Gladbrook Train Wreck

Greatest Iowa Railroad Tragedy - At this site on the morning of March 21, 1910 a derailment of a Rock Island lines passenger train detouring because of floods over the Chicago and Great Western tracks took 54 lives with many more injured. The loss ranks as Iowa's greatest railroad disaster. Erected 1976 during U.S. Bicentennial



The team traveled down the back roads of Iowa, through resting farm fields awaiting spring planting.  The day was warm and the sun was strong on our trip to pay respects at the site of the Iowa’s worst train wreck.

Plans for this research trip began while winter still had a cold, icy grip on Iowa.  It started innocently enough with the discovery of old photos and news articles on the internet.  None of us “youngsters” had ever heard about the wreck that resulted in the largest loss of life in Iowa history!

After months of researching old newspapers, a trip to the Tama County Historical Library, and analyzing satellite maps, the crash site was finally located.    In 1978, a memorial marker was placed at the side of the road.  It isn’t far from the crash site which is now a farm field; you just need to know where to look.  The train tracks were torn up years ago and were replaced by power lines.  With the help of the power lines, we could visualize the path of the train.

Nearly a century ago, 57 people lost their lives in a horrific train wreck in Iowa.  While some would die instantly, others would suffer a fate worth than death; one man even pleaded for someone to kill him.   The location of the crash is a few miles north of Green Mountain, Iowa in Tama County.

As we drove along, we wondered…..would any residual energy survive there today, nearly a century later?
Click to go to Photo Galler
March 21, 1910

It happened in a flash that early spring morning.  Rock Island engines were being divert
ed from another train wreck in Waterloo.  Two engines were pushing passenger cars when the front cars jumped the tracks and hurtled into the hard clay soil of a hill.  The momentum of the engines and trailing cars caused the heavier sleepers to telescope into two day coaches which crushed them like huge aluminum cans.  All that remained of the front car were its wheels and the platform flooring; everything above was pulverized together. Everyone in the front coach was killed; many in the second coach would not survive in the days to come.
  Soon, word spread throughout the area about the great train wreck, the tremendous loss of life and injuries to a high number of survivors.  One man’s skull was cut off above the eyes.  Another had been driven head first into a window.  The glass was broken and was cutting him where his head rested on the sill and under an awful weight from above.  He cried for some one to kill him.  When the glass was broken under his check where it lay on the sill, and the man’s lower jaw with the bone and five or six teeth in it feel on the ground at my feet.  Then, he died.

There was an old man running about pleading for help to find his son.  Unfortunately, when the son was discovered, his body had been cut in two.

Mae Hoffman of Waterloo, known as “The most beautiful woman in Iowa” was in the day coach; her body was crushed into a shapeless mass.  In the lead engine, the Firem
an, John C. White aged 29 of Des Moines, would suffer scalding, fatal burns.  Vicki found that he is buried with his parents and sisters in the St. Ambrose section of Woodland Cemetery. 

Old photographs provide a grim look into the tragedy.  Along the railroad track, the dead, covered by white sheets, were scattered about.  Hundreds of local townspeople gathered at the scene; E. W. Jay, M.D. was killed while rushing the injured to the hospital in Marshalltown.


Names of those killed were read aloud as we stood by the memorial.  Equipment (recorders, EMF detector, Frank’s Box, cameras and a camcorder) was set up to capture the moment.   While the Frank’s Box was activated, we heard
.  Was it static or residual energy?  It might have been either one, but I’m voting for the “Ghost Train”. 

Trainwreck investigation - Train Sound by SRSOI

The list of all the dead we could find in newspapers:
   Loren Allschlager      
   A.P. Adams
   J. Bambridge
   Louie Biebuck
   G. W. Blair
   Thomas G. Betts
   A.X. Brown, his wife, two daughters, Lenora & Eva and son, Lengre
   George P. Bunt
   Alfred X. Brown
   Mrs. Alfred X. Brown
   Fred Colton
   R.E. Charter
   Mrs. Walter Davis
   C. G. Eves
   w. w. Eggers
   F. F. Fisher
   William Fleck
   David Faust
   J.S. Goodnough
   May Hoffman
   H. C. Headcock
   Frank Heinz
   Caesar C. Hoff
   M. B. Kennedy
   Dr. Lewis (female physician)
   F. D. Lyman
   Mrs. B. G. Lyman
   Earl T. Maine
   J. Nauholz
   Mrs. Peats
   Bessie Purvis
   Archie Price
   Milton Parrish
   Anthony Phillips
   H. L. Pennington
   L. W. Parrish
   R. B. Robinson
   George Ross
   Bessie Service
   Robert L. Tangen
   E. M. Worthington
   William Ward
   Andrew J. White
   Miss Jennie Young

At first count, 36 had died, however, during salvage operations, grisly remains were discovered in the twisted metal and the death count rose to 57.