Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Shreve and Berea Ohio, January 1930, Ohio's Double Dose of Tragedy

Shreve Ohio School Bus/Train Crash-January 3 1930
Berea, Ohio School Bus/Train Crash- January 22 1930
A Double Dose of Tragedy in Ohio.

Shreve, Ohio Bus/Train Crash...January 3, 1930

The Thirties was a bad decade for school bus/train accidents. I'm talking a really bad decade, with six multi-fatality accidents that I found while researching material for this post. These six, BTW were just the worst of the school bus-train crashes that occurred during the decade that also played host to The Great Depression. There were also several train/bus crashes where only the driver was aboard when the accident happened, one or two others that only caused one or two fatalities apiece and never became national news, a couple that, by some miracle, resulted in no fatalities, and probably a couple that have somehow slipped through the cracks and fallen from the pages of history.

Not only were The Thirties a profoundly bad decade for school bus/train collisions, the tragedies started early and came quick, hitting Ohio with a tragic one-two punch. The new decade had barely gotten started good when not just one, but two major school bus-train accidents occurred within two weeks of each other, ripping the hearts out of two communities that were just sixty miles or so apart, both near Cleveland, Ohio. The first of the two was only three days into the new year.

For the first one we go just about 70 miles due south of Cleveland, to the small Wayne County town of Shreve, and head back in time to the late evening of  January 3rd, 1930, very likely the first day back after Christmas break. The tiny town of Burbank, Ohio's girls and boys basketball teams were heading home after playing the first basketball game of the new year, and while the ladies lost a close contest the boys had just gotten a late Christmas present by beating one of their arch rivals...the Bulldogs of Big Prairie-Lakeville High School in the Holmes County hamlet of Big Prairie.

This was back in the day when every little town had it's own high school, and the schools in neighboring towns were often arch rivals on the grid-iron and basketball court. This was decades before today's Single A/Double A/ Triple A system went into effect...in essence every small town school was what today would be a Single A School...and every county had it's own high school sports league, made up of all of the small towns in the county. To fill the sports schedule out with games, each school also played a couple of schools from neighboring counties, and sometimes the arch-rivalry crossed county lines. 

That was the case with the rivalry between Burbank and Big Prairie. Big Prairie was actually just across the county line in Holmes County, Wayne County's neighbor to the south, and was about a 30 mile trip, which, on the rural roads of the day in a school bus, was probably at least a 45 minute or so ride if not a full hour. Now, this was January in Ohio, so the weather was not looking real promising when they set out on the thirty mile ride to Big Prairie. It was one of those 'It's not snowing yet, but you can tell it really wants to' days we're all familiar with, and that promise would bear fruit before the final whistle blew in the gym at Big Prairie.

Some things never change, no matter how many decades pass, and one of them is the atmosphere on board a team bus after a victory, especially if the vanquished foe is a big rival. I was manager for the Southampton County (Virginia) Jr High basketball team when I was in 8th grade and I well remember those away games, especially if we won, and most especially if we beat a major rival. The ride home would not be a particularly quiet one. Such was the case as the victorious Burbank team left Big Prairie at around 10:15 PM on what had become a profoundly nasty January evening and headed out Ohio Route 226. Route 226's alignment hasn't changed in going on 87 years, and back in 1930 it bisected the small town of Shreve, Ohio, about four and a half miles east and north of Big Prairie, just as it does now. Also unchanged is the railroad...the legendary Pennsylvania Railroad in 1930, now, I believe, part of CSX...slicing diagonally through town in a gentle curve, and crossing Rt 226 at just about the exact center of town.

Now, here's the kicker...this was not a completely unprotected crossing...it was protected by a warning bell mounted on or near the cross bucks on both sides of the track, and I read one source that stated that there was also a flashing light (If there was one, it was likely a single small flashing red light mounted with the bell rather than the alternating light signals we're so familiar with today.) The crossing was also protected by a watchman from six or so in the morning to 10PM, but that wouldn't be a factor...the watchman had likely cursed the sleet and snow that had started falling and headed for home when his shift ended, thirty minutes or so before the bus with the kids from Burbank rolled into Shreve

Driver Joe Baker had his work cut out for him...it was spitting snow and sleet, the roads were getting nasty, and the 16 kids on board the bus were boisterously celebrating their victory as they rolled into Shreve at just before 10:30PM. The trip from Big Prairie to Shreve was usually about a ten or so minute ride, but the snow was slowing them down, dragging the trip take out to almost twenty minutes. Baker slowed even more as he rolled into town.

Now this was a small town in 1930...the sidewalks, as they say, had been rolled up. There were a few lights burning within homes and in the back of some stores, and possibly some street lights along 226, but it was generally a snow-swaddled evening as the bus rolled north. The night wasn't completely dark, but was rather kind of glowing with that semi-luminescence that comes with falling snow. The bus...almost definitely unheated and closed up tight as a drum...was filled with the happy sound of teenagers who'd just kicked their arch rivals butts as well as the not-at all quiet drive train and engine of a mid or late Twenties vintage medium duty truck, because that's what the bus body was likely mounted on. And while we're at it, the bus body was probably nothing like what we think of today as a 'School Bus', depending on the age of the bus. If it was built before 1927, it was probably wooden, with perimeter seats running along the sidewalls of the vehicle and the kids sitting with their backs to the sidewall rather than the double rows of seats we're used to today. OH...while we're at it, there's a good possibility that it was not yellow...yellow as the standard school bus color wouldn't come along for another few years.

