The Railroads

Railroad crew on site of the explosion, 1888
Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum image
Learn details of railroad history, accidents and associated events.  More articles published about the 1888 wreck are at the bottom of this page.

There are 3 different narratives of the Great Explosion of 1888 here, those of Grace Hutchin, Harry Ellington and Charles Hatch.  See the additional articles about the train wreck in the main blog.

May 14 was memorial day for the small town as an explosion occurred. This account was given by Grace Hutchins whose father was killed that day.

The first two stories come from a copy of four pages of old type-written notes, which contain details of the great train explosion, and are simply labeled – 1888.  These notes were found in the history files at the Fountain Library and probably came from someone at the Fountain Museum.  The notes are given here, warts and all, as they originally appeared.  

Two car loads of dynamite got loose in the yards at Colo. Springs and started on a mad rush south. A passenger train was warned at Fountain that it was coming so the Engineer Henry Hutchins put his train on the side track and then started to meet the runaway cars as this was the only way to stop them.  They met just north of the depot and the explosion damaged almost every house in town. Four people were killed and one was the engineer Hutchins. The fireman has his legs so bowed by the concussion that it was hard for him to walk from then on. He was a German and nicknamed Binksey.

This is a report of the explosion as the story was reprinted in the Fountain Herald April 24, 1906.  The editor was Harry Ellingston who had written the story when it happened. 
At 2:50 o’clock last Monday morning many citizens were awakened by a loud crash and starting from their beds they were met by a lucid glare that lighted up the surrounding country for miles around. Looking toward the Depot of the Santa Fe railroad, the first sight caused many to think that the structure was on fire and men, women and children rushed to the scene of the conflagration.  Before reaching the Depot it was discovered that the building was not on fire, though immediate danger as several freight cars and an engine at the north end of the depot platform were enveloped in flames.
Upon arrival at the fire it was learned that four freight cars and a way car had become detached from a freight train in Colorado Springs and run wild to this spot., where it collided with the passenger train due here at 2:40 and had just stopped.  The car next to the way car was loaded with naptha, which immediately ignited when the car struck the engine, the tank bursting and throwing the oil over the platform and surrounding objects.  Far out on the ground on the west side of the track opposite the depot, was a blazing lake, while the flames were rapidly running along the platform on the east side toward the depot.  Pails were soon on hand and in the hands of strong and willing men and boys, who began the work of tearing up the platform and carrying water to extinguish the flames, by which means alone it was possible to save the depot.  A great deal of express matter was in the meantime removed from the building to a safe distance or on the south platform.  The baggage car was taken from the train as the baggage car had taken fire.  The rest of the cars were uncoupled and dropped down the track to a safe distance.  The baggage car was left at the water tank where the fire was extinguished.

Up to this time no particular attention had been paid to the freight cars, but now that the depot being in comparative safety it was proposed that the two cars at the end be run up the track to a safe distance, and the flames, which had just communicated to them.  In a call for help for this purpose, several men went to the cars, when it was discovered by one of the men that one of the cars was marked “Powder”, that being the car that was burning.  The alarm was given and nearly everyone fled for their lives.  Not a moment too soon, however, for hardly a minute had elapsed ere the heavens were rent asunder by a livid flash, followed by a terrible report that jarred the earth as if that body had been torn apart from pole to pole, the shock being plainly discernable at Colorado Springs.

Seventeen thousand pounds of giant powder had exploded.  The earth fairly trembled from the force of the concussion.  Men, women and children were prostrated to the earth.  Strong buildings were shattered as if made of pasteboard.  Roofs of buildings, whose sides were sufficiently strong to withstand the atmospheric pressure were crushed down as if tons of rocks had fallen on them.  Windows were shattered for miles around, the glass in many instances being forced through partitions and ceilings.  Doors were torn from their fastenings as if but pinned in position and literally torn to pieces.

