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North Coast Wreck


A terrible wreck occurred just after midnight on this day in 1908. The North Coast Limited, one of the Northern Pacific Railroad's finest engines, struck a broken rail near McKenzie, North Dakota, sending several cars flying over a ten-foot embankment. Although the train was traveling at fifty miles an hour, a fortunate set of circumstances saved the lives of everyone aboard. Most of the passengers were asleep in the train's twelve Pullman sleeper cars and were not thrown off their feet from the impact. Also, the impact was minimized by the large amount of snow; the cars slid across the drifts before coming to a stop. Another piece of luck was that the December night in question was unseasonably warm.

Somehow, the front engine, mail, and baggage cars were able to remain upright, but the twelve Pullmans were on their sides. There were no doctors or rail personnel in nearby McKenzie. So, men were sent to Bismarck for help. Since the lights on the train were electric and powered by the engine, the train was plunged into darkness. A large fire was built out of a nearby fence for warmth and light. Men used the beds from the Pullman cars to carry the injured to the fire and make them comfortable.

Due to extensive litter along the tracks, the relief train from Bismarck could only make it within a mile of the wreck. So, hayracks were used as makeshift stretchers to transport the injured to the attending doctors. Passengers with extensive injuries were sent to the hospital in Bismarck for treatment, where doctors worked into the early morning hours dressing wounds.

Two of the most seriously injured were employed by the railroad. Judge Young of Fargo, employed as an attorney for Northern Pacific, was in the observation car during the crash and suffered from a badly bruised face. Also, H. E. Williams, an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad, was thrown through the windows of the smoker car and suffered extensive cuts on his upper body. Williams nearly died of blood loss, but survived over two hours of surgery as doctors stitched up his lacerations. Most passengers were able to resume their journey later the following day.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Thursday (Evening ed.), Dec. 10, 1908: p.1, 9.