A bus very likely similar to the one involved in the Shreve, Ohio accident...Given that the kids in the front of the bus survived with minor to moderate injuries, it had to be a fair sized bus. Also, notice two things about this ride (Besides the fact that the bus is right hand drive)...the color and the seats. This ride was painted a dark color...yellow as a standard school bus color was still half a decade or more away and 'School Bus Yellow' wasn't adopted as the national standard until 1939. Also, you can see the edge of the right side perimeter seats through the open door. While the seats are padded, and this bus is equipped with a conventional right front folding door entrance, it had the same perimeter bench seats that were carryovers from horse drawn 'Kid Hacks' and that many early motorized buses were equipped with when new well into the early thirties...school buses with perimeter seating didn't completely disappear until all of the older rides that were equipped with them were retired, a few lasting into the mid or late 40s.
As the bus crawled north through the falling snow, a Pennsylvania Railroad mail/passenger train was approaching the crossing westbound, running about 45 miles per hour. The fireman was stoking the firebox, either shoveling coal into the flaming maw or tending to the automatic stoker if the locomotive was equipped with one, so he wasn't looking out of the cab's left side picture window until just before they reached the crossing. On the right side of the cab, as they passed the whistle board 1500 or so feet from the crossing, the engineer reached up and started yanking the whistle cord, blasting the engine's whistle in the traditional long-short-long-long crossing warning signal.

To this day no one's really sure exactly what happened next. Route 226 climbed a slight grade as it approached the crossing, and the tracks crossed the road an an angle, but the angle was in a northbound drivers favor...he'd barely have to turn his head to look down the tracks to the right. Now, there were houses or other buildings built right up to the tracks, so a driver's view was pretty well compromised until he got right up to the crossing's 'stop' line. The driver of any north-bound vehicle approaching the crossing would have to take extra care, and make sure he stopped clear of the tracks, but close enough look up the tracks towards the curve to check for an oncoming train....

But wait a minute!...this crossing was protected by a bell! (Probably at least partially because of that train-hiding curve, and partially because the crossing was located in the center of a town)  That should have provided plenty of warning if it was working...and according to a couple of eye witnesses who happened to be out and about, the crossing bells activated just as they were supposed to. They also stated that they could hear the train's whistle, and see the headlight stabbing through the snow...it being night and snowing may have made the train a little easier to spot, and anyone who's seen a train approaching in rain or snow knows exactly what I'm talking about here. Even back in the 30s train headlights were far brighter than car head lights, and you'd very likely see that beam stabbing through the snow, at an angle, a good bit before the train popped around the curve. But...to see it, you'd have to look for it! And the driver just plain long didn't do that, because those same eye witnesses stated that they saw the bus start up grade, slow a bit for just an instant, then, as the driver grabbed another (Probably lower) gear, accelerate onto the crossing...

Satellite view of Shreve, with the accident crossing...still in place 86 years after the crash...circled in red. The route the bus took into town is indicated by blue dashes.
Satellite view of the accident crossing...while the crossing is now, of course, equipped with gates and signals, it's laid out just about exactly as it was in 1930. It was, of course, snowing and sleeting that night, and the train was actually coming out of a pretty good right hand curve as it approached the crossing, but the driver, if he'd stopped and looked, would have still been able to see the train.

Street view, approaching the crossing. The buildings on the east side of Market Street (Ohio Rt 226) in downtown Shreve as you approach the crossing from about a block or so away are the same ones that were there back in 1930. Of course on that long ago Jan 3rd it was night time and snowing, so look at this and the next two pics, then close your eyes and imagine it at night...in the snow...

View of the crossing from the present day 'Stop' line for the crossing signals. While there's a modern building on the right now, I'd lay bets that there used to be a two story brick building similar to the ones in the first street view there. OK, with that and the tree line, if it existed in 1930, the train would have been completely hidden from this position,.but then again it probably hadn't popped around the curve yet. Also, back then the crossbuck, bell, and stop line would have probably been about where the crossing signal is now...and if the driver had stopped there...

This is from right at the crossing signal, as I noted, roughly where the stop line probably was 86 years back. Note the track coming out of the curve to the right...you'd still give you plenty of time to see an oncoming train...if you stopped.

  NOW! Use your imagination...It's night and a nasty combination of snow and sleet's falling...not blizzard conditions by any means, but still enough to reduce visibility. You get to the crossing's stop line and stop. You think you hear a whistle and, as you look to your right you see snow and sleet dancing in a powerful beam of light for several seconds as the ground kind of shakes a little and you hear that unmistakable CHF-CHF-CHF-CHF of a big steam locomotive under load. Then it pops around the curve, running close to sixty, belchinging steam from it's cylinder exhausts and punching a column of smoke skyward as it as it roars past the nose of your car, dragging a string of lit-up passenger cars behind it  headed for points unknown...

