The mess of piled train cars lay in the west side of Paris after a derailment of a train coming through Midland Yards. The Corner Cupboard was amazingly spared as the cars crashed all around it. The original Bridwell’s Store was destroyed and later was rebuilt just east of the derailment site. The wreck took several weeks to clear during the winter of 1954-55. (Special to The Prairie Press)

Sabotage causes derailment

Civil War brought first recorded train wreck on Edgar County rails

Sabotage during the Civil War was responsible for the first train derailment in Edgar County.

Although Illinois was a Northern state, a significant portion of Edgar County’s population had Southern sympathies. Known as Copperheads, they not only opposed the war but factions within the Copperheads advocated for more direct intervention. A large fgroup of Copperheads established a camp outside of Paris. 

Tensions were high in the community and fights between Union soldiers on leave and the Copperheads occurred. Those little fights were just a drop in the bucket compared to bigger plans by the Copperheads for dealing a large blow to the Union Army. 

According to “The Paris Blade,” Copperheads nearly sawed through the timbers of a bridge on the Terre Haute, Alton and St. Louis Rail Road Oct. 12, 1864, in anticipation of causing a train transporting 800 Union soldiers to wreck. Much to the Copperheads’ disbelief the train passed over the bridge without incident. Unfortunately, the next train was not so lucky. The ties failed when the train crossed causing the train to derail and fall, killing the engineer and scalding the fireman.  

As long as there have been trains on tracks the possibility for derailments has been around. There’s an old adage if a railroader claims to have never been part of a derailment, he is either lying or real lucky. On some lines, derailments were just part of everyday life for railroaders.

Train derailments have occurred all over Edgar County. One such event happened near Dudley. When the cars all came to a rest not a one was left standing on the rails. 

There was another derailment around 1900 to the east of Paris when a Peoria, Decatur and Evansville train derailed and took out a bridge on the Clinton Road. Two serious derailments have occurred within the city limits of Paris. 

One happened on the west end of town in 1954 when a train coming through Midland Yards derailed, throwing cars everywhere. One car took out the original Bridwell’s Grocery Store, which was later rebuilt. 

The other derailment was on North Main Street. The train was barreling through town when an unknown problem jarred the engine and sent it and many cars tumbling off the tracks. 

One of the scariest derailments happened on the north side of Paris, behind Pool’s True Value, when a train derailed with cars spilling some chemicals. 

Luckily, these types of derailments happened few and far between. 

It was a different story for the old Doty line out by Kansas. 

The Doty was originally a narrow gauge railroad established in 1879, serving western Edgar County and moving into Vermilion County. It was eventually widened from three feet to four feet. Through age and lack of maintenance, it was more common for the rails to spread, derailing a train than it was for the engine to pass through without a problem. 

For many trips, the ride from Sidell down to Kansas was the longest passage on the line because of the low speeds the engineer used to keep the train from derailing.

In 1937, the Interstate Commerce Commission allowed the Doty to shutdown eight miles of track between Hume and Sidell. The rest of the run eventually fell to the same ending. 

By the time of the Doty’s final demise, a derailed train was almost a part of everyday life.

Many other area towns have experienced derailments that ended with some severity. 

Murdock in Douglas County was the site of a BLEVE, or boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion, that made national news. Bridges failing at Terre Haute, Ind., resulted in trains derailing  and spilling contents into the Wabash River. 

Trains have a captivating presence, but it takes a lot of work by men in the background to keep them on the track and heading to their destination. Men like Glen Roberts, Bob Sprague, Orien Unseld, Jim Pointer and Charlie Schaich worked without praise making the trains on their tracks arrive safely. There were hiccups along the way but there always will be because no one is perfect. 


The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944