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Naperville, IL Disastrous Train Wreck, Apr 1946

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Naperville, Ill., (AP) -- Weary rescue workers Friday counted at least 43 dead in a terrific rear-end collision of the Burlington railroad's westbound fast Exposition Flyer and Advance Flyer Thursday.
Of 125 persons injured when the Exposition Flyer, speeding at more than 60 miles an hour toward San Francisco, rammed the stopped Advance Flyer, 31 remained in hospitals, some in critical condition. All but 5 of the dead had been identified.
The engineer of the Exposition Flyer, who Burlington railroad officials said had adequate warning that the preceding train had stopped, was charged with manslaughter. DuPage county officials said, however, this was a technicality to make certain the engineer would appear at an inquest and that no evidence of laxity had been uncovered.
The crash of the 2 steel car, diesel-powered trains occurred just 31 minutes after they left Chicago's Union station simultaneously at 12:35 p. m. CST on separate tracks, with the Advance Flyer, which ran on a faster schedule, in the lead.
The Advance Flyer, carrying 150 to 200 passengers in 9 coaches, was bound for Omaha and Lincoln, Nebr. The Exposition Flyer, made up of 11 coaches and carrying 175 to 200 persons, was headed for San Francisco.
Two minutes after the Advance Flyer made an unscheduled stop in this village of 5,287, a terrific crash roared through the countryside as the Exposition Flyer plowed into the rear of the stalled train.
A moment of tragic silence was broken by screams and cries for help from they dying and injured.
At first there was complete confusion. Huge, shining passenger coaches were strewn across torn tracks, some in tangled wreckage.
The cries of the dying came mostly from the rear coach of the Advance Flyer, where passengers were trapped. Others groped in bewilderment for escape from the mass of steel wreckage.
Eleven coaches were overturned or left the rails, 6 on the Advance Flyer and 5 on the Exposition Flyer.
Through the night, hours after the accident at 1:06 p.m. (CST), search continued for additional bodies. This was discontinued at dawn, however, when searchers were convinced all casualties had been accounted for.
Workers attempted to remove the debris and restore travel on the main line. An emergency line, however, was set up to allow through traffic.
As Burlington officials pursued their investigation of the worst accident in its history and also the most tragic in the Chicago area, State's Attorney LEE DANIELS of Du Page county said a warrant charging manslaughter had been issued for W. W. BLAINE, 68, Galesburg, Ill., engineer of the Exposition flyer.
DANIELS said the action was taken to insure BLAINE'S appearance at an inquest later into the deaths. DANIELS said he had interviewed members of the train crews and found no evidence of laxity.
The engineer suffered a skull fracture, the prosecutor said, and will not be arraigned on the manslaughter warrant for at least 2 weeks or until he is released from a hospital where he is under guard. His bond was fixed at $5,000.
DANIELS said that BLAINE, for more than 43 years a railroad man, told him that just before the collision Fireman E. H. CRAYTON warned him he was going to strike the Advance flyer. He said CRAYTON apparently jumped before the crash and was killed.
BLAINE, however, stayed at his throttle as his train sped toward the stalled Advance flyer. The Exposition flyer's silver nose plowed into the rear coach and for a fleeting moment appeared to stagger in the air, tear through the roof, then plunge with terrific force upon the floor and trucks of the car.



Naperville Train Wreck of 1946

Hi Stu, Thanks for the article. I was born and raised in Naperville about a block and a half from the where the train wreck occurred. My dad, John Spinner was employed at Kroehlers and helped with the victims. My mom was pregnant with me and was kept away for fear the sight would be traumatic to her.
I am trying to establish a memorial in Naperville for the victims who were killed. Do you know the total who died? I heard it was either 45, 46, or 47. Do you know where I can find a complete list of those who died? Have you been in contact with anyone who is still alive and who survived?
I'd be anxious to hear from you and where you got your information and why you were interested in this tragedy.
Chuck Spinner


Hi Chuck
The article I transcribed was directly from the newspaper indicated at the end of the article.
I have not heard from any others on this disaster. I am not positive of the official number of fatalities .. I'm sure it must be somewhere on the net .. I will do some more research on this accident and see If I can find that out and also a complete listing of fatalities ..
Thanks for writing

1946 wreck in Naperville

Seeing the many rail cars on their sides scattered around near the Loomis Street crossing was my first childhood memory. Born in October 1942 I was only 3 1/2 years old. My brother Bob, three years older, came home early from school with Bob Hagerman, a classmate, and told my mother there had been a wreck at the station. The children were sent home with strict instructions to not go near the railroad without a parent. Naturally, they wanted to see what had happened. She was sceptical at first. But she took us three boys by car up Columbia to the old wooden bridge that crossed over the tracks, about three blocks to the east of the wreck. Seeing the wreck from that vantage point was the memory I still have today.

Harold Huth, a Boy Scout leader when I was in Scouts later, who lived at the foot of that same Columbia Street bridge, was a truck driver for Kroehler's and was having his cab serviced in the garage at the Kroehler site on Loomis that day. He told us he noticed the first train had stopped, and was blocking the Loomis Street crossing. Out of curiosity he walked over to the tracks to see what was happening. Just as he got to the tracks and was maybe 20 feet from the train, he heard a train whistle, loud and constant, looked to his left and saw the second train barreling down the same track, sparks flying from all wheels. At the same time, a train employee (in white jacket) jumped off the last car of the stopped train and ran past him up Loomis Street. Harold claimed he not only ran after him, but passed him. A set of wheels from the second train apparently came off and wound up rolling down Loomis after Harold and the other man, but hit the small gauge tracks used to bring wood into the factory and was diverted to hit the side of the factory building. A truck driver trained in first aid, Harold spent the rest of the day and night helping the victims where he could.