There were several persons who either did not hear the cry “Powder” or else did not realize the danger to which they were exposed, who did not heed the warning.  C. F. Smith who was on the roof of the depot; H. W. Hutchins, on the back end of the engine tender; H. P. Bosworth, on top of the tender engaged in extinguishing the flames in the engine cab; Lawrence Weihart, on the platform, handing water to Mr. Smith, C. S. Hatch, O. L. Loomis, W. W. Loomis, Mort Loomis, W. H. Butler, carrying water to the former gentlemen.  Lancelot Bell and H. Murray, who were removing freight from the depot, C. F. Smith being in the most perilous position received the greatest injuries.  Besides having his right leg broken, there were several wounds made in his body, made by flying missiles, presumably pieces of iron, one piece being removed from his back after death, any one of which would very likely have caused his death.  The whole weight of the west side of the depot, which was a large building, rested on him when found, from which position he was released and taken to his hotel where he was examined by Drs Moore and Berry and all done for his comfort that was possible.  He lived but two hours after the explosion, enduring the most excruciating agony, but bore up under it manfully, never complaining, though he retained consciousness up to within a very short time before death came to relieve him from suffering.  Mr. Smith came to Fountain about two months ago from Kinross Iowa, and opened a lumber yard.  He was a noble-hearted courageous man, well liked by all with whom he had dealings and proven himself a warm friend.  He leaves a wife and two children at Kinross, to whom the remains were shipped for internment.  Mr. Smith had made many friends here, who entertained the warmest sympathies for the bereaved wife and children.

From appearances, when picked up H. W. Hutchins was thrown from his position on the engine to the ground, his head striking one of the rails, causing a fracture to the skull at the base, and breaking one leg between the knee and the ankle.  He lived thirty eight hours after the accident suffering the keenest pain.  Mr. Hutchins was sixty-three years of age and an old resident of Fountain, having been proprietor of the Pioneer store for many years, in which business he had made many friends who with a wife and three daughters deeply mourn his loss.  In the death of Mr. Hutchins the town loses a good citizen and the wife and the children a loving husband and father.

H. P. Bosworth was also thrown from the engine, sustaining a dislocated shoulder and numerous other minor injuries from which, we are glad to state he is rapidly rallying and will in a few days, be around and out of doors.

Lawrence Weihart was a sight to behold, and when first found was supposed to be dead.  He was rescued from the debris and taken to his home where medical care was procured, and on Thursday he was walking about town with the aide of crutches.  He escaped with no more serious wounds than cuts and bruises on the face and body, though he was lying close besides Mr. Smith, when picked up and was from first appearances more seriously hurt, but such proved not to be the case.

Lancelot Bell and H. Murray were near each other when the explosion occurred and were nearly buried in the wreck of the falling depot, yet both escaped without a bone broke.  Still their hurts are sufficient consequences to confine them to their rooms.  Mr. Bell being of the two more seriously disables – he having one ankle badly sprained, a wrist cut and a great gash in one eye brow to say nothing of smaller cuts and bruises on other parts of his body.  He managed to move around the house Thursday but said it was rather a painful task to perform.  We hope to see him out in a few days.  Mr. Murray seems to think his wounds of little consequences though they are quite painful.  He will be all right in a few days he says.

Robert's Loomis 11th Birthday, 1914

From left to right, back row, Aunt Rose, Grandpa Loomis with baby, RB Toothman, Harry Jones, Robert Loomis, Clarissa Toothman on JF Garret's knee. Front- Mama, Edith Jones, Bernice C., Helen Jones, R___ C., Daisy Toothman, myself [Mary Loomis]. 
W. W. Loomis, son of OS Loomis had a leg broken by a flying piece of iron or wood.  It is thought the bone being so badly slivered that it was necessary to amputate the limb below the knee.  At last report he was getting along as well as the circumstances would permit.  By some fortunate circumstances Mr. Loomis and his younger son, both of whom were nearer the source of disaster than the boy who had his leg broken escaped with but a few light scratches.

