I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
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Recalling '61 train wreck in DeKalb
By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................May 1, 2012
The closure of the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Fourth
Street in DeKalb this week for railroad track repairs may remind
a few longtime residents of the spectacular train derailment
in August 1961 that caused chaos in downtown DeKalb during the
noon hour on a Friday.
David Hegberg brought the accident to my attention when he emailed
me a photo of the wreck that had appeared in the Daily Chronicle
the same afternoon. The Daily Chronicle photographer had apparently
gotten on top of the DeKalb Trust & Savings Bank across the
street and recorded the scene as crowds began to gather. The
timing was fortuitous for the Chronicle, as the paper published
in the afternoon then and could put the accident on the front
page with a detailed story, photo and banner headline that read
DEKALB HAS TRAIN WRECK.
Taken from atop a bank at Fourth Street and Lincoln Highway
in DeKalb, this photo shows the chaos that resulted from a train
derailment Aug. 4, 1961. (Daily Chronicle file photo)
The cause of the accident was believed to be a brake rigging
on one of the rail cars that broke loose and began dragging along
the trackbed, eventually causing the derailment of six refrigerator
The Chronicle reporter got a statement from one of the survivors
of the crash, the driver of the third vehicle in line at the
intersection, who said: Out of the corner of my eye I saw
one of the (rail) cars moving out of line. I didnt think.
I just jumped out of my car and fell on the pavement. Then I
got up and ran for two blocks before I stopped and looked back.
He happened to be a Daily Chronicle advertising representative
named Ron Hollingshead. He suffered only a minor cut on his leg
when he fell.
Two other people received minor injuries and were taken to the
hospital. Anthony Heppner was sitting on a park bench near the
World War II tank and was thrown to the ground when the tank
was shoved off its base into the street. A second man, Robert
Jones, also was taken to the hospital with unspecified injuries.
Probably the luckiest family was that of Mrs. Virgil Nehring.
The family was in the first vehicle at the crossing. One of the
overturned box cars crashed into the right front end of the car
and cracked the windshield. She and her children escaped serious
injury but were said to be in shock from their brush with death.
It just happened recently that I met the assistant engineer of
the freight train, Joe Pinion, at the Town Square restaurant
in Sycamore, and he vividly recalled that day in August. In 1961,
he was just beginning his 40-year career with the railroad, riding
in the cab with engineer William Day.
He said a friend, Bill Mason, was a banker at DeKalb Trust &
Savings and had his desk near the front window. The derailed
cars skidded within 15 to 20 feet of the bank so Mason had a
front row seat to the disaster. But no one was killed or seriously
injured, so it was a miracle that only property damage occurred.
Pinion recalled several other train accidents during his career,
especially a spectacular one in Cortland in the early 1970s when
a coal train derailed and demolished buildings along the tracks.
He was the engineer of a train waiting on the siding there at
the time and witnessed the damage that was caused. But thats
By the way, DeKalb city fathers later decided it would be safer
for that memorial tank to be moved elsewhere, and it now sets
in the park at Lincoln Highway and North First Street, more than
a block away from the railroad tracks.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115