Ok, imagination off...the point of that little narrative being, even in the snow, you could've see the train for several seconds before it actually popped around the curve because of the head light. The bus driver could have seen the train, gang. If he'd stopped. And looked.  But he didn't.

...In most of these accidents, the crew aboard the locomotive has seen the impending tragedy start to unfold a few seconds before they hit, early enough for the engineer to slam the brakes into emergency, but that didn't happen in Shreve that snowy evening. The fireman may have glimpsed the bus, which emerged from behind a building near the tracks, moving towards the crossing, an instant before they hit, and he may have shouted a warning, but nothing I found indicates that the train crew had more than a second or two to react. On the contrary they may not have seen the bus at all before they hit. Engineer F Zick's view of the landscape to the left of the locomotive was blocked by the locomotive itself, as was his view directly in front of the locomotive. So he most definitely didn't see anything until an instant before they hit, if then. At the most, he may have glimpsed something materialize in front of him as the front end of the bus cleared the crossing, then it took an instant or so for his brain to analyze what he was seeing, compose the likely loudly shouted 'AWWWW (Pick a curse word), and send his hand in a desperate grab for the brake handle...it probably took a second at the very most for him to slam the brake handle back into emergency, but by then the bus was already tumbling to the right...north...of the tracks. In the cab of the big steamer, the crew probably didn't even feel the impact, and barely heard it...but they could see the crumpled bus as they slid past.

On the bus, the beam from the locomotive headlight glared through the right-side windows, turning it as bright as daylight and giving the kids maybe a half second of warning...The kids on the left side of the bus went deer in the head lights, a couple of the kids on the right side may have started to turn to look over their shoulders before the front end of the locomotive ripped into the right rear of the bus. The rear of the bus body all but exploded and eight or ten of the kids were slung out into the snow, seven of them, two of whom were brothers, dying instantly. The bus spun clockwise, landing about 100 feet from the crossing.

The engineer didn't slam the brakes into emergency until an instant after they hit the bus, and the locomotive slid a good thousand feet or so before it stopped. The train crew as well as some of the passengers...who had been rudely jerked and bounced as the brakes went into emergency...bailed off of the train and headed for the bus. One of the crew may have trotted around to the front of the locomotive to see if any bodies had ended up on the pilot or front platform, which was a common occurrence in train/motor vehicle accidents of that era.. The others started running up on bodies a good two hundred feet from the bus.

There were more than a few miracles that night, too...this was one of those accidents where there were either fatalities or, with a couple of exceptions, only bumps and bruises. One girl had possible internal injuries and two broken legs, another ,whose brother was killed, suffered a broken leg. The others...all of whom, I have a feeling, were sitting in the front of the bus...suffered bumps, bruises, cuts, and a couple more fractures. The driver and coach, sitting at the very front of the ride, were the least injured of the bunch...as the train crew, passengers, and residents who'd heard the collision descended on the scene they were helping the less injured kids, who'd apparently managed to stay with the bus as it spun away from the crossing.

Phone calls were made to Wooster...about ten miles away...requesting ambulances, but with the roads getting steadily worse it would take awhile for them to arrive. While neither article I found specifically mentioned it, I have a feeling the kids were helped aboard the train or taken to near-by houses to await the arrival of ambulances. And, this being 1930, while ambulances responded as quickly as the storm permitted, and transported the injured as quickly as possible...well, that's about it. There was no prehospital care back then, other than some bandaging and splinting. Luckily most of the injured kids suffered only cuts, bruises, and simple fractures...injuries that the ambulance attendants of the time may have actually been trained and equipped to handle. Generally though, in that era, being taken to the hospital in an ambulance was pretty much riding a fast taxi with lights and sirens. (Everything was transported under emergency conditions back then, from heart attacks to hangnails). 

 As often happens with away games to this very day, especially if the team's having a good season and the opponent's a big rival, a slew of the Burbank faithful made the trip to Big Prairie as well, driving their own cars, and most had left before the bus. I can picture the scene at the school, as they waited in the parking lot, first wondering just how the heck slow Joe Baker was driving for Pete's sake, then becoming concerned, then worried, than frantic, until finally someone got a phone call and hurried to the school to let the group of parents and fans waiting for the bus know what had happened. Then there was a mad rush through the snow back to Shreve. By the time they started back, all of the injured kids had been transported to Wooster's two hospitals and the majority of the bodies taken to the morgue. 

A similar scene today, involving a bus and multiple injuries, would look like a light show to anyone approaching the scene an hour or so into the incident, with a dozen or more pieces of fire and rescue apparatus and a score of law enforcement vehicles punching pulses of red, blue, and white light into the night. The scene would be crawling with dozens of well trained personnel. Bodies would still be in place...covered...and an hour or so in the injured would all have been transported, or, if they had been trapped and needed to be extricated, would be in the process of being transported. A couple of medical helicopters...a tool not even dreamed of in 1930... might be in a nearby field awaiting patients.  A perimeter would be set up, with non Fire/EMS/Law Enforcement personnel kept back a couple of hundred yards...at the very least...from the scene. Most likely an officer or two or three would be assigned the specific task of interacting with the parents and helping them find out the status of their kids.