Photo courtesy of the Fountain Museum, thought to be Wm Loomis on a horse, 1888

Rocky Mountain News May 22, 1888

Robert, Mary, Eunice and William Wallace Loomis

Colorado Springs, 1919

Charles S. Hatch, who was quite close to Mr. Weihart when the powder exploded was badly cut on the left side of his head, in the thigh of the right leg. He is gaining rapidly. [See his narrative and photo following this article.] 

WH Butler was struck in the breast with some flying missle, but with the exception of a slight cut, no serious effect was experienced.

A man named Shipman, who was in the way car, and is supposed asleep when the collision took place, was burned to a crisp – it not being known that he was there until the frightful scene was over and his remains were found. He was being transported by the conductor to Denver, where he was to take the Burlington to his home as he was unwell.

A distance of two blocks from where the explosion occurred Mrs. DP Widrig, Miss Mrytle Bell and many others had congregated to witness the fire, not knowing that powder was confined in any of the cars.  The two ladies mentioned were a little apart from the others and both were stricken down by pieces of iron about the same instant.  Miss Bell having her wrist terribly lacerated and the bones crushed, and Mrs. Widrig receiving a frightful wound in the head from which a hand full of brains had oozed. At the time of going to press she is still alive, although in a very critical condition and little hope is entertained for her recovery. Miss Bell is improving under the attentions of Dr. Moore and with no draw backs will in a few days be strong enough to walk out.

Many other persons at a distance from the scene were more or less cut and bruised by flying glass and falling doors and furniture.  The most seriously injured of these being EH Kirk at the Mitchell Hotel, who had his right hand severely injured by falling stone; Mr. and Mrs. AJ Benedict were lacerated about the head and body; Mrs. Bell cut and bruised all over; Mrs. JM Hatch cut in the face; JF James badly lacerated wrist; all of these are doing nicely.

The great wonder, as the scene is viewed now, is that all were not killed outright, as the ground is covered with pieces of wood and iron which were torn from the demolished cars and railroad, pieces of car wheels and steel rails, some of the weighing many pounds, being found three-quarters of a mile distant, another was stood in the ground 250 yards away and many other pieces being found at different places thrown from 250 to 1000 yds.  Houses were pierced as by grape and canister, several being reduced to kindling wood.

There is not a house or business hose in Fountain that is not damaged to considerable extent.  Stocks of goods and household effects were hurled to the floor in a conglomerate mass.  The estimated damage to town property is 75000 while the Santa Fe Co cannot replace their property loss for a less sum than 2,000,000.  Yet not withstanding their great loss, the company sent their claim agent here at once to investigate the damage sustained by private individuals and settle the same.  Not satisfied to place the amount himself, the claim agent contacted each of the citizens, stated the object of his visit, and requested that they appointed a committee of five from their number to act as appraisers and asses the amount of damages claimed by each individual.  In accordance to this request Messrs JW Patton Nathen    West, WW Mayo, CN Crab and EH Kirk were chosen, and their work was completed Friday.  We believe that nearly all were well satisfied with the work of the appraisers and deemed their allowances sufficient.  The Co. also sent relief to the homeless in the way of tents etc. And have in every way proved themselves a corporation with a soul.

A crew of workmen arrived on the grounds Friday and commenced preperating for erection of a new depot, and the repair of the water tank, well and etc.  Nearly all the buildings in town will be repaired or replaced by new ones.  Many contracts have already been let. 

The people of Colorado Springs set to work, as soon as news reached there, of the catastrophe, to secure relief for the sufferers, and subscribed over 1,500 for that purpose.  The first train from that place bringing bread, meat and provisions of all kinds which were placed in the hands of a committee, and judiciously meted out to these in need.  For this act the people of Colorado Springs have the heartfelt thanks of every person in Fountain.

Following is the verdict of the coroner’s jury.

