eye and a camera and capture time in such a manner that when you look at the image at any point in the future you're drawn into it, reliving the instant with those who experienced it. A friend recently forwarded a series of amazing Dust Bowl-era shots that did just that. And so do Peterson's photos, reflecting a later time and another place. So I'm looking forward to the program.

We'll have a brief business meeting after the program with pie and coffee at the end. All are welcome, member or not. No charge.


This also is Holy Week, something of a marathon in the liturgical church --- Maundy Thursday, when candles are extinguished, the altar stripped and the church left in darkness, hope poured out onto the ground; Good Friday, somber reflection in that barren room; then the return with new fire of light and hope during Saturday night's Easter Vigil; and finally, the all-out celebration of Easter Sunday.

We're pairing up for the Easter Vigil this year with First Lutheran in Chariton, beginning at 8:30 p.m. Saturday,  and I'm anxious to see how it goes. The Vigil is the longest service of the liturgical year and will stretch toward midnight, so a degree of endurance is required. At St. John's, we always retired to the parish hall for champagne (don't tell the Baptists; this'll only confirm their worst suspicious) after all was said and done. In these more austere times, I think we're settling for sparkling wine this year.

Let's face it --- life can be a train wreck and Christianity quite often is. But this is the season to celebrate, with or without orthodox faith, the human potential to transcend darkness --- and raise the dead.


And now I've got to go bake two pies. Remind me why I decided to do this myself, rather than just placing orders --- as several others did. And rain's in the forecast again for much of the week. Oh well ...

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