Four local men perished in 1907 ‘cornfield meet’
This photo of Charles Edward Winegar was posted on FIND-A-GRAVE by a relative, Sally (Winegar) Flaherty.
Archie Hayden of Hannibal supplied this photo, which illustrates a minor head-on collision between two steam engines. The accident in this picture was on the CB&Q line at Ashburn, Mo. The 1907 M.K.&T. collision at Moberly, which is the subject of today’s story, reduced the engines to a mass of debris, and four trainmen were killed. Each train on the M.K.&T. wreck was traveling 30-40 miles per hour at the point of impact. Archie Hayden says “cornfield meet” is a slang term for a head-on collision of railroad trains. Merriam-Webster.com confirms this.
This map of Missouri, from the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital collection, Standard atlas of Randolph County, Missouri, is dated 1910, just three years after the horrific rail accident two miles east of Moberly, which killed four trainmen. The red line illustrates the path of the M.K.&T. tracks from Hannibal to Sedalia.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The Hannibal Morning Journal conducted a contest in 1907, seeking reader input into the selection of one person deemed to be the most popular railroader in town.
Nominations rolled in, as did ballots. The winner would receive a gold watch in recognition of this designation.
The town was literally swarming with railroad employees. Hannibal hosted the Burlington Route Freight offices; the CB&Q railroad; The Hannibal Connecting Railroad; the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad Co.; Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (M.K.&T.); the St. Louis and Hannibal Railroad Co.; the St. Louis, Keokuk and Northwestern Railroad; and the Wabash Railway.
Once the ballots had been counted at the newspaper office, one man stood out as the most popular: Charles E. Winegar, an engineer for the M.K.&T.
When he left Hannibal’s outer depot in the darkest hours of the morning of Sept. 23, 1907, boarding train No. 443 for the regularly scheduled trip to Hannibal, he proudly wore his pocket watch, securely fastened by a chain.
At 6:25 a.m. that same morning, two M.K.&T. steam engines plowed head-on at the dreaded “Pickle Dish series of curves” two and one half miles east of Moberly, and near the farm of Clarence Ragsdale.
Among the dead was the man designated as Hannibal’s most popular railroader, Charles E. Winegar. When his body was recovered, the watch chain remained attached to his clothing, but the watch itself was lost to the tons of crushed steel.
It was not only Engineer Winegar who the citizens of Hannibal were left to mourn that morning; they also lost Will Schroder, Harvey Bledsoe and Charles R. Wilkerson in that tragic collision of two steam trains. The bodies of the four trainmen were sent from Moberly to Hannibal on Wabash train No. 8.
A fireman aboard Train 443, Marvin E. Anderson, later told a coroner’s jury that he and Winegar were about 100 yards away from impact when they first saw No. 444’s engine. Both men jumped from the engine, but Winegar’s clothing caught on the engine after he jumped, and he was killed. Anderson managed to jump to safety.
Anderson speculated that neither Bledsoe nor his fireman, Will Schroder of eastbound train No. 444, ever saw No. 443’s engine. Their lifeless bodies were found in the engine cab.
The collision was so loud that it was heard by farmers within a mile radius, who in turn headed to the accident scene to help.
Winegar and Bledsoe were railroad contemporaries as well as personal friends. According to information found in newspapers of the day, they hired on with the M.T.&K. on the same day, took their engineer qualifying test at the same time, and died together, engineers on trains running opposite directions on the M.T.&K. route between Sedalia and Hannibal.
On a family note, the sister of Bledsoe’s wife, Mollie Turner, was married to James Medley Winegar, brother of Charles Edward Winegar. Mollie lost two brothers-in-law in the accident.
Charles Edward Winegar was born March 3, 1868, in Ralls County, Mo., the son of Samuel Winegar and Mary Francis Davis Demorest. He spent his childhood, at least in part, in Hannibal, and married Eliza Wheeler Jones on July 30, 1887, at Paris, Mo.
Together they had two sons, and lived a typical life led by railroad families – a steady income, hard work and difficult hours.
