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Column: Sometimes in spring, it’s fun to take the long way

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first ap...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first appeared April 10, 2004.

WORTHINGTON - Did you ever, on a spring morning, take a long way around to where you were going, just to prolong the ride and to enjoy the scenery? I am in a mood for that today. Early spring fever. I have a dandy story to tell but I feel I want to take a long way getting there.

I got started on this when I saw a story by The Associated Press that reported on the price of peaches in a Daily Globe from decades gone by. California was harvesting a bumper crop, and the price of peaches would be the lowest in several years.

Once this news was important. Women across the nation were buying peaches by the crate, sometimes a dozen crates at a time. They remembered that last season the price climbed to ninetyeight cents.

Today there are no such news reports. No one cares. We buy four peaches, or half-a-dozen, and we may not recall the price per pound from two weeks gone by.

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This got me thinking of a time when the “price of peaches” used turn up in conversations. Talk might be of the New York Yankees. No one is going to beat the Yankees this year. Mickey Mantle alone is a ballclub.

From the blue, someone would interject, “I see they had quite a rain at Fargo.” Then someone might say, “What’s that got to do with the price of peaches?” It always tickled me when this happened.

What’s that got to do with the price of peaches?

Now, all right. This is bringing us close to our story.

This column last week told of the resounding, head-on collision of two freight trains, No. 19 and No. 20, two miles northeast of Sibley in March, 1929. Two good railroaders were killed.

LeRoy Peterson called me from Lakefield - LeRoy Peterson, our railroad master and railroad veteran with his phenomenal memory.

“Ray,” LeRoy said, “did you know they had nearly the same kind of collision at Windom? That was 1946. In the summer, I am sure. I went to see it.”

It was July 23. The outskirts of Windom. 9 p.m.

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Now what has this got to do with the price of peaches?

It was not peaches, exactly. It was oranges and lemons. LeRoy said the Omaha road’s enduring No. 20 was one of the fastest freights in America in that time, maybe the fastest. No. 20’s inseason assignment was to haul nothing but carload after carload of fresh fruits from Omaha to Minnesota’s twin cities, fast as possible.

In the 1946 collision, No. 20, steaming to Minneapolis, crashed head-on with an extra moving toward Sioux City and Omaha.

The Daily Globe reported, “The produce cars in No. 20 all contained citrus fruits, and the vicinity of the wrecked cars is piled high with crushed oranges and lemons. “I remember there was fruit everywhere,” LeRoy said. Seven cars of produce split open and 13 additional cars were badly damaged. The Daily Globe reported, “A Globe aerial cameraman said that the cab roof of the No. 20 locomotive was a light green with crushed lemons.”

No lives were lost in the Windom collision but three crewmen from the two trains were injured. If you wonder when you last saw a hobo, it might have been 1946 - a hobo, a transient on the fast train, also received injuries.

The engine of the extra poked into the No. 20 engine so that a photographer could stand at the front and make a picture “looking straight into the gaping smoke box of the locomotive.”

By 1946, these were large engines “of the Omaha 500 and 600 class.” They could move only on the mainline. This created additional problems when the Windom crash stopped all traffic. Smaller locomotives had to be brought into service from Worthington and St. James to move rail traffic along detour routes. The turntable at Worthington was too small for the steam giants, the 500s and 600s. These had to be turned around in the switches at Org and backed into Worthington to take up the trains which lighter engines brought through the detours.

“There was really harsh discipline for deals like this,” LeRoy said. “What kind of discipline?” I asked. “Men were canned,” LeRoy said. “This was serious.” For the collision at Windom, a conductor veteran of 33 years and an engineer veteran of 35 years lost their jobs.

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