Kent Brookshier of Springfield has a vague memory of the main details of a train derailment in Ash Grove when he was a boy of 4 or 5.
That was in 1962. The part he vividly recalls is the Frisco employees who worked through the night to clear the tracks.
“You would have thought they were doing a Mars landing with all the equipment they had there,” he tells me.
Brookshier, 61, also might have only a vague recollection of meeting me at the Walmart Neighborhood Market on South Glenstone Avenue. It was back on Jan. 14, 2018, when he asked if I could track down the details of the wreck.
Soon after that, I checked the website Newspapers.com for news stories and photos of the derailment. I found nothing.
I think it was a combination of Kent telling me the accident was in 1961 — it actually was in 1962 — and me not doing a very thorough search.
Be that as it may, I retained Kent’s story idea on my master story list, which I reviewed last week.
Hmmm, I thought. Let’s try again.
I talked to Kent again on Thursday.
“The derailment was right behind our house,” he says. “Our back door was 30 feet from the tracks.
“My dad was stuck in traffic on the other side of the railroad tracks — and the tracks behind our house went down about 8 feet in a gulley. So, what dad did was walk across the top of a derailed train car to get home.”
Thirty-one freight cars came off the rails and many became stacked on each other, according to news accounts. Some of the toppled cars just missed hitting nearby houses. No one was hurt.
It happened at 9 a.m. Nov. 6, 1962 — a Tuesday morning.
The northbound train had 131 cars and was headed to Fort Scott, Kansas. The locomotive and many cars already had passed the Ash Grove train depot and had crossed Highway F, just south of Main Street.
Then the derailment happened.
Torn trousers and a jump to safety
News stories in the Springfield Leader and Press quoted Dal Mason, then the editor of the Ash Grove Commonwealth newspaper.
“Between 21 and 40 cars went off the tracks. They are stacked four high, like cordwood, in a shallow cut almost at the Highway F crossing.
“One of the cars just missed the depot and several others were very close to a couple of houses which are near the tracks.”
The scene was described as a “tangled mess.”
Another news story said:
“Bill Edwards, Ash Grove, manager of the Edwards Lumber Co., and Earl Marx, Kansas City auditor, were taking an inventory of tile stacked against a fence near the tracks at the time of the derailment.”
Marx told the paper he was between the tracks and the fence when rail cars started piling up and he jumped the barbed-wire fence, tearing his trousers in his leap to safety.
“I just started running,” Edwards said.
Half the cars that left the tracks were loaded and half were empty. No flammable or hazardous materials were involved. No one was evacuated.
Brookshier remembers grapefruit being everywhere on the ground.
Cranes from Springfield and Kansas City helped clear the tracks.
Rail traffic to Kansas City was routed through Monett during the clean-up.
Damage to Frisco equipment was estimated at $50,000.
Work continued through the night of Nov. 6 into Nov. 7.
Brookshier remembers being outside that night.
“The guys that were working for Frisco used our trash-burning barrel for fire to keep warm and mom would give them coffee.
“The weather was bad — raining and cold — and the guys working on the train had on their yellow raincoats, pants and hats. It just so happened that my grandparents had gotten me the exact same outfit.
“The guys got a kick out of my outfit so they took me around and made me feel like part of the crew.”
The tracks were cleared by Thursday and damaged rail cars were removed soon after that.
News stories say that Frisco sent in a team of investigators to find the cause of the derailment.
I checked through all of 1963 and did not find a story where Frisco stated what the cause was.
Keep those questions coming. Send them to The Answer Man at 417-836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail to 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.