In January 1899, when the family was living in Sedalia, Mo., several incidents occurred which were cause for concern.
Early in the month, Mr. Winegar’s dog was poisoned, and soon thereafter, a washboiler and a quantity of corn were stolen. In all instances, Mr. Winegar was out on a run.
On the night of Jan. 16, 1899, Mrs. Winegar was bedfast due to an illness. She asked her servant, Miss Ella Rugan, to go outside and lock the woodshed door. The Shelbina Democrat reported that “accompanied by Mrs. Winegar’s little son, the girl started on her errand.”
As she turned to go back into the house, Miss Rugan noticed that a man was crouching near the fence.
When Miss Rugan screamed, Mrs. Winegar arose from bed to check on the commotion. She armed herself with a revolver, rushed to the kitchen door, and fired a shot through the window. The man was frightened away.
The next morning, Mrs. Winegar told a reporter from the Shelbina Democrat:
“I am satisfied (that the man) knew my husband was out on his run, and that yesterday was payday,” she said.
Mrs. Winegar’s horse, which had been tied in the barn, was found in the alley, presumably for the man to use during his planned escape.
Winegar moved his family to Hannibal in July 1899, after his transfer to the Franklin Junction and Hannibal run.
In 1900, his family was renting a house on Union Avenue, near what would become Elzea’s Addition in Hannibal, and in close proximity to the M.K.&T. “outer yards.” He was working as a railroad fireman.
By 1905, he had been promoted to engineer, and the family made their home at 403 Spruce, Hannibal.
When he died, Charles Winegar was about 39 years old, and the couple’s two sons were about 18 and 19.
In compensation for her husband’s death, Mrs. Winegar received an insurance payout from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to the amount of $3,000, and a lump sum of $6,250 from the railroad. In addition, she and her younger son received lifetime passes on the M.K.&T. (Katy) Railroad, as a reward for settling her claim without the assistance of an attorney.
Eliza Winegar remarried, uniting with Albert K. Gause Dec. 12, 1908 at Hannibal.
Harvey Bledsoe was born in Aug. 27, 1871, the son of Henry T. and Caroline Bledsoe. He grew up, in part, near Macon, Mo., with a number of siblings. His father served during the Civil War with the 7th Illinois Cavalry. The elder Mr. Bledsoe entered military service Sept. 1, 1861, out of Bushnell, Ill. He died April 15, 1905, and is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal, as is his son, Harvey.
In 1892, at the age of 21, Harvey Bledsoe worked as a machinist and lived near the M.K.&T. roundhouse close to Lindell Avenue, Hannibal. By 1897, Harvey was a fireman for the same railroad and lived on Lindell Avenue.
Around 1896, Harvey married Nettie Turner, the daughter of Uriel Reuben and Ellen Robbins Turner. In 1900, Harvey and Nettie were living on Spruce Street in Hannibal. They had no children.
Harvey Bledsoe was assigned to runs Nos. 443 and 444 between Franklin Junction and Hannibal in late August 1907, less than a month before the rail collision that claimed his life.
In compensation for her husband’s death, Mrs. Bledsoe received an insurance payout from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to the amount of $1,500, and a lump sum of $5,000 from the railroad.
Nettie Bledsoe remarried in March 1910, to William Schwanke of Stanton, Neb.
Two representatives of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, J.S. Carlile of New Franklin and A. Hestler of Moberly, came to Hannibal to attend services for the two engineers who lost their lives.
The Moberly Weekly Democrat of Sept. 27, 1907, said that funeral services were to be held at the men’s respective homes, then a funeral procession merged to take the bodies to Mount Olivet Cemetery, their final resting place.
Reports are that all downtown businesses closed for the two hours of service time.
Note: The term “Pickle Dish series of curves” was used by the St. Louis Post Dispatch in its extended coverage of the wreck, published Sept. 29, 1907. Newspapers.com
A shout out to LaVerne See and Archie Hayden of Hannibal for bringing this story to light, and for Archie’s assistance during the research process, and with photos.
Coming next: What caused the accident? Who were the other victims?
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com