December 22, 2014

Great Olympia Train Wreck 1959 Revisited

Olympia Train Wreck 1959

Olympia Depot Demolished By Runaway Train

It was 51 years ago today that 12 of 15 boxcars full of plywood began their crew-less  runaway journey from just south of Tumwater, Washington to the city of Olympia where they crashed into the Union Pacific Railroad depot, killing one man and injuring about twenty others.

I was eight years old at the time when the Great Olympia Train Wreck happened on March 13, 1959.  Even at that tender age, I remember the shock of learning that the Union Pacific Railroad depot I had visited many times was now just a shambles and we would never be going there again.

We Paid To Potty In Those Days

Mom and I (and probably my brother Dave too) would stop in the railroad depot when we were in downtown Olympia and I remember that the waiting room seemed very open and immense.  It may not have been so large, but rather that I was small.  Mostly likely, our purpose for being there was to use the ‘public facilities’.  Of course, this was the era when society still had to contend with “pay” toilet stalls.  You inserted your dime and hoped the investment paid off with a clean toilet.  The implication was not always the reality though.  Thank goodness those days are over!

Chance Turns Into A Miracle

It was just a miracle that more people weren’t killed or injured in this accident.  The one fatality, Kenneth Dilley, was tragic, but by some twist of fate no automobiles were hit at the numerous railroad crossings between Tumwater and Olympia.  And, a red light that stopped cars on 4th Avenue and Adams turned that moment of chance into a miracle for those inside their vehicles.

Sources:

Personal knowledge of Carol Yates Wilkerson 13 March 2010

The Great Olympia Train Wreck – The Daily Olympian, Saturday March 13, 1999 (saved newspaper article in Yates family archives).

A runaway train derails in downtown Olympia, killing one, on March 13, 1959.  HistoryLink.org Essay 7929   (photo included)

Just a footnote: As a genealogist, I take more notice of surnames than maybe most people.  The name of the telegraph operator that was killed was Kenneth Dilley.  My sister-in-law Kathy has Dilley’s in her Needham family tree;  another name that caught my eye was Gene DeSpain, City of Olympia Engineer in 1959.  My husband Jim’s is descended from the DeSpain family in Des Moines County, Iowa.

Smile For The Camera: Valentine

1988 Valentine from Dad to Mom

I’m sure my dad loved my mom very much.  He just wasn’t the kind to go out and buy her a Valentine every year.  In fact, he wasn’t the kind to go out and buy much of anything unless it was new tires for the car or maybe new golf balls.  I don’t  think he was “cheap” per se, just loving in other ways.

I was looking through some old papers yesterday and found this “Valentine” Dad ‘made’ for Mom in 1988. It’s kind of sweet in an innocent sort of way. Mom must have liked the sentiment since she kept it. Probably because he put the hearts on it and said he loved her.

That’s my parents in about 1953, going by my age and size.  They were “newlyweds” of about nine years when this photo was taken.

They were married today (February 5) in 1944.  Both of my parents are deceased now, but I know they’re somewhere together today celebrating their 66th anniversary.  I plan on doing a follow-up story about their wedding too, so stay tuned!  :)

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