I can't imagine a worse experience. Personally, I'll never forget the scene.

Chuck check with Historical society

I would check with the naperville historic society.
I am also a Napervillian

Naperville Train Wreck 1946

For now I can't find them, and can't remember the website, but there are more Naperville Train Wreck photos than what are shown here. I just happened upon them while surfing the 'net. When I find them, I'll try and send the link or address to this site. By the way, I lived in Naperville 1955 - 1973, over on Sleight Street.

Naperville train wreak

My grandfather is listed here Russell L. Whitehead but his wife Elenor Burke Whitehead also purished in this accident.

Mr. John Meluch and the Naperville Train Wreck

Stu, Mr. Meluch was my 8th grade general science instructor in the old high school on north Washington at the time of the accident. From his class room on the 2nd floor on the east side of the building, he saw the cloud raising from the accident. It looked like a mushroom cloud of an A-bomb. Shortly, he heard the fire siren screaming. Being in the volunteer ambulance/fire department crew, he ran out of the building and waited for the engines to come by. Hopping on board, he went to the site and worked the accident scene. In class the next day, he told us of some of his adventures. Two of his stories stick in my mind. One was of an injured serviceman who refused morphine saying he had had worse injuries during the war. The 2nd was about a woman who had spent quite a bit of time hanging upside down with her heel caught in the open over-head luggage rack. When they finally got her down, she refused to be carried out on a stretcher. Within site of Mr. Meluch, she dropped died. Evidently, too much blood flowed out of her heard which killed her. Paul

I was in grade school, 6th

I was in grade school, 6th grade and praticing with the band for a concert when this happened. We all heard this loud, muffled boom and then in just a few minutes someone came in, wispered to the conductor and he immediatly turned to us, said ther had been a bad accident at the rail station and that we were not to go there, but practice was dismissed. Of course most of us went there right away. Barracades had not been set up as yet but police were there and kept most of us a ways away. Hot metal, oil and a hundred other smells all mingled into one along with the sounds and sights of upturned and distroyed railroad cars everywhere. By the time I arrived there, activity was under way to free those that were trapped and noise was so high that few crys for assistance and help could be heard above the other sounds at the place that I was able to get to. Was told about a woman trapped upside down that they were trying to free. I never did hear what happened to her, so was sorry to read that she did not make it.
I made daily trips to the area as I lived on Loomas, just a couple of blocks from the rail line, often going there several times a day.
Happened to be there the last day as the workers were doing the last of pick up and getting ready to depart. A comment overheard that has stuck with me forever. One worker saying goodby to another. " Really glad to have met you and hope to see you again some time; But not under the same curcumstances".
Quite a deal!

Naperville Train Wreck

Hi Paul, Wow! I have obviously have not checked this site in a long while. My name is Chuck Spinner and I hope that you get this message. I have spent the last four years researching the lives of the people who died in the wreck. I interviewed Harold Schrader who just died and Calista Wehrli who died a couple months ago. I have finished my book and some very amazing stories. I am now looking for an agent and/or publisher to pick up the book. In a way I am glad I did not publish the book earlier because I would not have been able to have added the stories you mentioned above. I'm pretty sure from my research that I know the man you are referring to who refused the morphine. I'd have to check my notes, but I believe his wife died in the crash. If there is anything else you can remember or think of anything (pictures, etc from the crash) please let me know. I'd really appreciate it. I've heard from a number of people who were at the high school at the time of the crash.
My phone number is 716-763-5408 and my email is Sincerely, Chuck Spinner

Another eye witness story told to me by my father Harold Schrade

My Dad on the afternoon of April 25th 1946 had just started back to work after lunch hour at Kroehler's in Naperville. He noticed the Advanced Flyer was stopping outside his yard of Kroehler's office. He went outside to see what was up? (Usually th Flyer came through Naperville at 85 mph) He notice train personel were looking under the carriage of one of the cars. Then he looked up the tracks toward the East and saw the Exposition Flyer coming. He yelled to the men "Get the Hell out of there" and he saw fireman Clayton jump and assumed he died. So he headed in to his office area to call the operator (in those days you had to call the operator at Kroehler's and they called out to fire and police.) He then returned to the wreck and the first thing that happened someone handed him a baby girl. the mother was nowhere to be found? the warehouse where my Dad was yard foreman became the temporary morgue and "hospital" many of the injured where layed on the grass along Fourth Avenue. The accident happened right at the Loomis Street crossing of the then Burlington Railroad and the observation car was East of the crossing about one car length. The impact of the crash moved the entire train forward to the crossing. Many of the deceased were laying right at the crossing on mattresses brought from dorms at North Central College. The good news among so much havoc was the mother and the little girl were reunited and both were not injured. Chuck Spinner tried his best to reconnect that girl with my Dad but he couldn't find her and now my Dad passed on in March 2011. Just short of his 100th birthday. Chuck Spinner interviewed my Dad in 2010 and was awed by my Dad's memory of the wreck.

article | by Dr. Radut