Monday, March 20, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: March 20

March 20, 1910 - Engineer Michael H. Connolly of St. Paul was killed and seven others were injured this evening when the Winnipeg Limited of the Great Northern Railroad left the tracks 23 miles west of Minneapolis and went into the ditch, dragging four rail cars with it.

Winnipeg Limited of the Great Northern Railroad1

Fire that started in the overturned mail car threatened to spread, and but for the heroic action of passengers who formed themselves into a bucket brigade, the whole train would have been consumed.

Traveling at the rate of 30 miles an hour, the train, which left Minneapolis on time at 5:50 p.m., leaped the rails at 6:30, one mile beyond the little station of Rogers, Minn., and about 15 miles east of Monticello, where less than two months ago a similar wreck occurred on the same spot.


A defective rail, or an unexpected lurch of the engine are put down as the only possible cause for the wreck that endangered the lives of 200 passengers, bound for Winnipeg.

Engine, tender and mail coach landed at the bottom of a 15-foot embankment, the mail coach catching fire and being entirely consumed.

The baggage car, smoker and day coach directly behind the mail car left the tracks but remained on top of the embankment and were saved only by the work of the passengers.

Two Pullman cars that brought up the rear of the train were pushed out of range of the burning cars by the willing hands of the passengers, including many women.

The small loss of life is attributed directly to the bravery of the engineer Michael H. Connolly who heroically stuck to his post and applied the air to the breaks, thereby holding the rest of the train to the tracks.

He went over with the engine and his body was buried between the boiler and the cab side, two feet in the mud at the bottom of embankment.

Joseph J. Ortman, the fireman, was on the upper side of the cab and was thrown clear of the locomotive. He was rendered unconscious, but when picked up was found to be otherwise uninjured, except for a slight back sprain.

Engineer Connolly was to have been married in one month. Ortman says that Connolly didn’t say a word as the locomotive slowly started to topple. He stuck to his seat grimly with his hands on the lever operating the air and when the engine fell sideways to the bottom of the ditch, he was crushed.

The overturned tender emptied the contents of the coal bunker and the water tank into a pool beside the embankment and from this supply of liquid the passengers carried water in buckets full to save the train from destruction by the fire.

Flames that started from the overturned stove in the mail coach spread immediately to the entire length of that car, surrounding it with smoke.

A relief train sent from Minneapolis at 8:30 p.m., brought the passengers and crew back to the Twin Cities.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Engineer Loses Life in Wreck of Flyer. Winnipeg Train Is Ditched When 23 Miles Out From Minneapolis. Michael H. Conley, St. Paul, Dead, After Heroically Saving Charge. Seven Others Are Injured—Fire Follows, but Is Checked.”; March 21, 1910; p. 1.



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