Back eighty-five years ago, though, things were way more, for a better word, informal than they are now. I can just about bet that there were only a few emergency vehicles on scene at a time, even early into the incident, and by the time worried parents began arriving an hour or two into the incident there were probably none, or, at most, a Sheriff's Department car or two. Once the track was cleared, the train continued on it's trip. Parents and spectators could walk right up to...and onto...the scene, which by the time they arrived, very likely consisted only of the shattered bus and the debris trial it left behind as it tumbled..  

There was also probably no accountability as to what patient went to what hospital, leaving the parents completely in the dark. (This is one problem that hasn't been entirely worked out to this very day, because getting a large number of injured patients stabilized and transported often takes priority over recording just who went where.). They began an all too familiar and all too frantic place to place search, looking for their kids. They first went to the two hospitals, where eight joyous reunions occurred, parents and sons or daughters hugging madly, the parents crying tears of joy, the kids asking about their friends. Seven more sets of parents, their hearts heavy with dread, went to the morgue, where wails of agony were heard.

Joe Baker couldn't remember if he'd stopped at the crossing or not, but remember...a couple of eye witnesses stated that he slowed up, but didn't stop. Remember also that this was actually a signal protected crossing though the signals were, at best, pretty rudimentary, so he may not have legally been required to stop. I haven't been able to find a copy of the Ohio traffic laws as they were written in 1930, but school buses being required to stop at all crossings, whether they were signal-protected or not, was still a good way down the road. Both morally and common sense wise, of course, he certainly should have stopped. 

While the crossing had a bell signal, it's obvious that he did hear it...or if he did, didn't recognize it for what it was. And there were definitely factors working against him hearing it. The unheated bus was closed up tight do to the weather, he had a group of jubilant teenagers who'd, less than an hour earlier, kicked the collective bootay of their arch rivals in a hard fought b-ball game aboard, and the bus was straining, climbing a grade, factors that not only could have kept him from hearing the crossing bell, but the locomotive whistle as well. And, just to make matters worse, it was sleeting to beat the band. All of us have driven or ridden during a sleet storm, and well know the manic hissing rattle of heavy sleet hitting the windshield and roof.

Whether he heard the bell or not is sort of a moot point, though, because he should have just stopped the bus and looked, whether he heard a bell or not. And I know, there were buildings right on top of the tracks and the weather was redefining 'Nasty', but no matter how close to the tracks the nearest buildings were and how hard it was snowing and sleeting, he most definitely would have seen the locomotive's head light if he'd stopped and looked. While the track crossed the road at an angle, the track slanted from northeast to southwest, making the westbound train easier to see from the northbound bus...all Baker should have had to have done, had he stopped, would have been to turn his head to the right and look at an angle through the windshield. 

But he didn't stop. And this time 'Complacency' can't be used as an excuse, as poor an excuse as it always is. This was not a normal daily run, but a trip home from a basketball game along a route he likely didn't drive regularly, especially at night and most especially at night during nasty weather. If anything he should have been twice as cautious as usual..

I have a feeling the root cause of this one's pretty simple. I think he was concentrating on getting up the grade leading to the tracks on the rapidly-becoming-slick road and, distracted by all the noise on the bus, didn't even think to look for a train until the locomotive's headlight flooded the interior of the bus with a deadly glow. And because of this, seven kids lost their lives in the blink of an eye.


The kids who lost their lives in the accident:

Wilbur Grube
Forest Grube
Wayne Lehman
Emil Timic
Eugene Talley
Willard Baker


Thing is, Tragedy hadn't finished with Ohio yet.

Berea, Ohio School Bus/Train Crash...January 22, 1930

Just nineteen days later, and sixty or so miles north, with the Shreve, Ohio accident still fresh in everyone's mind, tragedy struck again when a school bus driver made a fatal mistake that's still all too common at railroad crossings....he was too impatient.

Berea, Ohio is a suburb of Cleveland, with just about 20,000 souls calling it home today. In January 1930 it was maybe a quarter that size and far more rural than it is now. Immediately to the north is the town of Brook Park, home, today, of Cleveland's Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, but most importantly for this post, home back then of Brook Park Elementary School, where the bus involved in this accident was bound.

January 22nd, 1930 was one of those crisp, cold, clear winter mornings, with just a couple of inches of fresh snow on the ground, as a school bus trundled east on Sheldon Road, not too far from both Cleveland's then brand new airport and Berea's New York Central train station. The bus...a Ford Model TT Truck chassis with a wooden body... had just started its run, and there were ten elementary school age kids on board, bundled up against the cold (Again, school bus standard equipment didn't include heaters back in the day). I can just about guarantee that it also had perimeter seating, with the kids sitting with their backs towards the bus sidewalls as well as, very likely, a rear entrance. As kids have been doing on that bus ride to school for countless decades, they were talking and laughing and burning off energy as the bus approached the big Sheldon Road crossing, where the then four track New York Central main line crossed...

