I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;
- Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
- Valley Times : Do You Remember?
- The Independent : Do You Remember?
The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.
They will also be found on this page each week as well.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
to catch up.
Deadliest train wreck near Sunol 65 years ago
By Barry Schrader.................................April
Henrietta Greer, who lives on her ranch up Patterson Pass
Road and is 98 years young, has fascinating stories to tell so
I am always glad to get a phone call from her to come for a visit.
Last week she came across a September 1941 train wreck news
clipping she had saved from the San Francisco Chronicle that
triggered a memory of her late husband Tom taking her to see
the wreckage. I managed to find more information in the Livermore
papers of Sept. 26 and Oct. 3, 1941, so another column is born.
A crack passenger train, the Chicago Limited, was headed
east on the Western Pacific line (now owned by Union Pacific)
at 36 miles an hour on a Monday night two miles outside Sunol
(on the same tracks the ACE trains travel today). A lone steam
engine and coal tender had failed to move onto the siding because
the engineers watch was 20 minutes slow, and thus a head-on
catastrophic collision occurred. The passenger train engineer,
fireman and baggage car employee were all killed instantly. Another
seven passengers were seriously injured and taken to Livermore
General Hospital for treatment. The single engines crew
had seen the oncoming trains headlight and tried to jump
to safety but were also injured.
First local resident on the scene was Herman Koopman, then
19, who lived nearby, plus a truck driver, Joe Silva of Pleasanton,
who was driving past. They summoned aid and Pleasanton Fire Chief
John J. Amaral sounded the alarm for his volunteers to respond
to the tragedy. The Exposition Flyers stewardess Miss Joan
Leahy and an unnamed nurse aboard ministered to the injured until
more help in the persons of Dr. Paul Dolan and Dr. H. J. Shanks
arrived at the scene. Two Army sergeants, guarding prisoners
headed for Leavenworth, were also injured but the paper reported
they refused to leave their charges for treatment.
The wrecked engines and jumbled cars were strewn for hundreds
of feet along the tracks, Henrietta recalls, when she and her
late husband joined curious onlookers at the site a few days
later. A freaky thing happened while they were there. A crane
was attempting to remove the single engine from the entanglement
and its bell began tolling. This sent a chill through the crowd,
many of whom departed the scene forthwith, she reported.
An Alameda County Coroners Jury was convened a week
later but no blame was placed at that time. They rendered an
accidental death verdict following the inquest held
at Livermore. The reason for the slow watch was never explained,
even though the instrument had been confiscated at the scene
by Deputy Sheriff Mark Garbini.
Pacific Locomotive Association curator Alan Frank responded
to my request for more information and photos that showed various
angles of the wreckage, confirming that it was the deadliest
train wreck in this valley in the 20th Century. He also had photos
of a November 14, 1869 collision between the Overland train from
Oakland Ferry and the Hayward-Alameda local train on tracks near
48th Avenue in Oakland. The crash killed 14 and injured scores
more. An aside: Alan is setting up a museum at the historic Railway
on rolling stock, probably having one of the most unique museums
on rails in the nation.
Henrietta also recalled another tragic accident, this one
involving two amphibious PBY planes flying near their ranch in
1942 during the War. Her husband was a local Civil Defense volunteer
so was called out that foggy Sunday morning. It seems the two
pilots misjudged the elevation of the Altamont and plowed into
the hillside, killing all 13 military personnel aboard. She said
they had heard the aircrafts engines at low altitude prior
to the impact. Two local ranchers Graham Nissen and Chris Walsted
were the first to reach the scene of carnage. A sad footnote:
the young widow of one of the pilots drove up to the Greer ranch
a month later, asking directions to the crash scene. Returning
a few hours later she displayed the crushed watch her husband
had been wearing, apparently one object the cleanup crew had
overlooked. The double plane crash was not reported in the press
at the time because of military censorship during wartime, Henrietta
* * *
Rafael Garcia pointed out some errors in the Sunol Water
Temple column, among them that Hetch Hetchy was built much later
than the Temple, it only has 12 columns, and the Save Our Sunol
group should be credited with the drive to restore the aging
edifice, not just the San Francisco Water Department. He provided
an excellent website to learn much more about the Temple at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunol_Water_Temple.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551