Gone forever after the big train wreck April 19,
1958. A Green Bay and Western freight car smashed the entire structure
into scrap lumber. This was a quaint little railroad station,
rather small, but it took care of business, selling railroad tickets
and working up waybills for freight shipments to the Reinders
store and others down the "Air line" to West Allis.
No one was injured in this 40-car wreck as it happened early Saturday
morning. The agent had not arrived when the Milwaukee Road freight
train piled up on the Watertown Plank Road crossing. Reinders
store suffered some damage to it's east wall.
I heard about this wreck listening to a local radio station of
a big train wreck in Elm Grove. I rushed to the site and so did
hundreds of people, including a large group scheduled for a wedding
that afternoon. In a flash the depot was gone.
There is just one large artifact remaining in the village shopping
area and that is the old church at the "Y" of Watertown
Plank Road and Juneau. So I have recalled the memory of a beloved
little railroad station, that stood the elements for decades after
decades--only to be lost in a Spartan manner in the BIG wreck
in Elm Grove April 19, 1958.
The following excerpts were taken from a Waukesha
Freeman article entitled "Train Derailed in Elm Grove"
dated April 19, 1958:
(reprinted by permission from the Waukesha Freeman)
Depot Wrecked; 30 Cars Jump Tracks
photo caption: This was the crazy scene in the heart of Elm Grove
this morning where 30 cars of a Milwaukee Road freight train derailed
at the Watertown Plank rd. crossing. Photo, looking east shows
at least 10 railroad cars resting against Reinders Bros. Feed
store (right foreground). The demolished depot, with only its
roof intact, is shown in upper right. Damage is estimated at more
than half million dollars. Thousands of spectators flocked to
the scene. photo by Ralph Eichholz
Thirty cars of an eastbound Milwaukee Road freight
train jumped the tracks in the village this morning, demolishing
the depot and damaging two other buildings.
Two freight cars plowed into the small depot, moving
it 30 feet off the foundation and leaving only the roof intact.
The station agent, Tom Tracy, 33, was at his rooming house in
Elm Grove. He does not work on Saturdays.
Another car shattered a 20 foot section of the nearby
Reinders Bros. feed store and a tiny shed. Another 40 foot section
of the feed store company's storage room was damaged.
J.A. Jakubec, Milwaukee general superintendent for
the railroad, said a hot journal box on one of the freight cars
probably caused the accident. When the journal box becomes overheated,
the weight of the car collapses on the wheels.
The derailed cars contained canned peas and corn,
paper, packaged flour, lumber, plywood and pulpwood.
A rumor that one of the boxcars was loaded with
poison was untrue, Jakubec said.
He predicted that the main line won't be open until
tomorrow morning. In the meantime westbound trains are being rerouted
by way of Horicon to Portage, and eastbound cars from Portage
to Madison to Milwaukee.
Elm Grove Police Chief Harold Graf said he was sitting
in his office on Legion Dr. and Juneau blvd. at 6:30am when he
heard a "terrific rumble." He knew immediately it was
a train, looked up and all he could see was dust, he said. "It
all took place in a minute and a half." Graf said. Telephone
lines and electric lines were down and the railroad depot was
One of the freight cars came to rest about 12 feet
from the corner of Felden's Tavern just northeast of the crossing.
About $300 worth of liquor fell off the shelves and was damaged
or destroyed. Phil Felden, who was asleep in the living quarters
of the tavern, said, "It sounded like a tornado going through.
It rumbled for about five minutes. It jarred us out of bed."
Mrs. Felden said it was good fortune that the accident happened
when it did. Her four small children ordinarily play outside the
tavern in the area where the boxcar came to rest.
The following article appeared in Elm Grove Leaves
December 8 2005:
Still in training
Artist specializes in depicting railroad scenes
By Mae Schultz
It was Saturday,April 19, 1958.
Gil Reid and his wife were getting ready to attend
a wedding when the news of a train wreck in Elm Grove broke through
on the radio. He and hundreds of other people rushed to the site
of the 40-car train wreck, on Watertown Plank Road in Elm Grove.
Reid is no longer that young man who witnessed the
horrible wreck. But the older Reid uses his paintbrush to help
people remember trains as vividly and fondly as he does. Reid,
who paints watercolors of trains, spent much of his adult life
living in Brookfield and working at a studio in the Elm Building
in Elm Grove. Now he works from a small studio in his home in
One of his latest watercolor creations,which was
hung at Penelope's Restaurant, is of the Elm Grove Depot. The
small depot, which was a stop on the Milwaukee Road line (officially
the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad), was the
one destroyed in the crash Reid went to in 1958. It was located
on Watertown Plank Road, right next to where Penelope's is currently
located. That is one of the reasons why Penelope Demakopoulos,
the owner of Penelope's, asked Reid to do the painting. "I
wanted to know what was there before," she said. "That's
why I wanted him to make it, so they know (the past)."
Penelope's already had three of Reid's artworks, including one
of the Brookfield depot, one of a train in downtown Milwaukee
and one from Wauwatosa.
But she still wanted one of the Elm Grove Depot because of its
Reid said, "She's just been on my back ever since (she got
the idea for the painting)." But he was happy to help people
remember what he calls the "quaint little railroad station."
"I'm trying to bring some of the past back
in picture form," he said. Speed is what first attracted
Reid to trains. He said that as young boy, he just couldn't imagine
how anything could go so fast. As he grew older, Reid made a career
out of paying attention to the many details of trains.
He studied art at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio
and at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. But it wasn't until he
attended a night class while working for Kalmbach Publishing that
he found his favorite medium: watercolors.
Worked for magazines
He did work for Kalmbach's Model Railroader and Trains magazines
and also worked for the Amtrak calendar for 20 years. Reid said
that part of the reason he has so much passion for trains is,
"I have the memories of the thrills." When he was 14,
he was given the opportunity to regularly ride a train from Richmond,
Ind. (where he grew up) to Columbus, Ohio. He said of the engineer
that gave him the rides, "He let me blow all the whistles."
Perhaps Reid isn't the only one with so much nostalgia for trains.
Demakopoulos said, "All the guys, they like it. When they
finish eating, they pass by and look at it."
Doug Mettelman, of Wauwatosa, a Penelope's customer, remarked:
"I remember all these. I love trains. It's too bad they aren't
still with us."
Looking at the Elm Grove depot painting, Mettelman said, "I
can sure remember that. It sure has changed."
And that's why Demakopoulos wanted to have the painting, "It's
good to know a little bit of the story of Elm Grove," she
(Reprinted by permission from Micahel Zahn, Regional
Editor, Elm Grove Leaves)