Ford Model TT chassied school bus with a wooden, rear entrance body, likely very similar to the bus involved in the accident

Meanwhile two trains had pulled out of Cleveland's then brand new Union Station, minutes apart, at about 8:00 AM. The first, designated Train #7, was a straight passenger train, the second, designated Train #X19, was an express mail train, and was considered an Extra train on the schedule. Being a mail train it also had priority over all other trains on the line. Both trains were running late...only by fifteen minutes or so but still late.

Now, as the Roaring Twenties rolled over into the soon-to-be Desperate Thirties, the railroad was still King, travel-wise. The automobile was already beginning to cut into the railroads' share of travel, and the airlines would be nibbling at their heels in a couple of years, but in 1930 the train was still very much the way to move both goods and people long distances at high speed and would continue to be for at least another decade and a half or so.

 The New York Central main line coming out of Cleveland was a four track main line back then, set up exactly like a four lane highway, with the outer track in each direction being the slow (Or local) track, and the inner track the fast, or express, track. For the first several miles both trains were on the inner, fast track, with Train X19 following about a mile and a half behind train # 7, far enough back that the engineer could keep his eye on the block signals and bring his train to a safe stop if he had to. Then, a couple of miles out of Berea, Train # 7 was diverted to the outer, slow track to allow the mail train to pass it. The crew of Train X-19 got a 'clear board' (Green signal), giving them a clear track. The train's engineer eased the throttle open until they were running about 55 MPH, steadily gaining on train #7 until, as they approached the Sheldon Road crossing, only about a quarter mile separated the two.

Shreve, Ohio Satellite view, with the accident crossing circled in red. The bus destination...Brook Park School...was north and slightly west of the crossing, on a plot of land that's now deeply inside the boundaries of Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, a corner of which is visible in the upper left of the picture.

Satellite view of the accident crossing today, with bus and train directions of travel and other pertinent information indicated.  There are only three tracks...one of them a siding...today rather than the four track main line that existed in 1930.

 Even though four tracks crossed Sheldon Road, this was still an unprotected crossing. No flagman, no signals, nothing other than the classic cross-buck and the drivers' eyes. Train #7 blew for the crossing, and aboard the bus, driver John Taylor eased to a stop as Train #7 bore down on the crossing, running about 35 or 40MPH, it's locomotive belting smoke and steam skyward and outward, the train dragging a cloud of powdery, just fallen snow behind it. The kids, especially the boys (ALL little boys love trains) were wide eyed as the behemoth thundered past on the far track. By the time the forth or so car had passed, the draft created mini-snow-storm had mingled with clouds of uncondensed steam in the cold morning air to partially hide the train, making seem like a ghostly apparition, even in the bright morning sun.

A quarter mile behind Train #7's observation car and rapidly gaining ground, Train X19's engineer leaned out of Locomotive 3340's cab window and saw the whistle board for Sheldon Road, seemingly drifting in the cloud of snow and steam hanging in train #7's wake. He reached up, flipped the air valve for the bell, then started yanking on the whistle cord, sending the sonorous wail of a steam whistle across the country side.

Train #7's observation car, all but hidden in the clouds of snow and steam being dragged along behind the train, cleared the crossing, the Clank-CLANK of steel wheels hitting rail joints dopplering away as the train receded to the west. Taylor probably glanced to the left to make sure no train was approaching from the opposite direction, then pulled forward, onto the crossing. Now this was a wide crossing...seventy-five feet from where the bus was stopped to the first rail of the fast track Train X19 was on...and Model T's, especially the heavier 'TT' truck chassis, were not known for spirited acceleration. He started rolling at just about the same time Train #7's observation car cleared the crossing, pulling right into the cloud of smoke, steam, and snow hanging in the train's wake, which was effectively hiding everything to the northeast of the crossing, including the onrushing locomotive 3340 at train X19's head end. Train X19 was just about twenty seconds behind Train #7 by the time it neared Sheldon Road. Just about the same length of time it took Taylor to put the bus square across the inner, fast westbound track.

