Thursday, July 21, 2011

New on the Shelf : Michigan Rail Disasters

Michigan Rail Disasters 1900-1940, by Mark Worral & Benjamin L. Bernhart will be of interest to those studying Michigan railroad history and those whose ancestors either worked for a railroad or was the victim of one of the 158 incidents outlined.  Southwest Michigan is well represented, in fact Kalamazoo holds the title of having the most rail accidents during the first four decades of the 20th century.

The authors have taken pains to provide information and photos for each listing, accounts being taken from newspapers and official ICC Reports [Interstate Commerce Commission].  Included are hand-drawn diagrams outlining the scene of each accident and plenty of photos, most of which are "real photo" postcards. There are three useful indexes, organized by name of the railroad, date of incident, and geographic location.  

Southwest Michigan communities represented in the book include:
  • Bangor (1910 & 1912)
  • Breedsville (1909)
  • Comstock (1912)
  • Dowagiac (1929)
  • Harbor Beach (1912 & 1915)
  • Kalamazoo (1909, 1913, 1915, 1924, 1939)
  • McDonald (1923)
  • New Richmond (1908)
  • St. Joseph (1910)
  • Schoolcraft (1920)
  • Vicksburg (1910)
  • Wayland (1926)

 It doesn't appear that this book is a comprehensive listing of all documented train wrecks for the period.  In our photograph collection, there are several images of other wrecks in the area, including this one in Lawton in the 1910's.  The VBRGS publication Van Buren County, Michigan : a pictorial history includes two more, one in Lawrence in 1911 and the other near Hartford that same year. 

Also, these wrecks are focused on massive destruction of the train, not about loss of life as my grandfather's cousin was literally cut in half  while working at the Botsford Yards in Kalamazoo in 1915 when two railroad cars collided, but that isn't mentioned. 

I learned something new from this book that might be helpful to those that wish to research these and other train-related accidents.  Apparently, the ICC conducted investigations and reports were written, so be sure to add this resource to your railroad research checklist.    Michigan Rail Disasters may be checked out to any card-holding VBDL patron, or you may request a copy through your local library.

Nameless Picture of the Day
Unknown GAR Veteran
Photographer - Shaefer, Paw Paw
Can you identify the subjects in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.