Historian’s presentation follows the tracks of a runaway train | ParkRecord.com

Historian’s presentation follows the tracks of a runaway train

In 1968, a 230-ton Union Pacific Park City Local train lost its brakes and crashed in Poison Creek. HIstorian David Nicholas will give a presentation about the wreck on Thursday.
Courtesy of Park City Historical Socieity

What: Historian David Nicholas runaway train lecture

When: 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27

Where: Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive

Cost: Free

For information, visit the Park City Museum’s website at http://www.parkcityhistory.org

On April 27, 1968, a 230-ton Union Pacific Park City Local train crashed in Park City.

The two engines and caboose suffered a brake failure while parked at the station in Old Town and rolled nearly five miles before derailing at the railroad switch yard, where local bar and grill The Boneyard is now located, said David Nicholas, Park City Museum volunteer and historian.

“As the train coasted out of town, it rolled over several unprotected grade crossings,” Nicholas said. “Miraculously, the train made it out of town without hitting any vehicles or people.”

Nicholas will give a free presentation about the runaway train at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive. The presentation will include photographs and newspaper articles about the incident.

“The two engines tumbled into Poison Creek, and the lead engine buried itself up to the (axles) in the mud,” Nicholas said. “The caboose tilted, but did not topple, but you can only imagine the calamity.”

Luckily, according to Nicholas, there were no passengers onboard when the brakes failed. The train rolled down the inclines of the present-day Union Pacific Rail Trail. “It doesn’t take too much to get 230 tons of metal rolling down that incline to gain a tremendous amount of speed, Nicholas said.”

In an attempt to stop the train, the crew first chased it on foot, but couldn’t catch it.

That’s when Fay Dearden, the local station agent, got in his car and followed the train, Nicholas said.

“He drove down Pacific Avenue, which was a dirt road that paralleled the rails, and then back out onto Park Avenue, and then down to what we know now as Kearns Boulevard,” Nicholas explained. “The train finally came to a stop on a sharp curve at the switch yard, where its speed exceeded the design parameters of the rail infrastructure.”

The normal speed limit for trains in town was 10 mph, and historical sources estimate the train had reached a speed between 20 and 30 mph when it derailed.

“When it crashed, the train shredded 1,200 feet of rail,” Nicholas said. “This was significant because the rail infrastructure was built for heavy-duty railroading because cars had to carry the ore from local mines.”

In order to rerail the cars and repair the tracks, the Park City Union Pacific Branch closed for three days to accommodate a wreck train and its crew from Ogden.

“A wreck train’s personnel was capable of fixing any problems,” Nicholas said. “It had a big steam crane that lifted the engines up and place them back on the rails.”

The wreck train included a bunk car, a commissary car and a tool shop.

“Crews worked 24 hours a day for those three days to get the mess fixed,” Nicholas said. One of the things Nicholas found interesting about the photos he found during his research was how much the town has changed in a little more than 50 years.

“You see that Bonanza Drive didn’t exist, and there were no buildings that are standing today,” he said. “You also see Pacific Avenue, which isn’t there anymore, either.”

The idea to give a presentation came from Fay Dearden’s family.

Nicholas had been researching a different wreck that took place in the winter of 1964 in the switch yards.

“While doing the research and talking with the Dearden family, Alan, who is the oldest son, told me about a much worse wreck that happened in 1968,” Nicholas said. “While small wrecks were common, a big wreck like that one, thankfully, is very rare.”

As Nicholas began piecing his presentation together, he still marveled that there were no human casualties.

“What people don’t realize is when a train is moving, it is relatively quiet, and that’s why when we are all at a young age we are taught to stop, look and listen before we cross any train tracks,” he said. “So even though it tore through three crossing gates, it’s amazing that nobody got hurt.”

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