 Street view, approaching the Sheldon Road crossing from the same direction that the bus would have been approaching from on the morning of the accident. Even though Berea has grown exponentially in the eighty-six years since the accident, a trick of fate makes the approach still seem somewhat rural, with only a couple of modern buildings visible in this street view.
Looking towards the Northeast...the same direction that the two trains would have been approaching from...as you approach the crossing. It's a good possibility that the trees lining the track did not exist back in 1930 simply because this was an unguarded crossing. The hazard that grade crossings created for drivers was well recognized by 1930...but apparently not well recognized enough for railroads to spend the money to signalize all of them,or to assign gate guard to them. So they likely did cut trees and shrubs back as much as possible to improve the sight line. Of course, the view from this distance wasn't the issue. HMMM... wonder what the crossing did look like back in 1930?
Using Paintshop Pro, I added a track to give the crossing it's 4-track configuration from 1930, then got rid of the crossing signals and a couple of modern buildings, added some trees, and made a hopefully reasonable facsimile of the crossing in 1930. The crossing was 75 feet wide back then, and all four lines were main line...two west bound and two eastbound, just like a modern four lane highway. The trains would have been on the far two tracks, with Train #7 on the far track.  John Taylor...the bus driver..saw Train #7 approaching the crossing as he approached and stopped, waiting for the train to clear. Now, there was snow on the ground, so the train was making it's own mini-blzzard as it dragged a big cloud of blowing show behind it. On top of that it was cold...this was, after all, Ohio in January...so the steam belching form the locomotive's cylinder exhausts and from the pop-off valves for the car heating systems wasn't condensing as quickly as it would in warm weather, and smoke was tending to hang close to the ground. And Taylor didn't know that Train X-19 was less than half a minute behind Train #7, on the third track over...the inside westbound track.
...The direction the trains were approaching from...again, I used Paintshop to approximate the crossing as it was in 1930. Taylor had a straight, normally unobstructed view up the tracks for a good distance, and, indeed, saw Train #7 approaching on the far track in plenty of time to stop....but after it passed he had all that steam, blowing snow, and smoke hanging close to the ground as Train X-19 approached on the third track over, only about twenty seconds behind Train #7. The problem was, that snow, steam, and smoke hung like a fog bank, completely obscuring the view up the tracks for a good thirty seconds before it dissipated enough to give a driver a view up the tracks, completely obscuring Taylor's view of Train #X-19 as it approached. And, unlike Train #7,  Train X-19 was an unscheduled extra train. While Taylor very likely anticipated Train #7 possibly passing through...it was a daily run...he had no clue that Train X-19 existed at all. And if he did look back up the tracks all he saw was...well...snow and steam. So, wanting to get the kids to school on time, he assumed the way was clear and safe (Who ever heard of trains running in the same direction, twenty seconds apart???) and pulled onto the crossing blind...a good ten seconds too soon.

 Several people...including a mother who lived a bit northeast of the crossing, and who had just put her three kids on the bus and a couple of kids waiting at a bus stop on the other side of the tracks...saw the train, and saw the bus ease to a stop at the crossing to allow Train # 7 to pass, but no one saw the collision. Locomotive 3340 apparently hit the bus just forward of broadside, and the wooden bodied vehicle disintegrated explosively. The chassis was tossed aside the same way you or I would kick an empty cigarette pack off the sidewalk, flipping and tumbling to land upside down next to the right-of-way while everyone aboard the bus was violently ejected, some landing 100 feet from the crossing. With the exception of twelve year old Ethel Davidson, who must have had an angel sitting on either side of her, everyone on board was killed instantly. Ethel suffered a broken leg.

Just about the time Locomotive 3340's engineer, whose last name was Hand, started yanking the whistle cord as he blew for the Sheldon Road crossing, his fireman started shoveling coal into the fiery, seemingly insatiable maw of the firebox to keep steam up so they could make up the fifteen or so lost minutes, so he wasn't looking out of the cab's left-side window as they approached the crossing. The locomotive;'s bulk completely hid everything to the left of the locomotive from Hand, so neither of them saw the bus. All they felt was a sudden quick jerk as the locomotive punted the remains of the bus off of the track, and neither saw the ruined chassis tumble away from the crossing. They were probably looking over at each other with 'The hell was that...' expressions on their faces as the chassis somersaulted away, unseen, one of them likely saying something to the effect of 'All the hell we need! One of the drivers must've thrown a tire!!', oblivious for the moment to the carnage that had just been created.

 Hand, thinking both delay and paperwork, probably cursed under his breath as he pulled the brake handle into the 'service (Normal stop) position, bringing the train to a slow, gentle stop. Train # 7 had also come to a stop...so the mail train could complete it's passing maneuver...and Locomotive 3314 eased to a stop just about opposite the passenger train's observation car. The fireman and engineer both climbed down out of 3314's cab and walked towards the front end of the behemoth they were in command of as smoke drifted from the stack and steam roared from the relief valves. They were looking at the drive wheels, expecting one of the steel tires that the big drivers were shod with to be askew and twisted, but all of them were firmly in place and in good shape. They walked around the front of the engine, at first giving each other puzzled looks, then one of them looked over at the pilot and front platform and his eyes suddenly snapped open wide, becoming saucer eyes as he saw the school books lying, torn and battered, on the platform.

One of Train #7's crew...likely the conductor...had very likely called over to the crew of locomotive 3314, wondering why they'd stopped, probably expecting to hear of a mechanical failure, only to hear something like 'Oh, God, I think we just hit a school bus!' . They ran back towards the crossing, their feet feeling like they weighed in at a ton or so apiece, running up on more debris and books and lunch sacks and shattered sections of the bus body, spotting the chassis now pretzel shaped and upside down to the west of the tracks, and finally running up on bodies. One child...Ethel Davidson...was crying and calling for help.

