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Headed for St. Paul and Italy

6/27/2016:

There was a great deal of excitement in Jamestown on this date in 1922. It started when forty patients of the state mental institution went out for a supervised walk. The weather was lovely and everyone was enjoying themselves when a patient decided to strike out on his own. The unnamed patient left the group and disappeared into the trees. The attendants could not follow until the rest of the patients were safely returned to the hospital. By that time, the escapee had disappeared and the chase was on.

The escapee headed for the railroad yards. He approached several workers, explaining he was trying to get to St. Paul and Italy, but could not locate a streetcar that would get him there. He was difficult to understand as his language was broken Italian. The railroad men paid little attention and went back to their work. That proved to be a mistake. A Northern Pacific locomotive was being readied to pull a train east. The patient apparently decided that if he couldn’t find a streetcar to St. Paul, he would take matters into his own hands. He ran to the locomotive, pulled himself into the cab, threw open the throttle and set off on his journey.

Charles Scott, a Northern Pacific employee in the railroad yard noticed the approaching train. It was moving at about ten miles an hour, faster than a locomotive would normally be moving as it approached the station. Scott realized something was wrong. It could be a disaster if the train rumbled through town at a high rate of speed. The quick-thinking worker pulled a lever and switched the train to a side track. Unfortunately, an engine already occupied that track. Shouts warned the crew of that engine, and they jumped clear as the escapee’s train approached. The impromptu engineer turned off the steam, but did not apply the brakes. The locomotive rammed the other engine.

Without Scott’s quick action, the accident could have been much worse. As it was, there were no injuries and the only damage was to the cowcatchers of both trains. Instead of going to St. Paul and Italy, the patient was returned to the hospital.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Insane Patient Escapes, Steals Engine, Crashes into Train No. 7. 27 June, 1922.