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Studebaker associate unscathed during 1881 H&St. Joe derailment

This building on the southwest corner of Sixth and Broadway served as home to J.D. Bacon retail grocer in 1875. Two years later, M.E. Heuston had a grocery store in the same location. In 1881, M.A. (Mary A.) Deardoff and Son operated a dealership for carriages, buggies and wagons at this site. The Deardoff store was probably a Studebaker dealership, because M.A.’s husband, Walter, was a Studebaker cousin, and sales representative for the company for most of his career. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION


For the Courier-Post

A broken rail triggered disastrous accident along the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad route between Macon and Bevier during early March 1881. Miraculously, no lives were lost, and serious injuries were few in the derailment, which took place shortly after 3 a.m. while many passengers were asleep.

Among the 100 people aboard the train was a Hannibal-based businessman, Walter H. Deardoff, who was en route to territories associated with his job as general western agent of the Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing company, of South Bend, Indiana. In 1881, his wife and son were living in Hannibal, operating M.A. Deardoff & Son, dealer in buggies and wagons, located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Sixth in Hannibal. The family made their home at 202 N. Seventh.

Details of the derailment were reported in newspapers across the nation. The Sacramento Daily Union of March 3, 1881 (California Digital Newspaper Collection) reported that the engine, tender, baggage car and two coaches were thrown completely from the track down an embankment 10 feet in height. The only derailed car that remained upright was the smoking car, carrying 49 emigrant passengers, most of who were women and children. Another passenger car and a sleeper were thrown from the tracks. Ironically, many of the passengers in the sleeping car at the rear of the train – which did not leave the tracks – were unaware that a derailment had taken place until awakened by train crews.

Walter Deardoff, 49, who escaped without a scratch, was presumably a passenger in that rear car.

As news of the derailment spread across the land via telegraph, a wrecking train was dispatched from Brookfield, Mo., which set into motion another disastrous scene, this one far surpassing the passenger train derailment. The Sacramento newspaper reported that about 13 miles east of Brookfield, the wrecking car, the caboose and a passenger coach carrying physicians and Brookfield citizens, failed to navigate the Brush creek bridge, the rear cars of the train falling thirty feet into what was described by the newspaper as “a mass of broken timbers and maimed humanity.”

Reported killed in the Brush Creek bridge collapse were W. L. Hallet, Dr. 0. H. Woods, George Zurick, C. Gordon, Arthur Jury, Frank C. Lock (a brakeman), and John Connors.

Studebaker cousin

Walter Deardoff was more than an employee for the Studebaker company; he was first cousin to the five Studebaker brothers who built the Indiana business bearing their family name. Walter’s mother, Elizabeth, was sister to John Studebaker, who had taught his five sons blacksmithing skills during the early 1850s.

The Studebaker name, most closely associated with early automobiles, was originally attached to horse-drawn wagons and carriages, dating back to 1853. The company thrived, in both reputation and wealth, sales bolstered by the ingenuity of the five brothers. It was their own ability to provide products that served the needs of Americans during pivotal periods in U.S. history that led to the company’s success: The Gold Rush, the Civil War and subsequent American battles.

The patriarch of the family, John Clement Studebaker, (1799-1877) a blacksmith in Ashland, Ohio, was the father of some 13 children, including five sons considered to be the founders of the Studebaker company. According to, those sons as: Henry (1826–1895); Clement (1831–1901); John Mohler (1833-1917); Peter Everst (1836-1897) and Jacob Franklin (1844-1887). John Clement Studebaker’s sister Elizabeth married Jeremiah Deardoff, and they became parents of Walter Deardoff, first cousin to the Studebaker brothers.

Walter Deardoff remained loyal to the Studebaker company, and devoted his career to promoting and selling Studebaker products.

Throughout his lifetime, Deardoff considered Goshen, Ind., his hometown. He moved to Goshen with his parents in the 1840s, when he was still a child. He first went to work for the Studebakers when Peter E. Studebaker operated a retail store in town. Peter Studebaker subsequently moved to South Bend, Ind., where he became a member of the Studebaker Bros. Mfg. Co., and Walter Deardoff went out on the road, promoting their products.

Walter Deardorff, it was noted in his obituary, conducted a motion wagon which was drawn about the country by a four horse team and which was a success for many years.

Walter Deardoff

Deardoff married Mary A. Nelson on Nov. 8, 1858. Following the Civil War, the young family settled in to a rental home at Eighth and Washington Streets in Goshen, which was destroyed by fire during August 1866. The loss was total for Walter, Mary and their young son, Samuel, who were lucky to escape the blaze with the clothes on their backs.

Four years later the Deardoffs were living in Evansville, Ind., and by 1875 they had moved west to Parsons, Kan. Five years later, Walter Deardoff was working for the Studebaker Wagon Co., his family settled in Walton, Kan.

A year later – in 1881 – the sales office at Sixth and Broadway in Hannibal was open, in the name of Walter Deardoff’s wife and son.

It was during a trip west to Kansas from Hannibal that Walter Deardoff was involved in the derailment near Moberly.

Hannibal affiliation

short for Deardoffs

The Deardoff retail store was short lived in Hannibal. Presumably the store was an outlet for Studebaker products, competing with well-crafted local carriages and wagons otherwise offered for sale in Hannibal.

After leaving Hannibal, the Deardoffs moved back to Goshen, where Walter operated a retail outlet for Studebaker, and Mary, partnered with Dorcas M. Hampton (who also had ties to Hannibal) operated a retail business called Deardoff & Company.

Mary died in 1890, and Walter died in 1902. Both are buried in Goshen, Ind.

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