I found little to nothing about the emergency response on this one, but then again there probably wasn't much (Nor, sadly, was there any need for much). Ethel Davidson was, according to what I found, transported to the hospital in a private car, and the bodies of the deceased were removed to the morgue by both ambulances and private vehicles as local, railroad, and ICC investigators converged on the scene. The superintendent of schools arrived fifteen minutes after the accident...while bus, train, and bodies were all still in place...and got the ball rolling investigation-wise, and as investigators interviewed witnesses and the train crew it became painfully obvious what had happened. Taylor had assumed that, once Train #7 cleared the crossing, that he had a clear, safe road. Problem was, through observation, and actually running a train across the crossing under similar conditions, they figured out that it took a good half a minute for the cloud of steam, smoke, and snow to dissipate enough to allow drivers to actually see whether a train was coming (From either direction)

On top of that, a train was expected from the opposite direction at about the same time the bus stopped at the crossing (It actually passed through shortly after the school superintendent arrived at the scene), and it was surmised that Taylor had looked to the west, watching for that train, just before he started across the tracks. OH...and the superintendent also stated that the train that had hit the bus (Train X19) was obscured in it's own cloud of steam and smoke as it sat on the track. Due to the cold weather, the steam and smoke were just hanging rather than dissipating, basically creating a man-made fog bank. Add the fact that Train #7 was usually all by it's lonesome...remember, Train X19 was an extra train that had been added to the schedule...as well as the fact that there were no signals, watchmen or anything else to protect motorists and pedestrians and you end up with just about a perfect recipe for disaster.

Taylor was another driver who was known to be a very safe, conscientious, and careful driver. He followed guidelines and policies to a 'T', and obviously stopped at the Sheldon Road crossing to let the first train...Train #7...pass. Problem was, he didn't take it quite far enough. If he had waited only half a minute or so...thirty seconds...longer, he'd have seen Train X19 bearing down on the crossing. But he didn't wait. And paid for it with his life, sadly, taking nine children with him.


The children who lost their lives that morning:

Vernon Davidson
 William Davidson
Jacob Walters
 Juanita Walters
Evelyn Kaltenbach 
William Pastorek
Dorothy Zielinski
 Rita Zielinski
 Vincent Zielinski

I believe that the two Davidson boys were the brothers
of Ethel Davidson, the girl who was injured in the crash.
They lived within sight of the crossing, and their mom had
watched them get on the bus just minutes before the accident.


<***> Notes, Links, and Stuff<***>

The other posts in this series
in the order they were posted.

March 1972

October 1971

August 1976

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2015/02/conasauga-tennesee-bustrain-crash.html  Conasauga Tenn.  March 2000

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/sandy-utah-bus-train-crashthe-worst.html   Sandy, Utah Dec 1938

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/proberta-california-train-bus-crash.html  Proberta, California Nov 1921

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/02/shreve-ohio-and-berea-ohio-school.html  Shreve and Berea Ohio Jan. 1930

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/crescent-city-florida-trainschool-bus.html  Crescent City, Florida December 1933

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/rockville-md-train-bus-crash-april-11th.html  Rockville, Maryland April 1935

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/mason-city-iowa-bus-train-crash.html  MAson City, Iowa Oct. 1937

http://disasteroushistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/eads-tennessee-trainschool-bus-crash.html Eads, Tennessee Oct. 1941


As you head back in time and look for information about accidents, disasters, and incidents of all kinds, you can be surprised by what you find, and more so, sometimes, about what you can't find. Accidents that I just absolutely knew would be a breeze to find details about were as barren, info-wise, as the Sahara desert's barren, pretty-much-everything-wise. Then an incident that's far less severe and/or well known will have so much information available that I have to pick, choose, and filter.

Sometimes I'll get really lucky with both the well known and more obscure incidents and get hold of one of the official government reports, which happens far less frequently and becomes exponentially less likely the further back you go, but when it does happen, it's always a welcome surprise, especially when said incident's era is approaching the Century-Ago mark.

With that being said, when I started 'Part two' of this series of posts, I knew that getting info on the incidents was going to be a hit-or-miss affair, and this post is a grade-A example of just that. I found the ICC report for the Berea Ohio accident, but the only thing I could find on the Shreve, Ohio accident other than a couple of articles on the genealogy site that I mine for subjects for this blog was an archived newspaper article. At least the only thing that wouldn't cost me seventy-five bucks that I don't have right at the moment. That seventy-five bucks, BTW, would have given me access to multiple newspaper archives...always an interesting read, but then, as now, the media's accuracy is sometimes very much at question. OK, make that often very much at question, considering the fact that the Berea ICC report refuted much of the info in the news articles I found about that accident.  As always, though, the research was half the fun.

Of course the best kind of research is getting to talk to someone who's local to the area where the incident occurred and is knowledgeable about both the incident and the area. I again got lucky in this respect when I called the Berea School District offices to find the location of old Brook Park Elementary, and got put in touch with a very knowledgeable and pleasant lady by the name of Nancy Braford, who I spent a very pleasant half hour or so talking with as she told me all kinds of facts about both the incident and the area...I'm ever grateful to her for taking time out of her busy day and talking to me. It was truly the highlight of my morning.

She also put me in touch with Nancy Gilliham at the County Line Historical Society, who I'd like to extend a heartfelt thanks to for sending me the Fall, 1998 issue of The Enterprise, that organization's quarterly newsletter, which contained a reproduction of the article written by Grace Dosa as a teen.

I still had to do a lot of speculating on both of the incidents in this post, though, but, as always, I hope I managed to make them interesting, as accurate as possible, and fun to read.

Now, on the the notes!

