Friday, February 17, 2017

Death under the wheels, times two ...

Chariton has been a railroad town since 1867 --- and still is although the trains don't stop here any more and the old depots, now Burlington Northern & Santa Fe and Union Pacific, serve only maintenance crews.

The jobs of the switchmen, who operated the various switches in rail yards and assisted in moving cars, historically were among the most hazardous. Here's the "job description" provided in the June, 1886, edition of Switchmen's Journal:

"The vocation is the most dangerous of any of the different branches of railroading, and that [some] live for years is only due to their extreme carefulness. The least misstep will often result in crippling a man for life. Their hours of work are long, and the labor very hard, and rain or shine they have to be at their posts. There is no protection for them from the rains of summer, nor the freezing winds and snows of winter. On their efficient work the great commercial interests of the country largely depend, and only a little carelessness on their part may result in immense damage to the goods in transit, and an error in delivery sometimes causes the loss of an entire consignment of freight, if it happens to be perishable."

These dangers were brought home to Lucas Countyans, multiplied twice, during early 1887 when two young switchmen died in quick succession of injuries sustained in the rail yards associated with the C.B.&Q. rail complex in northwest Chariton (below).

The first to die was Frank Callahan --- on Jan. 22, 1887. That's Frank's tombstone (top) in the Chariton Cemetery, just six rows inside and to your right upon entering through the main gates where he is buried between his mother, Mary, and an infant son. Here's the Chariton Democrat report of the accident that killed him, published on Jan. 20, 1887:

"It was a shocking accident which befell one of the most worthy of the C.B.&Q. employees in the Chariton yards last Saturday morning. At seven o'clock Frank Callahan went forth from his humble yet happy and prosperous home a vigorous and hopeful young man. An hour later he was carried home (he actually was carried to the Depot House hotel where he remained until he died) on a stretcher almost dead, with both legs crushed by the cruel wheels.

"Frank was a switchman in the Chariton yards. Always faithful, prompt and obliging, he was a universal favorite with railroad men. He had performed his duties well --- so well that a promotion to the position of yard-master had been offered him, and declined, because he conscientiously shrunk from the great responsibilities which he knew would be upon him. He preferred his present position.

"On Saturday morning, in uncoupling, his feet suddenly slipped on the icy rail. He threw himself backward, but not far enough. His legs crossed the rail, and were ground under the wheels. One was crushed at the ankle and one from the ankle to the knee, the bones ground to small bits. He was carried home and surgeons summoned.

"And here commenced the remarkable part of the case --- an interesting case in medical science. The doctors waited for the rally, the reaction which usually sets in a few hours after the shock. It is pretty well settled that amputation of a limb cannot be safely performed until that rally. But it came not that day, nor the next, not until Monday evening, 60 hours after the accident. All this time he was conscious, but greatly prostrated by the shock, his pulse scarcely perceptible. But Monday morning he began to rally, and a consultation of the surgeons determined on the double amputation Tuesday morning, when it was successfully performed. His condition necessitated his being kept under the influence of chloroform the briefest possible moment, and the limbs were amputated and dressed inside of thirty minutes. He stood the operation well. One leg was amputated above the knee, and one midway between the knee and ankle.

"The case has been under the charge of Dr. Gibbon, the company's surgeon at this place, ably assisted by doctors Todd, McKlveen and T.P. Stanton. They have all been most faithful in their attendance and skillful in operation upon the unfortunate young man.

"Frank is about twenty-five yeas of age, with a wife and one little child. He has been economical and prudent in his habits and already had saved enough to buy some land upon which he intended to move in a month or two. He is a member, we understand, of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, a benevolent society which pays two thousand dollars death loss on its members. If this society wants to show itself a grand organization in the universal brotherhood of man it should pay this now. The wife and babe will never be able to use it to better advantage. And then the great corporation which he has so faithfully served should provide him a suitable position for the new life which he will have to adopt --- it it will do we have no doubt."

Unfortunately, The Democrat's optimism regarding Frank's condition was unwarranted. Here's the report of his death from The Herald of Jan. 27:

"Mr. Francis M. Callahan died last Friday morning from the effects of the injuries he received something over a week ago. He was supposed to be doing well until a short time before his death and his physicians had thought he would live. The funeral was held from the Baptist church last Sunday. Mr. Callahan leaves a wife and child. He had during his life made provisions for his family should any accident happen to himself, for he was carrying an insurance on his life of $4,000. He was a good, faithful man to his employers and his family, and leaves many friends in Chariton to mourn his death."

The sorrow of Frank's widow, Rebecca, was compounded two months later, on March 29, when their only child, James Delman, died at the age of seven months and was buried by his father's side. I was unable to find a report of the circumstances.

Some years later, Rebecca married as her second husband John E. Carson and they had a son of their own, Francis G. --- named perhaps after Frank Callahan --- during 1890. Sadly, Rebecca died the following year at the age of 26. She is buried in the Columbia Cemetery.


Frank's position in the Chariton rail yard, left vacant by his injury, then death, was filled by a young man from Norwood, John A. Murray, age 25.

And then The Democrat of Feb. 10, 1887, carried the shocking news that he, too, had been killed in an accident in the rail yard. The same edition carried a brief news item reporting that Rebecca Callahan had just received a check for $2,000 from the Ancient Order of United Workmen as the result of her husband's death a couple of weeks previously.

Here's The Democrat report of John Murray's death, published under the headline, "Death Under the Wheel: Another Chariton Switchman Killed."

"It is only two or three weeks since we gave an account of the killing of Frank Callahan, a faithful young man who died at his post in the Chariton yards while attending to his duties as night switchman. Scarcely has the first sorrow of that startling shock subsided, until we are called upon to note another and still more horrible calamity.

"J.A. Murray was Frank Callahan's successor. He has been working in the yards here some three months. Last night, about nine o'clock, Murray was attending to his duties in the west end of the yards. He had stepped between the cars and drawn a coupling-pin, and then stepped back on to the main track. The approaching danger was unobserved. A mogul engine with some freight cars was backing down the track on which he stood. They struck him down and passed over him, frightfully mangling and mutilating his body, and killing him instantly. Every limb was crushed, his neck, collar bone and hip broken. The mangled remains were carried to undertaker Bradrick and prepared for interment.

"Deceased is a young man of perhaps twenty-five years of age who has resided in Chariton but about three months. He was of a very quiet and reticent disposition, and consequently was  not extensively known here. His home, we learn, has been with a widowed mother of whom he was the only support. He has a brother living near Norwood in the northwest part of this county, but further of antecedents or his people we are unable to learn at this writing.

"And thus the two young men who were companions in work here have gone into the great Hereafter --- companions still, perhaps, in that undiscovered country where their labors are at an end. They did their duty here and we trust have their full reward there."

John's remains were taken to the Norwood Cemetery for burial and his tombstone may be found there.

Find a Grave photo by Doris Christensen

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