Green Bay and Western Wreck
Merrillan, Jackson County, Wisconsin
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Diesel Unit Dragged Down Embankment
DIESEL UNIT DRAGGED DOWN EMBANKMENT—The pull exerted by six cars which plunged into Fall (Halls) Creek near Merrillan, when a Green Bay and Western Railroad trestle collapsed Thursday afternoon, dragged the third unit of a diesel locomotive from the tracks down an embankment. The wreck blocked traffic on Highway 12 for several hours and also halted train movements on the main line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, which crosses the Green Bay and Western right-of-way near Merrillan. (News-Herald Photo)
‘We Were Lucky,’ Says Engineer as Merrillan Bridge Collapses
Nine Freight Cars are Dumped into 30-Foot Chasm
“I’m going to get right down on my knees and thank the Lord when I get home tonight.”
That was the comment, with appropriate vocal punctuation, of Engineer Rudolph Pflanzer. His Green Bay and Western freight engine had just dropped nine loaded freight cars in Halls creek at Merrillan. They were cars immediately following the three-engine train numbering 111 cars, bound from Winona, Minn., to Wisconsin Rapids.
The mishap occurred when a 60-foot railroad bridge over Halls creek, on the northeast edge of Merrillan, collapsed. Nine cars dropped approximately 30 feet into the creek in a pile like jackstraws.
But Pflanzer and three others in the lead engine had escaped unhurt.
‘Just Plain Lucky’
Pflanzer described the action like this:
The front engine “jumped up off the track” and twisted and then came back down. It was a “terrible jolt,” he told bystanders after the accident. The lead engine was derailed. The second engine, also apparently jarred considerably as the bridge gave way, was derailed, but stood upright on the track bed. Acid from its batteries had poured out of it, indicating a considerable jar.
The third engine was whipped off the track and was resting askew on the deep, south bank from which wrecking crews were attempting to remove it earlier in the week.
Commented Engineer Pflanzer: “We were just plain lucky!”
The accident took place just a few seconds after 12:35 p.m. last Thursday. Clint Burghardt, Merrillan depot agent for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, which junctions with the G B & W (Green Bay and Western) at the Merrillan depot said the 111-car freight started passing the depot at 12:35 p.m. Cars of the freight were still passing the junction when the bridge, a quarter-mile or more to the east, gave ’way.
“I heard the airline snap. There was a loud ‘swish!’ when that happened,” Burghardt said; “but I couldn’t hear much else because of the cars rattling over the tracks nearby.”
People in other locations of Merrillan and environs, however, heard the crashing noise as the bridge fell and nine cars toppled into the swollen Halls creek. They were loaded with such things as copper cable, a 100-ton car of iron ore, plywood, rolls of box paper and other materials.
There was a ripping and crunching of steel plates as, one after another, the cars toppled into the chasm and onto the heap, until the brakes automatically set and the loaded cars behind were brought to a standstill.
Several rods of track on the east side of the bridge were torn up. In one spot, close to the east concrete bridge abutment, they bowed outward like the legs on a saddle-born cowboy.
A Chicago & Northwestern freight train was held up for several hours after accident, for a portion of the train blocked the C & N W railroad tracks until the latter, using its own engines, was able to roll the Green Bay cars back to clear a path through.
With the bridge down, the Green Bay and Western this week was running freights over the Omaha branch of the Chicago & Northwestern running through southern Clark County from Marshfield to Merrillan.
The accident attracted thousands of curious from all parts of the area. They resembled more the atmosphere of a festival as they trekked over the tracks to the site of the bridge from both sides—and in considerable numbers—each day following the wreck. Thursday evening Highway 95 and County Trunk A, (K), which runs eastward to Hatfield, were congested by the parked cars of curious sightseers. Many others made it a double event Sunday, stopping in Merrillan to see the sight enroute to or from the Alma Center Strawberry festival and parade.
No estimate on the amount of damage or loss was available; nor was there any indication of what might have caused the 60-foot bridge to drop.