Shreve, Ohio Notes

One interesting fact about the Shreve accident that bears repeating is that the crossing was a signal-protected crossing with, at he very least, a bell and very possibly a flashing light though there was some doubt that the light was operating. As noted in the body of the article, this would not have been an alternating light signal like the ones in use today but was probably a single flashing red light mounted above the cross-buck.

This accident also makes it clear that distracted driving is not a new hazard, as Joe Baker was facing a multitude of distractions that night, all of which combined to put him in front of an oncoming train. This is why the laws that were ultimately passed nation-wide have the driver not only stop, Look, and listen, but silence everything capable of making noise when they do so. Of course it took a couple of decades for this to happen.

Berea, Ohio Notes

There is absolutely no worse nightmare for a parent than loosing a child, and the nightmare gets even worse when a single family looses multiple children at once, but this has happened regularly in incidents of all kinds involving children. Seven of the children who died in the accident were from just three families. The Davidson family lost two sons, the Walters Family lost a son and a daughter, and the Zehnski family lost two daughters and a son in the accident, ripping open a void in their parents' hearts that would never be completely healed.


The Berea accident has a very important and very touching similarity with the Evans, Colorado bus crash...like the kids who died in the Evans crash, the kids who lost their lives in the Berea bus crash were memorialized by having a school named after them.

Brook Park Memorial Elementary School was built and opened in 1956 as a tribute to the children who died in the accident, and to this day a memorial ceremony is held on, or as close to as possible, January 22nd at the school to remember them. A memorial garden at the school also also memorializes the victims of the accident. 

The school was one of several built in response to a huge surge in school population caused by both the post-war baby boom, and the construction of a Ford Motor Company assembly plant at Brook Park, and the property that the school, at 16900 Holland Road in Brook Park, sits on was purchased from the Walter Family, who lost two children in the accident. It was at their request that the school was named Brook Park Memorial in memory of the children who were killed in the crash.

A winter-time view of Brook Park Memorial Elementary School. The land the school was built on land puchased from the parents of Jacob and Juanita Walters, two of the children who died in the crash...it was at The Walters' request that the shool was named in honor of the children who died in the crash.


A little girl named Grace Dossa was born in 1928, making her just two years old when the accident happened. The accident killed several children in her neighborhood. and she heard stories about it as she grew up, and being both a very inquisitive and very intelligent child, she developed an interest in the history behind the accident, as well as the history of her community. This interest became a very fortunate turn of events for the citizens of Brook Park, especially the kids who attend Brook Park Memorial. As a teenager she wrote an article about the accident for the local paper, and then, for nearly five decades she visited Brook Park Memorial Elementary on the anniversary of the accident, giving a talk on the accident as well as what going to school was like back in the Thirties and Forties. She lived in Brooke Park for all of her life, and passed away only a few years ago.


Old Brook Park Elementary School...the bus' destination that long ago morning...was a beautiful old two story brick school building with English basement (Actually making it three stories) built in 1917 and located at Five Points Road and Riverside Drive, an intersection that, according to Google Maps, no longer exists. The plot of land where the school...long gone now...once stood is now on airport property.


With a very few exceptions, school districts in 1930 didn't own their own buses...they posted contracts yearly for drivers to bid on, and the drivers and sometimes transit companies who won the contracts actually owned the buses. John Taylor had first bid on and won the contract for that particular route in 1927, then won the contract yearly. I'm going to make an assumption about his bus here, and say it was probably bought new the year he got the contract, making it a '26 or '27, though the distinction wouldn't have been that great, it being a Ford Model TT, the truck version of the venerable and legendary Model T Ford, which changed very little, generally speaking, from one year to the next.


Hard as it is to believe, school buses originally weren't yellow, but were, rather, whatever color the owners wanted to have them painted. One of the stories that came out of this accident is that the State of Ohio started requiring school buses to be painted that now famous School Bus Yellow as a result of this accident. If this was true, they were way ahead of the game, as yellow didn't become a standard color for school buses until the mid-Thirties, and the color we all know as 'School Bus Yellow' wasn't actually developed until 1939.


This was a major multiple track crossing that at the time saw as many as 130 trains a day...that's five an hour, or roughly one every twelve minutes or so...yet there was no protection of any kind for motorists and pedestrians. This accident was one of the major factors in a huge push to have all crossings equipped with active warning signals...lights and bells. Though huge strides were made over the next decade or so...especially in Ohio...it was a long, uphill battle, one that still hasn't been won entirely, especially out in the Plains States, and in very rural areas not only in the Mid-west, but throughout the country.

Granted I can't think of any unprotected crossings not on private property in the area where I live, but that hasn't always been the case. One of the very first fatal accidents I responded to was at an unprotected crossing, where a car was hit by the Auto-train, and this was in 1974, forty-four years after the Berea, Ohio accident. Also, that particular accident wasn't in a rural area, but in a fast growing suburb of Richmond Va., so yep, unprotected crossings were still a problem throughout the country for decades after the Berea accident.

And, while things have improved astronomically since that cold, tragic day in 1930, to this day, you'll still occasionally run up on an unprotected crossing, usually on a little traveled back road in a very rural portion of the country.

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