- From the book, "History of Ogden, Utah in Old Postcards," by D. Boyd Crawford.
By Lynn Arave
SEVENTY years ago it was the holiday season with high hopes for an impending end to World War II. However, there was also Utah’s worst-ever train disaster that closed out 1944 with an unexpected calamity.
“Pacific limited crash claims 48 lives,” was a Jan. 1, 1945 headline in the Standard-Examiner.
“Reporter finds tragic horror at wreck scene” and “Wreck reminded me of war, says train crash victim” and “Screams, moans rend the air at wreck scene” were threw other somber headlines in the Standard that day.
A pair of westbound trains crashed shortly after 6 a.m. on Dec. 31, 1944, near Promontory Point, or about 18 miles west of Ogden, on the Lucin Cutoff.
Besides the 48 fatalities, another 79 were reported injured in the crash. Among the fatalities were 29 military personnel and nine railroad workers.
This was the worst-ever rail disaster in the Intermountain area and the nation’s worst railroad crash of 1944.
By Jan. 5, 1945, the death toll from the wreck would rise to 50 and disaster would be known as the Bagley Train Wreck or the Great Salt Lake Wreck.
A 1940s train in Ogden at a switching station.
The accident happened in thick fog when a mail express train failed to slow down for a caution signal and smashed full speed at 60 mph into the rear of the Pullman car of a passenger train, slowed down to 18 mph for a freight train ahead with mechanical problems.
(By some other accounts, the engineer of the mail train may have suffered a heart attack and died seconds before the crash happened.)
Seven of the railcars were hurled off the wooden lake trestle and into Great Salt Lake mud and shallow, briny waters. The wreck scene stretched for half-a-mile.
Fortunately there were two medical cars in the passenger train and so Medical Corps members helped the inured, as otherwise help had to wait until arrival by rail from Ogden.
--Switching subjects, here’s a cost comparison from seven decades ago, when obviously prices were a lot lower for most goods, according to Standard-Examiner ads of late 1944:
Ground beef, 25 cents a pound; oranges, 8 cents a pound; apples eight cents a pound; corn flakes, 8 cents; peanut butter 39 cents for two pounds; potato chip bag 22 cents; milk (1.5 pints each) four cans for 37 cents; men’s suits $18.88.
-In two other historical tidbits, “Snow Basin is ready to accommodate thousands of ski enthusiasts,” was a Jan. 17, 1945 Standard headline.
Apparently there was no Christmas, or holiday skiing in Snow Basin’s earliest of seasons.
-“Milk law takes effect Friday” was a Jan. 10, 1945 headline in the Standard, as raw milk could no longer be sold in the Ogden City limits.
(-Published on-line and in print on Dec. 25-26, 2014, by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)
-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: email@example.com