© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

May 27: Tornado Hits Train

Ways To Subscribe

On this date in 1931, an F3 tornado collided with the Empire Builder passenger train, the pride of the Great Northern Railway. The train had just left Fargo, heading east on a hot afternoon. The engineer and several passengers saw a small funnel cloud to the southwest. The funnel bobbed up and down; then the top of a haystack blew apart. Seconds later, the train shook and the windows blew out in several cars.

A farmer watching nearby saw the train lift from the tracks, settle back down, then lift again. He said, "it went flying out into the air and landed on its side. It caused such a huge cloud of dust that I couldn't see any of the train ... but soon the engine came pulling out of the cloud." Only the 136-ton locomotive and a 94-ton tender remained on the track.

Automobiles soon crowded the roadway – spectators that made the evacuation of the injured difficult. But a rescue train soon transported the 117 passengers back to Fargo. 57 of them were injured. A man from Washington state was killed, and a Mrs. Troll of Minot was reported in serious condition, but was expected to recover.

The storm went on for 50 miles through Clay and Norman counties. It was called a "definite barn wrecker." 24 farms in Clay County lost buildings. At the L. D. Fleming farm, the family sought refuge by their machine shed, but the storm lifted the shed over their heads and dropped it a couple hundred feet away.

The storm claimed a second fatality when it killed an 18-year-old as he and other members of his family crouched in their farm house basement. He was struck by a concrete block dislodged from the foundation. A third victim, one of the train passengers, died two weeks later from infection.

Based on interviews, it was later determined that three tornadoes had merged to form the funnel that struck the train. And coming during the Great Depression, the storm was another blow for those suffering losses.

Dakota Datebook by Christina Campbell


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content