State of Colorado, County of El Paso; an inquisition held at Colorado springs, on May 16, 1888, before Isaac Davis, coroner of said county upon the bodies of CF Smith, HW Hutchins, and a man to the jury unknown, there lying dead by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed, said jurors upon their oaths do say that the said persons came to their deaths by the explosion of naptha and giant powder on the two Santa Fe railroad cars a t the town of Fountain on May 14, 1888.  The explosion was caused by five freight cars getting away from Colorado Springs and running wild to Fountain, and coming into collision with a passenger train.  We find that the railway employee took the usual precautions to prevent the cars from moving by setting the brakes, but they were let loose in some manner to the jury unknown.

In testimony here of the jurors have hereunto set their hand this day and year aforesaid, Matt France, WHD Merrill, JH Thedinga, CL Gillingham, CS Bumstead, AF Mitchell.

Notes by the way

After passing through the explosion in the morning uninjured, Mr. Loomis was kicked by a vicious horse, in the evening receiving injuries of a serious nature.  He received the blow in the face, the violence of which broke the roof of his mouth and broke several teeth out.  He is in a very dangerous condition but his physician thinks he can bring him through alright.

The Monument Regester said that the force of the shock caused by the explosion awoke nearly everyone in that town, 33 miles away.

A limb eight inches in diameter was severed from a cottonwood tree a third of a mile from the scene of the wreckage.

A hole ten feet deep and thirty feet in diameter marked where the car of powder stood.

At least 5,000 from Colorado Springs visited Fountain Mon.  The Post Office was the least damaged.

This is a list of business places and who run them.  Frank B Ross had a store.  Mrs. MT Mitchell run the Mitchell House.  TK Cell run the Pioneer Blacksmith shop.  HW Hutchins run the Pioneer store.  Ariel Green run a barbar shop.  JT Logan a shoe shop.  Dr JE Moore had offices at the Mitchell House. R. Donnally was a painter.  Joseph Patton was in real estate.  OS Loomis a feed and dale stable.  AJ Benedict had Post Office sold stationary and papers.  Eureka meat market owned by WG Lewis.  H Lindsey was Baptist minister. GA Loomis Free Methodist minister.  Mr. Hensley was agent for the Santa Fe.

The Spicers slept through all the excitement but came awake with the blast. A door was blown onto the bed just missing the sleeping baby.  The door to the upstairs was blown up stairs and the alarm clock was setting on it and still running.  Mr. Spicer had just finished the kitchen and all the south wall of it was blown in.

The Santa Fe depot had just been finished at the time of the explosion.  It was rebuilt and Mr. Hensley was its first agent.  SJ Evans followed him and was there for yrs.  Ralph Quick took over from him and EG Dewey was its last one.

[Ellington's article appears to also have been reprinted verbatim on the 59th anniversary of the accident in 1947, though the paper and date are unknown.  The later article was clipped and glued on other paper, and a copy of this survives.  The second story mentioned the ads that appeared in the 1888 paper, to include: TK Cell, proprietor of the Pioneer Blacksmith shop, HW Hutchins Fountain Pioneer store - general merchandise, plows, wagons..., Ariel Green tonsorial artist in the Ames block, JT Logan shoe shop in Ames block, OS Loomis, feed and stable.  Roadsters, ponies, saddle and draft horses for sale; corner of Iowa and Race.



The Fountain Explosion
Written by Charles Stuart Hatch in 1940, as he remembered it

Fountain, Colorado
May 14, 1888

It was the shrill blast of the early morning Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe passenger engine that aroused the inhabitants of the little town of Fountain, situated about 15 miles south of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Then the rattle and roar of an on rushing freight train, another shrill blast of that passenger engine that brought my uncle and myself out of bed and scrambling for our clothes.

We had hardly got on our feet when an awful crash occurred, that brought us to the realization that there had been an awful wreck.

