19th Century Train Disasters


By Fred Wark – February 2008 – Adapted from Trainweb.org

I have lived in the Lakeland area of Hamburg Township since 1978. When I first moved into the area I heard several stories concerning a local train accident where several people were killed and the train was sunk into a swampy area. Most versions of this story say that the wreckage was never recovered. I have seen several photographs and read several accounts of various local railroad accidents but none of them seemed to be consistent with this legend.

A few years ago I started to try and find out more about this story. I looked in several area libraries at their collections of old newspapers. I found several articles describing the accident of a Toledo Ann Arbor & Northern Michigan Railroad (TAA&NM) train which occurred on the evening of October 25 1893. There are several discrepancies between these articles but they seem to confirm the stories I have heard. The following is my version of this event based on the information that I have been able to gather.

In the 1880’s the Toledo and Ann Arbor Railroad Company (which would evolve into the Toledo, Ann Arbor and North-eastern Railroad Co, and eventually into the TAA&NM) originated in Toledo, extended north through Ann Arbor and terminated in South Lyon. Property was acquired and grades were established at various locations, with the city of Pontiac as the intended final destination. Stubborn property owners located between South Lyon and Wixom would not relinquish their property rights to the railroad. A decision was made and the TAA&NM RR was redirected north, towards Owosso and Lake Michigan. [1] This change of direction occurred in Northfield Township (near North Territorial and Earhart roads) with the establishment of Leland Station (named for the owner of the property). The new tracks made an almost 90 degree curve and headed northwest towards Whitmore Lake and Hamburg. The tracks between Leland and South Lyon remained for several years but they were rarely used. [2] The curvature of the ‘Leland Bend’ was so severe that trains could not safely travel over it unless they were going at a very slow speed. In 1894 or 1895 new tracks were laid at a location which is still known as Osmer (a few miles north of Ann Arbor). These new tracks headed north, directly towards Whitmore Lake and are still in use today. Travel over the dangerous ‘Leland Bend’ was no longer necessary and this section of track fell into infrequent use.

The bed and the track of the Michigan Air Lines RR (a division of the Grand Trunk) were constructed through Hamburg Township between 1881 and 1885. The MAL was constructed from Pontiac westward, primarily to serve the needs of the rapidly expanding state prison complex located near the city of Jackson.

Until 1893 the TAA&NM utilized these MAL owned tracks between the village of Hamburg and Hamburg Junction. Hamburg Junction was the separation point of the TAA&NM from the MAL. TAA&NM tracks headed north, toward Pettysville [3] and Chilson. MAL tracks went west into Pinckney. It was not until 1893 that the TAA&NM constructed its own tracks between Hamburg and Hamburg Junction. Hamburg Junction is the area now known as the community of Lakeland. The bed of the MAL RR is now the Lakelands Trail State Park multi-use trail.

There are several areas between the villages of Hamburg and Chilson where the railroad bed was located through low lying swampy areas. The bed and track had to be elevated 10 to 15 feet above the original grade, in many places. Newspaper accounts indicate that there was one area, about a mile north of Hamburg Junction, which had been having problems with the track and bed sinking into the marsh. One area in particular had been repaired a few days prior to October 25 1893.

On Wednesday, October 25, 1893 a northbound freight train went through Hamburg Junction, approaching the Pettysville crossing. At approximately 7:00 p.m. this TAA&NM freight train, pulled by Engine 36, went over this recently repaired area. The tracks either sunk or separated from each other and the engine tipped over, almost completely upside down and went into the swamp. Immediately behind Engine 36 were two tank cars full of 200 barrels of oil. The oil cars hit the overturned engine and the oil burst into flames. Behind the oil cars were five coal tenders. These tenders followed the oil tank cars into the wreckage and added more fuel (coal) to the fire. One newspaper account reads that “The laws of the state were disregarded in the makeup of the train, as the law states that oil cars must be run at least 10 car lengths back of the engine. Had this been done, it is not likely that the wreck would have taken fire.” The rest of the train stayed upright, on the tracks.

The engineer and the fireman were trapped within the small confines of the cab of the locomotive and were not able to get out. The brakeman was atop one of the cars, he tried to jump to safety but he got pinned beneath the wreckage. Several accounts say the he was still alive when spectators arrived. It is said that he cried out for somebody to put him out of his misery. He died before anyone was able to locate a gun. The three bodies were “burnt to a crisp”. Several accounts say that the fire burned so hot that the locomotive wheels were melted and that the engine was a complete loss. Flames were said to reach as high as 100 feet. The glow of the fire could be seen in the night sky from as far as 40 miles away.

Passenger train #4, going south, arrived at the wreckage at about 8:00. Passengers had to disembark, walk around the burning wreck, and re-board a special train which was sent from Ann Arbor to pick them up.

At about midnight, a MAL engine was able to get onto the TAA&NM tracks at Hamburg Junction and pull the remainder of the train back south, and away from the still burning wreckage. It was not until late Thursday afternoon that the fire was cool enough to allow anyone to get close enough to the wreck to assess the damage.
The bodies of engineer S.Beaulieu, and fireman George Alberts were never found. The charred remains of brakeman Thomas Mulligan, minus the head, arms and one leg were removed and placed in charge of an undertaker from Howell. All three were only a few hours from their families who were waiting for them in Owosso. Also onboard the train, but in the caboose at the rear, were trainmaster M. Fohey, conductor Fludder and a rear brakeman. All three escaped injury.

