Custer Creek train wreck
|Custer Creek train wreck|
|Date||June 19, 1938|
|Location||Prairie County, near Saugus, Montana|
|Type of incident||Bridge collapse|
The Custer Creek train wreck (sometimes called the Saugus train wreck) is the worst rail disaster in Montana history. It occurred on June 19, 1938 when a bridge, its foundations washed away by a flash flood, collapsed beneath Milwaukee Road's Olympian as it crossed Custer Creek, near Saugus, Montana, south-west of Terry, killing at least 47 people.
The bridge, number AA-438 was 180 feet long and constructed 25 years earlier. It consisted of two 50-foot plate girder spans and five reinforced concrete trestle slab spans carrying the single track across the creek resting on concrete piers. An inspection of the bridge earlier that year had concluded the bridge to be in good condition with sufficient rip-rap in place to prevent scouring.
Custer Creek itself normally runs dry for nine months of the year and had never been known to rise to a depth of more than five feet. But on the night in question a cloudburst deposited an estimated 4 to 7 inches of rain on the area drained by the creek. The previous train had crossed the bridge at 10:15 p.m. at which point the engineer estimated the water to be about three of four feet deep. Twenty minutes later, in view of the heavy rainfall experienced the section foreman performed an inspection of the track and estimated the depth of water to be six or seven feet beneath the level of the girders of the bridge (i.e. around six feet deep), giving no indication of the trouble to come.
The westbound Olympian that night was hauled by Class S-2 4-8-4 No.220 and comprised eleven cars. It was traveling from Chicago to Tacoma and carrying 155 passengers when it neared Custer Creek at a speed of 50 mph. There was no water on the track to warn the engineer that beneath was a torrent of water 30 feet high, battering at the bridge foundations, and no brake application was made.
As the Olympian crossed at 12:35 a.m. the bridge collapsed; the engine and seven passenger cars were thrown into the swollen creek On the west bank the locomotive and five cars were "piled in a shambles of crumpled steel"", killing the engineer and fireman. The wreck happened so quickly that when the body of the engineer was recovered he was still sitting in his seat with his hand on the throttle. "Two other cars ended up deep in the roaring creek". Rescue efforts were mounted by the train crew and uninjured passengers; smashing windows on the partly submerged cars to provide escape routes. Although the official death toll stands at 47, this is an estimate as several bodies were swept into the Yellowstone River, one body being recovered at Glendive 50 miles downstream. 75 people were injured. Newspapers reported the paradox that modern air-conditioned rolling stock requiring sealed windows, and the use of shatter-proof glass was partially responsible for some deaths
The investigation determined that the volume and velocity of water flowing beneath the bridge that night was "much in excess of any that had been experienced before or might be anticipated at this place". The bridge structure was still intact when the train reached it but two of the central piers had been undermined. The weight of the locomotive caused the piers to subside and the bridge to collapse.
- http://visitterrymontana.com/prairie-county-museum-and-evelyn-cameron-gallery/ Visit Terry Montana: Prairie County Museum and Evelyn Cameron Gallery
- ICC Investigation No.2278
- http://www.mrha.com/places.cfm?pp=370 Milwaukee Road Historical Association
- http://donsdepot.donrossgroup.net/dr533.htm Chicago Milwaukee St Paul & Pacific Class S-2 4-8-4s
- http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Tk8EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA9&lpg=PA9&dq=miles+city+train+wreck+1938&source=bl&ots=eh3AmFawyI&sig=vGrusODvFi7cW-V_01R9EjhNJVI&hl=en&ei=yxYlTNWFJ9KoOMHg_LwC&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CDEQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=miles%20city%20train%20wreck%201938&f=false Life magazine, Vol. 5 No. 1 July 4, 1938
- http://montanahistorywiki.pbworks.com/Disasters+in+Montana#1938floodandtrainwreck Disasters in Montana
- http://www3.gendisasters.com/montana/2130/custer-creek,-mt-washout-trestle-causes-wreck,-june-1938 The Ogden Standard Examiner, Utah 1938-06-20
- Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest by Carlos A. Schwantes, pages 278-279, ISBN 978-0-295-97535-1
- "Wanted-Signal to Warn Train Crew of Washout". The Milwaukee Journal. 26 June 1938. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- Railroad Wrecks by Edgar A. Haine, p106-7, publ 1993, ISBN 0-8453-4844-2
- http://www3.gendisasters.com/montana/2130/custer-creek,-mt-washout-trestle-causes-wreck,-june-1938 The Billings Gazette, Montana 1938-06-23
- Custer Creek, MT Washout Of Trestle Causes Wreck, June 1938
- ICC Investigation No.2278
- British Pathe newsreel