As we rushed out of the house without hats or coats and made our way to the depot, for it was there that the accident had happened.  The Heavens seemed to be ablaze. As we came closer we saw that the very earth seemed to be a seething lake of fire.  It was not until we reached the scene of the wreck that we found out just what had happened.  It was about 2 o’clock in the morning on May 14, 1888 that the passenger train from the south on the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad had just pulled up at the depot in Fountain, Colorado when the engineer, looking ahead saw the lights of the rear end of the fright train coming down the track toward him.  Thinking the orders for a clear track to Colorado Springs 15 miles away up the track and as the red lights were approaching him at much to great of speed, he began to surmise that something was wrong.  He reached for the whistle cord and blew that shrill blast of warning, but as the red lights seemed to take no heed.  Again he pulled the cord and the whistle seemed t scream out that long blast of warning that echoed out to the mountains eight miles away and back again, the red lights of that freight seemed to still take no heed.

It was the 12 o’clock freight from the south that had been switching up there at Colorado Springs and had made a mis-cue in some way and had let the caboose and a lineage car tank of Naphtha oil and four box cars, the last car loaded was with 25,000 pounds of giant powder get away and run back down the grade to collide with the passenger train at Fountain.  When the caboose hit, it left the track and that tank of Naphtha oil crashed into the locomotive and it busted and flooded everything around with oil and of course it caught afire and the very earth seemed to be a lake of fire.  Of course the oil ran back along the track on each side and set the box cars and the depot platform afire.  About that time every male inhabitant in town was out to fight the fire and all the women were out at all the places of advantages looking on.  The night operator sent in a report of the accident and had gone out to do all he could to help about the fire.  The passenger train crew had uncoupled the coaches and mail cars from the locomotive and run them back down the track out of danger.  Every available man in the town was carrying water from a tank 50 yards down the track to the depot. I had just arrived in front of the depot with two buckets of water and was going to fasten them to a rope and a Mr. Smith, the owner of a lumber yard just adjoining the side track, was on the depot roof and was pulling the buckets of water up to wet the roof.  There was four other men with me in that group.  I was just in the act of setting my buckets of water down on the platform when the night operator came rushing out the depot and yelled “Look out for powder, one of those cars is loaded with Giant Powder!”

No one there knew that there was powder in one of the cars but the operator had just got a message from Colorado Springs warning him about the powder in one of the cars.  “YES SIR”  25,000 pounds of that deadly stuff and there it was – the car all in flames.  Well I just got my brain to working as that operator dashed around the corner of the depot yelling… “POWDER” at every jump.  I was just in the act of starting after him, but no, I was just too late.  The awful BOOM came and everything for me went dark.  I didn’t hear any noise, everything just seemed to end and everything was no more.

The next thing I knew as I came to, I was pinned down under a great pile of wreckage with a timber across my left leg below the knee.  I tried to free myself but could not.  I realized that I was trapped beneath a pile of debris and my leg fastened between two timbers and that was not the worst of it, for when I fully reached consciousness I realized that the immense pile of wreckage I was under was afire!  I could hear the crackling and snapping of that fire and see its light as the flames leaped higher and steadily ate its way towards where I was trapped.  I held fast like a man being burned to the stake.  The cold sweat stood out on me as I tugged away at the timbers that held me fast, I twisted around and tried to free myself.  I though of my mother and sister, I thought of my dear old grandmother and my uncle Will Hodges and wondered if he had been killed.  I called for help with all the power I had left in my lungs, but I could scarcely hear my own voice above the roar of those flames and the screams of women and calling of men and could now see the fire through the wreckage and feel the awful heat of those flames that was now only a few feet away.  I realized that I would have to make a mighty effort if I was to save myself from an awful death.  I reached above me with my hands, they came in contact with a timber above me.  I grasped it and pulled with all the strength I had in me. I twisted my leg at the same time.  I tore the skin and flesh from my ankle and side of my foot but I freed myself, YES SIR, and not a second too soon.  I scrambled and clawed my way through that pile of wreckage the intense heat very nearly suffocated me and I lost no time in getting away from such an awful scene.