On Saturday morning a special train from Owosso arrived with about 100 friends and relatives of the deceased so that they might view the wreckage. Reverend W.A. Service, of Howell, led a brief but impressive funeral service. The scene was said to equal in horror, the disaster of a few days prior, in downtown Battle Creek.[4]
All TAA&NM traffic had to be detoured at Osmer Junction, into South Lyon, via the original and, at that time, still existing tracks, [5] then back into Howell via the Detroit, Lansing &Northern RR [6]. At Howell Junction trains were able to enter back onto TAA&NM tracks, heading north, towards Owosso. It was not until early in the next week that the damage was repaired and normal traffic over the TAA&NM tracks, north of Hamburg Junction, was resumed.

I have not been able to determine if the wreckage of engine 36, the oil tankers, and the coal tenders were ever removed, or if they remain, still buried in the mud. Apparently a large number of Ann Arbor Railroad documents were (possibly intentionally) destroyed during the 1970’s and 1980’s reorganization of the line. The Ann Arbor Railroad Historical and Technical Society was able to acquire some of the remaining documents. They have been put into the Clarke Library on the Central Michigan University campus. I have not been able to look at these records but I do not believe that they contain any information pertinent to this accident. I have tried to look for information in, what was at the time, the largest local newspaper to Hamburg area, the Brighton Weekly Argus. There seem to be no copies of 1893 editions of the Argus in existence. There have been several subsequent railroad disasters in the Hamburg area which were well documented however I have not been able to locate any photographs of the October 25 1893 wreck.

There is more mystery regarding engine 36.
All the newspaper accounts I have found regarding this accident mention that the engine which was destroyed was numbered 36. Several of these papers say that engine 36 was a ‘mogul’ locomotive. This refers to the arrangement of the wheels. A mogul locomotive is supposed to have a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement. I have located photographs which of a TAA&NM engine 36, dated 4-15-1893. These photos show a steam locomotive leaning on an approximate 45 degree angle off the tracks, and being held from tipping completely over, by several ties, which are staked into the earth. The caption states that this is a Baldwin (manufacturer) engine manufactured in 1890, and is (serial?) number 10611. The caption also says that this locomotive has a 4-6-0 wheel arrangement. This would not qualify as being a ‘mogul’ type locomotive.

Another account refers to TAA&NM engine 36 being involved in a collision with northbound Train 15 between Whitmore Lake and Leland on April 25, 1893 during a snowstorm.
Lastly, there is yet another record of TAA&NM engine 36 (Baldwin #10611) being sold to the Arcadia & Betsey River Railroad. This appears to be the same locomotive in the above mentioned photos. I do not know why there seems to be more than one TAA&NM engine with the number 36, the year of during 1893.

References include

  • Ann Arbor Argus – October 27 1893
  • Ann Arbor Register – October 26 (?) 1893
  • Ann Arbor Register – November 2 1893
  • Washtenaw Evening Times – October 26 1893
  • The Times-Owosso – October 25 1893
  • Headlamp – October 22 1893
  • Livingston Democrat – November 1 1893
  • Pinckney Post
  • New York Times – October 27 1893
  • Owosso Weekly Argus & The Evening News – “Deaths 1893-1899”
  • The Ann Arbor Railroad – Abandoned Early Lines – James S. Hannum
  • 1859 Topographic Map of Ingham and Livingston Counties
  • Early Hamburg Township Roads – Milt Charbonneau
  • Archives room of Howell Carnegie District Library – Howell MI
  • Claude Stoner photo collection-Bentley Library – Ann Arbor
  • Ann Arbor Railroad Historical and Technical Society


  1. It was determined that the establishment of a ferry boat route across Lake Michigan, towards Wisconsin and Minnesota could become a profitable venture. This would eliminate the several days it normally took for train cars to get through, or around the Chicago area. A trip across the water could be done in only a few hours.
  2. The properties east of South Lyon eventually came under control of the Grand Trunk and MAL RR’s.
  3. The track does not actually go into Pettysville. During the 1800’s a wagon trail existed between Pettysville and Pleasant (Winans) Lake. Although there was no depot, or station at this crossing, the trains would stop as needed to serve the needs of the community of Pettysville. A portion of this trail is now known as Mercer road. A map of the area, date unknown, shows a structure referred to as a depot, being located on the west side of the tracks, just north of the wagon trail. Also, a passing track going north from this depot, is shown along the east side of the main tracks. (3-18-2008)
  4. A special train was heading home to Boston and New York from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago when the engineer of this train ignored orders to pull off and onto a siding in order to let the westbound Pacific Express go around them. 27 people died in this wreck.
  5. These tracks, and the ‘Leland Bend’ tracks were removed a few years later. Remnants of these grades are still visible in some locations.
  6. The DL&N RR is more recently known as the Pere Marquette.