Locomotives leave a trail of deaths in Ottawa County

The Pere Marquette train on display in Grand Haven is a popular tourist attraction.
Kevin Collier
Aug 18, 2014


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.”



'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.'

1223 would have never travelled through town when it was in service. The PM Berkshires stuck to running between Detroit and Chicago.

And trust me, I know my stuff when it comes to the PM Berks.

Also, 1223 is NOT an identical twin to 1225. While they came from the same batch, they have several minor differences. The most notable is that the bell on 1223 sounds like crap compared to 1225. 1225 has a brass bell with a real nice sound to it. Due to the war effort, 1223 has a bell that sounds much more flat and dull. There are many other small differences, and actually a lot of parts from 1223 are used to keep 1225 running. There is also another operational Berk, NKP 765 down in Ft. Wayne.

Here is a bit my friend Kelly filmed with 765 operating http://vimeo.com/75831725

And a shot of 1225 pulling a photo freight charter several years back (you may see me in there too!): http://youtu.be/nt3oy54dABY


Thanks, jlebrasseur for that correction. I thought the 1223 did travel through Grand Haven. At the end of my column, I should have said "virtual" not identical — as there are minor differences, even though they look the same.


Sorry if I came off as snarky. I do enjoy reading the Strange Grand Haven column, so keep up the good work.

One I would love to see you get to the bottom of is the rumors I have heard all over of a railroad freight house and depot still buried below the Musical Fountain (buried as the dune shifted eastward before it was covered in vegetation). Is there any concrete proof out there of it?

It seems very plausible, but I have done a ton of research and haven't really turned up with anything.


No problem, I thank you for the correction. I have no idea if that freight house and depot is buried there — I have heard only rumors, too. So, I've dug around, too, on that, and can find no credible evidence. Lots of stories about the hill, like the fortune of whiskey that supposedly was buried there circa 1850s-60s, etc.

CandO Steve

jlebrasseur....If you walk along the edge of the river when the river is low you will see the old train tracks, between the musical fountain and the old sand loading dock. Have seen them many times.


I also heard rumor,s about part,s of Grand Haven City is buried over there from the old folk,s, but have not seen any proof.


My dad left severaltrain pictures to the museum. He was also the brakeman on the train in GH wish he were alive he could tell you all about that train.


I found this on Chronicling America, the Library of Congress newspaper archive online. It's from the January 26, 1859 edition of The Grand Haven News — about the depot's construction and being near completion.
“The passenger depot of the D. & M. R. R., opposite our village, is rapidly approaching completion. It is a magnificent building, and the view of it presented to the pedestrian, as he approaches it from the Court-House Square, on Washington Street, is truly beautiful. But a walk through the interior is necessary to afford the visitor a correct idea of its size, symmetrical proportions, beauty and style of workmanship, and complete adaptation to the purposes for which it is designed.”
It must have been quite a sight.


I wonder where the courthouse square on Washington, was, that they where referring to, i will have to take a walk up the hill to the court house and check the history on the location on or around 1859 ?


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