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Circus Wreck


Train wrecks are certainly problematic, but when a circus train carrying performers, tents, equipment, and animals is involved, the word problematic seems slightly insufficient to describe the chaotic scene. Such a scene was to be found near Medina, North Dakota on this day in 1908 when a Gollmar Brothers Circus train collided head-on with a light engine locomotive traveling at thirty miles per hour. Amazingly, the only fatalities that resulted were restricted to animals traveling with the cars.

The Gollmar Circus train was traveling west from a show in Jamestown to a performance in Bismarck when the accident occurred. The four a.m. crash was believed to have resulted from the circus train engineer’s failure to regard a block set against the circus train’s main track line. By passing the block, the engineer unintentionally aligned his train for a head-on collision with an oncoming engine. The engine crews of both locomotives spied the oncoming trains and became aware of their impending predicament in time. The men managed to avoid injury by jumping from the moving cars just before the trains met. Upon impact, six wooden cars of the circus train were forced inside of one another, creating a telescope effect. Five of these six cars were completely blown to splinters. The seventh car, carrying eleven trained elephants, was fortunately left intact. Surprisingly, only three circus employees were injured in the incident, as all of the performers were located in the rear of the train. Of the three injured, one employee fractured his leg, and another lost his fingers in the crash. Several circus performers were thrown from their seats, but sustained only minor cuts and bruises. Twenty-five horses were killed in the accident but, surprisingly, no other animals were injured.

After the accident, large amounts of debris blocked the tracks, and rail traffic was detoured to a sidetrack. The Gollmar Circus suffered an estimated $50,000 worth of damage in the collision, but damages incurred by the Northern Pacific Railroad included the wrecked engines, cars, and settlements, and were expected to more than double that amount. Everyone loves a circus, but the residents of Medina were not exactly happy to wake up to find the surprise stop that the Gollmar Brothers made in their town in 1908.



Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Evening Ed. June 22, 1908: p. 1.