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.
paper: 21 3/4″ x 16 1/4″ image: 20″ x 14″
Hear Gil tell the story of the spectacular wreck which brought down this depot
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)
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 demolished.”
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 Elm Grove.
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 location.
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 said.
(Reprinted by permission from Micahel Zahn, Regional Editor, Elm Grove Leaves)
Depot Wrecked; 30 Cars Jump Tracks