In addition to Pflanzer, crewmen in the lead engine of the train were Roger Rickhoff, fireman, and William Hadeck, head brakeman. In the caboose at the rear of the train were Leonard Sullivan, rear brakeman, and Ed Losinske, conductor. The crewmen were from Wisconsin Rapids except for Losinke.
Clark County Press (Neillsville, WI)
July 11, 1968, (Front Page)
You Don’t Wait To Clean Up—
Green Bay & Western Builds a By-Pass to Speed Service
When a bridge on a railroad main line goes down and a 30 by 60-foot chasm is filled with loaded freight cars, what do you do? Clean up the mess and rebuild a bridge? Right? Wrong!
You go around.
That is what the Green Bay and Western railroad is doing at its Halls creek bridge location, on the northeast outskirts of Merrillan.
In the little more than a week since the Halls Creek Bridge went down and nine freight cars spilled into the chasm and onto the banks, railroad repair crews have built a by-pass line adjacent to the old line.
It has meant a considerable amount of earth-moving, and provides a substantial grade; but Green Bay & Western trains are about to roll over it—if they are not already doing so by the time this reaches print.
Halls creek is “bridged” by three large culverts at the point where the by-pass line crosses. The by-pass dips down to the creek crossing, then quickly rises and rejoins the old main line tracks.
On either side evidence of the spectacular train wreck is in evidence. Hulks of damaged boxcars are strewn along the right-of-way near the creek area. The 30-foot-deep chasm on which freight cars tumbled, one after another, removed to a stock-piling area north of the track in a clean field. Pallets of lumber also have been salvaged; but the salvage work was only partially done.
Throughout the last week, the area took on the atmosphere of a county fair as thousands of people visited the site of the train wreck, looked over the extensive damage done there, and watched the rapid progress of work.
The G B & W has suffered a set-back; but it has a reputation for getting things done, and it’s living up to that reputation.
Clearing wreck at Merrillan
250,000-Pound Engine Lifted at Merrillan
Green Bay & Western section men, assisted by wreckers from the Soo Line and Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, and two D-8 caterpillars worked two days to raise a 250,000 pound engine from its resting place down a 40 foot embankment.
The engine was derailed June 27, when it was involved in a wreck, along with 11 box cars, when a railroad bridge over East hall’s Creek collapsed.
Crews from Max Phillips Wrecking Company of Eau Claire have been in Merrillan the past week removing scrap metal from the Green Bay and Western Railroad wreck.
A large crane with a magnet attached is used for loading the metal into dump trucks. Several men are engaged with torches to cut the metal box cars into smaller pieces.
It is expected the job will take about a week to finish.
This is one of the crews of the Green Bay and Western Railroad. The man down in front is Rudolph (Rudy) Novak of Bruce Mound area and to the right I believe that to be Tony Palchik of Hatfield.
THE TEMPORARY TRACK, being laid north of the collapsed Green Bay & Western Railroad Bridge on East Hall’s Creek in Merrillan, is expected to be completed by mid-week.
The Hoffman construction Company of Black River Falls has had several pieces of heavy equipment here since the wreck on June 27 building a new road bed and railroad crews have been working long hours, including Sundays and holidays, to lay new track on the road bed.
The Green Bay time freights are now being rerouted over the Milwaukee Road main line from Winona to New Lisbon and than (then) north over the Valley Line to Wisconsin Rapids. Way Freights are being routed over the Marshfield Branch of the northwestern into Merrillan and then connect to their main line going west.
(Transcriber note: My now deceased husband, Rudolph Novak was one of the employees on the RR work crew, thus our family was part of the public viewers after the crash, having lived about 4 miles from the scene.)
Sources: Marshfield News-Herald (Marshfield, WI) June 28, 1968; The Clark County Press (Neillsville, WI) July 4, 1968, Front page & The Banner Journal (Black River Falls, WI), July 24, 1968, page 3, by Jean G. Anderson.