COBWEB CORNERS: Train wreck near the Rock Island station

By Mel McFarland

       Some 30 years ago I wrote the Rock Island Railroad's history in Colorado. In it I tell the story of a train wreck at Roswell in 1941, but I heard it was not the only one like it. In a 1901 newspaper I found the tale. It also answered a few other interesting questions.
       At the time, the Rock Island and the Denver and Rio Grande were next to each other. The Rock Island had a big yard at Roswell, and even a station. I need to insert here a reminder that there were two towns called Roswell. The original was west of the tracks, between present-day Fontanero and West Van Buren, which was promptly annexed by Colorado Springs. The second one is better remembered.
       A southbound Denver and Rio Grande freight train on the morning of Oct. 11 derailed right after passing the Rock Island's Roswell station. The locomotive went sideways and nosed, almost upside down, in the ditch just west of the tracks. The cars of the train piled on top of it, and almost hit the station where several sleeping passengers waited for the morning train to Denver. The engineer and fireman rode the engine, crawling out from under it in deep mud. Lumber, coal and pieces of car were stacked up over the locomotive nearly 30 feet high. The pile then caught fire, probably started at the locomotive's fire box. The city fire department responded and extinguished the flames after an hour. Thirteen cars were destroyed in the wreck.
       The location of the wreck was interesting. Had it happened a minute or so earlier, at the connection with the Rock Island, the station and the round house of that line would have been involved. The tracks in the Rock Island yard were undamaged, and regular traffic on the Rio Grande was able to detour through the yards, going around the wreck to get in and out of town. It took a cleanup crew several days to clear the site. It was over a day before they could even see the locomotive! The public came to see the disaster.
       The cause of the wreck was that the train's brakeman had not set enough car brakes, and the engineer could not get the train slowed down enough as it was passing the Rock Island yards.
       My favorite portion of the 1941 accident was that two carloads of cattle were set free. The animals roamed the North End for several days! It seems there were no animals lost in the 1901 wreck.