Doodlebug Train Disaster - Cuyahoga Falls, OH
N 41° 08.774 W 081° 28.336
17T E 460369 N 4555097
Quick Description: July 31, 1940 6:00PM at Front Street and Hudson Drive. Gasoline-Electrical shuttle train met head on with a freight train and in one instant 350 gallons of fuel exploded all over everything. 43 lives lost and many more were affected forever.
Location: Ohio, United States
Date Posted: 11/4/2007 9:14:17 PM
Waymark Code: WM2HD8
This is a photo of the intersection where the train disaster happened. There is now a memorial in a nearby park.
According to the following website here is the account of the "Doodlebug" Train Disaster:
Residents Recall Areas Worst Disaster The "Doodlebug"
July 31, 1940 was an average summer day. It was warm, calm and peaceful. In fact, it was just like any other summer day, except...the "Doodlebug" crashed.
The gasoline-powered shuttle car, that operated on the Pennsylvania Railroad, was making its daily trek from Hudson to Akron. Many of the 46 passengers on the "Doodlebug" were commuters from jobs in Cleveland. Most of the passengers of the train were young. Some were students, some were prominent leaders in the community.
Traveling at 40 mph, the "Doodlebug" entered Cuyahoga Falls about a half an hour after it had left Hudson. Somehow the signals were mixed or ignored, and the shuttle car continued its journey at a steady clip. Just a few yards beyond the Front St. crossing, there was a 73 car freight train. The single car crashed, head-on, into the freight.
The crash caused the 350 gallon gasoline tank to explode enabling the burning gasoline to escape and cover the tracks, cars and people.
The impact of the collision threw the passengers and seats into the front of the car. People and debris were piled on top of one another, making it impossible for anyone to attempt an escape from the inferno.
There were three men who did survive the fatal crash, the engineer, conductor, and brakeman. Todd Wonn, of Akron, is the only one of the three that is still living. Wonn, sitting in the baggage compartment because the coach was full, noticed the conductor ran from the one end of the train to the other. He was a shouting something about a crash. Following his first instinct to jump, Wonn escaped from the crash, suffering only a cut on the head and torn ligaments in his ankle.
Several Falls residents took that fatal train ride. Fred Palmer, a member of the Board of Directors of the Cuyahoga Valley Savings and Loan Assoc. was on the "Doodlebug", and never reached his destination. Cleon Wills had been commuting on the railroad, to his work with Fulton and McCreary, Cleveland architects, for more than four years. Wills, a native of the Falls, was the designer of the American Legion Home in Cuyahoga Falls. Earl Clifford, after whom the Falls High stadium is named, was also a rider on the shuttle car. Clifford was on the Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education and was president of the Falls recreation commission.
Ross Durst, 1995 Germaine St., is a long time resident of the Falls. He recalls hearing the crash as he was sitting on his front porch. Over 15,000 people came to the site of the accident. Some came to help, some came just to see. According to Surst, cars were parked solidly from the area of the wreck to Newberry St.
Many folks remember the accident as just about dinner time. Fred R. Allen, formally of the Falls recalls that the Cleveland Indians had finished playing an overtime game.
How could such a disaster occur? What went wrong? Pennsylvania Railroad authorities said the pilot of the "Doodlebug" had received order in Hudson to take siding in Silver Lake, in order to allow the freight train to pass. Whether these orders were ignored or misunderstood is something that we will never know. According to railroad officials, both the Doodlebug and freight engineers had copies of the orders. No charges were held against the Doodlebug engineer or conductor.
The worst disaster in the history of Cuyahoga Falls occurred on a calm, peaceful summer day. In fact, it was just an average day...until the "Doodlebug" crashed.
Written Thursday, August 21, 1969 for the Falls News Press, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
The website also provided the following list of victims:
CUYAHOGA FALLS RESIDENTS
Clifford, Earl C., 45, of Broad Boulevard. He had been employed by the Goodrich Co. for 27 years and was a Falls High graduate. Active in civic work in the community, he served on the board of educations and the recreation board. A World War veteran, he was involved with the Charles Faust Post, American Legion and "was instrumental in building" the Front Street Legion home. He was survived by his wife and two sons.
Davis, Elmer E., 34, of Myrtle Street. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Fahrney, Betty, 30, She was the wife of Howard J. Fahrney and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Earl J.G. Lovett of Ninth St. Her and her daughter were returning from a visit to Cleveland. Survived by husband and one daughter.
Fahrney, Mary Joan, 6, of New Kensington, Pa. Survived by her father and older sister.
Helmick, Lois, 22, of 10th Street. She had been a member of the Falls Players Club, but resigned after she procured a job with the American Steel and Wire Company in Cleveland. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Helmick.
Morris, Loren C., 54, of Bailey Road. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Palmer, Fred H., 63, of Chestnut Boulevard. Mr. Palmer was described by The Falls News as "a man who had been fascinated by railroading all of his life." Originally intending to enter the ministry, he accepted a job on the railroad instead and "devoted the remainder of his life to it." He was a director of the Cuyahoga Valley Savings and Loan association and served as a member of the official board of the Methodist church. He was survived by his wife, three sisters and a brother.
Schreiber, Joan, 10, of Milwaukee. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. T.P. Schreiber, former residents of Cuyahoga Falls. She was traveling alone on a trip to Coshocton to visit her grandparents.
Squires, Charles T. Jr., 28, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles T Squires of Greenville, S.C. He was serving as the minister of music at the Methodist church, having completed his training at Westminster Choir school, Princeton. As the leader of six choirs comprising 250 members, "he was greatly liked and has done highly successful work." The day of the accident, he had completed his last weekly lesson in his organ studies in Cleveland and had planned to leave the next week for a month of vacation that included "a brief period of intensive study."
Vaughn, Nelson, 26, of Roth Drive. Mr.. Vaughn was a newlywed, having married Miss Grace Ritchie just the Saturday before the accident. He was on his way home from a position he had recently obtained in Cleveland. He was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Vaughn and had three sisters.
Wills, Cleon H., 50, of Third Street. An architect, he had commuted for the past four years to his job with Fulton and McCreary in Cleveland. He was a graduate of Cuyahoga Falls High School and of Carnegie Tech. According to The Falls News, he designed the American Legion home, which was built from an old freight station. Also a veteran of the World War, he was a member of the Charles Faust Post 281, American Legion and also of St. John's Episcopal Church. He was "especially interested in the development of the city park system." He was survived by his wife, a daughter, a son and a brother..
VICTIMS FROM OTHER TOWNSHIPS/CITIES
Otto Bedarf, A.L. Bailiff, Charles Bilderdeck, Mary Badonsky, Albert C. Burke, Ernest C. Durbin, Fred H. Duve, Adam Ellenbrook, Sophia Ellis, Louis Fountain, Charles W. Frank, E.W. Gibbons, Lillian Gilbo, Wilbur D. Harpley, Albert Johns, Bruce Kelly, Lawrence C. Letzkus, Leonard Kirschner, Nina Kirschner, Margaret Logani, Paul McKee, Anastasia Miksa, Nina Jane Morey, Robert Edgar Orem, Lois A. Perry, Jacob Henry Peters, Williston Rice, William Schmitz, Dolores Simpson, Harry Smock, Charles E. Tarleton, Russell Way
Thomas L. Murtaugh, Harry B. Shafer, Tod Wonn
The website is a great resource and features articles, personal accounts and photos of the disaster.
Tell of your visit. An original photo is encouraged. If you have something to "add to the story" please tell of it in your log.