• U.S.

ILLINOIS: Two Flyers

2 minute read

In Chicago’s Union Station, amid the hurrying crowds, Marine veteran Alfred Wiley thrust magazines into the hands of his wife, handed candy bars to his two little sons. As he hoisted them aboard the Burlington’s Advance Flyer, he kissed them all goodbye. At 12:35 p.m. the 13-car train pulled out.

In the outer yards, tower men set the switches for the Advance to roll onto the express track. Soon after, the nine-car Exposition Flyer wormed its scheduled way onto the same westward ribbon. The pair of silver streamliners whooshed along the flat Illinois roadbed at 80 m.p.h., three minutes apart.

Just after one o’clock the Advance lurched to a halt. Trainmen suspected a hot box. Diners in the next-to-last car looked idly through the windows at the frame houses of Naperville. From the 13th car, an ordinary Pullman, a flagman raced up the cinders to warn the Exposition on the wide curve behind.

“Too Fast.” As the Exposition bore down on the Naperville bend, 68-year-old Engineer Bill Elaine saw a gleaming yellow block light.

“I immediately began applying the air brakes,” he said, “but we were going too fast, I guess. … I passed a red board . . . still trying to bring her down. . . . Then I saw the stalled train ahead. . . . Then I saw the flagman . . . Crayton, my fireman, said ‘Looks like you’re going into her, Bill’ . . . and jumped.”

Flattening the rails under the thrust of its screeching brakes, Bill Elaine’s bullet-nosed diesel locomotive ripped through the steel rear Pullman like gutting a catfish and buckled the lighter diner ahead. Said a priest: “I saw bodies . . . decapitated . . . crushed beyond human shape.” The total death toll was 44.

Alfred Wiley was back at work in a diesel locomotive plant when he heard the fearful news. Frantically he borrowed a car, raced 28 miles to Naperville. First he went to the bloody emergency stations and a hospital teeming with injured. They weren’t there. Then he went to Naperville’s three mortuaries. Nothing at the first or second. At the third he found the bodies of his wife and two children.

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