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Locomotives leave a trail of deaths in Ottawa County

Kevin Collier • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:58 PM

The locomotive was built in 1941 by Lima Locomotive Works for Pere Marquette Railroad, which passed through our city on a regular basis while in service.


If you have ever stood upon the tracks in front of the decommissioned train, you may have wondered if any unfortunate soul had ever met his or her death via a locomotive. The answer is yes.


In researching area train fatalities over the past 120 years, one of the saddest tales is the tragic death of Edward Lowman, which made the front page of the April 5, 1937, Grand Haven Tribune. The headline read, “Local Man Hurls Himself In Front of Train.”


The 63-year-old former Eagle-Ottawa employee, who was despondent from having to give up his job two months earlier at the factory due to failing eyesight, had left his home at 6:30 that morning. Before departing, Edward Lowing informed his wife, Calin, that he was “going out to find employment.”


“He said if he did not find work he would be back by 8:30 that morning,” Calin told the Tribune.


According to railroad engineer R. Muschalt and Elmer Dollard, who was a fireman on board the train at the time of the incident, they saw Lowman walking toward the tracks, at the crossing on Grant Street, at 7:15 that morning.


“He appeared to halt just as he neared [the approaching] train, apparently bracing himself for the fatal plunge under the wheels of the engine,” one of the men said. The train ran over Lowman, killing him instantly. His body was mangled beyond recognition. Train conductor T. Richardson relayed that there was no time to stop the locomotive.


On Oct. 17, 1920, a train ran over and killed a former soldier near Waverly, located near the Ottawa and Allegan County borders. The remains of Randall Wellington Greenwolt, 21, were discovered by the tracks by railway yard manager Cobb. 


Apparently the youth, who had run out of money, attempted to hop a train ride back to his parents’ home in Cleveland, Ohio. Authorities concluded that he had tried to hop onto the moving train and fell onto the tracks.


In January 1897, George Dempsey, a native of Philadelphia, had been staying in Spring Lake, partying with friends, when he and a companion hobo arrived at the D.G.H.&M train depot in Grand Haven the evening of 22nd to hop a ride on a locomotive.


Dempsey claimed his pal, Charlie, had pushed him into the train, where he fell onto the tracks, losing a leg in the incident. Dempsey died the following day. Investigators determined that Dempsey had fallen onto the tracks when he tried to jump onto the moving train, and had not been pushed.


That same year, residents of West Olive Township were shocked when the mangled body of 17-year-old Levi Arnold was discovered 500 feet from the train depot on Sept. 19, 1897. 


The Grand Haven Tribune stated the back of the victim’s head was “almost completely cut off.” The man's parents said it was likely Levi was playing on the tracks when he had “been taken with a fit,” or seizure, and fell onto the tracks.


On Aug. 16, 1891, farmer Cornelius Bos, resident of Allegan County, was killed by a C&W.M. locomotive while driving across the railroad track. Mrs. Henrietta Teerman, 29, and Albert Minderhout of Georgetown Township, were killed on Feb. 5, 1920, when the truck they were in was struck by a train at a Jenison crossing. On March 27, 1923, a 64-year-old farmer was killed when a Grand Trunk train at a Coopersville crossing struck his milk truck.


On Jan. 3, 1932, Crockery Township Supervisor William E. Slater was killed when he walked into the path of an oncoming train. 


Edward Rhonda, 87, was killed at the Jackson Street railroad crossing when he was struck by a train on Feb. 3, 1934. 


On March 20, 1935, Lawrence Erickson of Muskegon was killed at the Waverly Street crossing by a train.


There were many more who lost their lives on the train tracks of Ottawa County.


The Pere Marquette 1223, retired from service in 1951, stands as a reminder of Grand Haven's long tradition rail transportation. The train has an identical twin — the 1225 — that provided the blueprint for the image and sounds of the train in the 2004 film “The Polar Express.”

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