Details offered on 30-year-old trainwreck
Two weeks ago, the Eagle Valley Enterprise ran a photo of an Eagle train wreck, the derailed cars of which crashed into the section’s master house. Long-time readers with good memories were asked to help with the details.Former Eagle resident Jack Hill, now residing in Fruita, was the first to respond. Hill, who retired from the Eagle County Road and Bridge Department, kept a diary since 1968 and had the exact date of the wreck in his notes.The derailment happened at about noon on May 18, 1970. As Hill recalls, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad train was headed east. An account in the May 21, 1970 Enterprise indicates the trouble started with a broken axle on the fifth car from the engine.”When that car left the track, 15 others jackknifed and piled up in a distance of about 10 car lengths. Some cars were thrown over on their sides, while one car, carrying bulk sugar, flipped over on its top. The cars jammed into each other, leaving gaping holes in them. The destroyed cars were carrying canned goods, bulk sugar, ground earth (used in oil drilling) and two flat bed cars carrying D&RG truck trailers. Contents were spilled along the torn up tracks.”More information about the wreck came from Jim Blouch of Denver, whose very first job was working on the Eagle Section. He too, recalled the accident, and remembered that at the time of the wreck, the track foreman’s wife was in the house.The Enterprise account verifies that story, saying Mrs. J.D. (Marguerite) Williams and her 16-year-old daughter, Bonnie, were standing in the kitchen when the crash occurred. They heard the noise as the cars started leaving the track and piling up. Realizing what was happening, the two women ran to a bedroom at the back of the house. By the time they reached the room, the house had been hit.The impact knocked the house off its foundation, causing walls to crack. A knocked-over tree blocked the outside entrance. The two women sought refuge in the bathroom until everything was quiet.Former Eagle-area resident Barbara Fenno says Marguerite Williams later told people that she knew what was happening as soon as she heard the noise of the first cars leaving the rails.”She’d been a section foreman’s wife forever. She knew what that noise meant. She yelled “derail’, and she and Bonnie ran into the bathroom,” recalls Fenno.The crash tore down several power lines, and demolished several vehicles parked around the building. Fenno recalls that the Williams’ family sedan was smashed down to the size of a convertible by a tree that fell on it.Clean-up began almost as soon as the crash ended. Hill remembers operating a front-end loader until 3 a.m. Weeden Excavators of Minturn and Vail brought in a huge crane; and a D&RG steam derrick was moved in from Grand Junction. Special dozers owned by the rail company worked through the night to clear the road bed and repair the track. The first train was able to move over the track at about 3 a.m.Townspeople helped with the remaining clean-up. Ranching brothers Louis and Cliff Fenno took their potato scale down to the site, and helped the railroad workers move the sugar into sacks.”Everybody in town worked for two or three days to help the railroad out. It was exciting,” recalls Barbara Fenno. She adds that is was also scary to her, because her family was friends with the Williams family. They had spent many an hour sitting at the kitchen table and playing cards, without giving thought about what kind of damage a derailment could cause.Thanks to Enterprise readers for helping us reconstruct this bit of 33-year-old history.This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.