YES SIR: Dear readers, I was scared and all I could think of was to get away from that awful Hell, and so I just started to run and I ran straight for a dry creek bed about 300 yards from where the explosion has happened and then a young man spoke my name, I then collapsed and fell to the ground.  That person helped me back to a place near the wreck and left me on the bank of the railroad grade and went and found my uncle.  My uncle helped me home, about half way home we met my mother and grandmother with their head and hands bandaged up, coming to see if we were still alive.  My mother was standing looking out of the window when the explosion occurred and the glass in the window broke and flew in her face cutting her face and hands badly.  Grandmother was in bed and the blast shook every bit of plaster off the ceiling and most of the walls.  Her face and hands were badly cut and bruised.  My folks got me home and out me on a mattress on the floor.  The blood from my wounds soaked throughout the mattress and ran down the floor.  The left side of my head in front of my ear was badly cut open and the ear drum of my left ear was bursted and I lost my hearing in that ear entirely.  After several, ours a couple of doctors came, the railroad company had sent them out from Colorado Springs, a special train of doctors and nurses to take care of the injured.  These two doctors e4xamined me and dressed my wounds.  The flesh on my left hip and side was badly cut up and bruised.  The flesh and skin on my ankle was in bad shape from where I had pulled my foot loose from between the timbers in the pile of burning wreckage.  Some kind of small missile had struck me in the right groin and had ranged back and lodged against the large cord in my right hip.  The doctors probed for it but could not find it and it is still there and sometime gives me considerable trouble.  It was about six to eight months before I was able to walk on my right leg.  Every time I took the weight off of my right foot my leg would jerk right straight back and let me down.  I would have to take both hands and pull my leg back in place and get my weight on it again before I could stand.

As I began to recover and a few days after the accident my mother brought my clothes to the bed and held them up between me and the window and asked me to see how they looked and they looked as though they had been shot with a shotgun.  Not one square inch of those clothes but what had a hole in, some large and some small.  My skin was literally peppered full from head to foot with fine coal dust, sand, small pieces or rock and slivers of wood. I still have some of the black specks under the skin in different places on my body.  You wonder…dear readers, how was it that I was not killed.  Well, I too wonder many times how it was that I escaped death.  Well friends, out of a group of five, that was just near me at the time of the explosion I was the only one left alive.  My uncle had just left this very group only a moment or two before to bring more water and he just happened to be on the opposite side of the water tank.  So he was fortunate and did not get a scratch of any kind.  The large water tank was full of water and was the only structure in the town that received but little damage. The roof was blown off and that was all the damage that was done to it.  Every other structure and building in the town was either shaken to the ground or was literally shot full of holes where missiles from small sizes to those the size of a car wheel had been blown through them.  One large building a mile away had fright car wheel blown straight through it and the wheel passed though several partitions and out the other side of the building.  In the opposite direction a piece of heavy railroad iron nine feet long was blown ¾ of a mile and where it struck the ground as it plowed a furrow for 50 yards, then it straightened up and drive into the ground six feet leaving only three feet exposed out of the ground.  Plate glass windows were shattered at Colorado Springs 15 miles away.  The young lady that my uncle was keeping company with and who he married afterwards was standing three blocks way watching the fire when her right wrist was broken by a flying railroad spike.  I did not see the hole in the ground caused by the explosion, but my uncle told me that you could have put a large building right down it and out of sight.  There was a side track on each side of the main track and the explosion had blown out the entire three tracks.  The company had to build a track around the hole in order to continue their traffic.  I heard later that the wreck had cost the railroad company more than a million dollars and I do not doubt it at all for there were several deaths to satisfy and many damages to settle.

Dear readers: I hope that none of you will ever come as near burning as I did.  When you are pinned down and see and feel the hot flames creeping up to devour you.  It will make you think of the bottomless pit of Hell that mother has so often told you about and I thank the Lord that He freed me from that awful death and has kept me in good health to this old age of 69.

Charles Hatch 1887

Lotta Hodges Hatch
Julius Hatch

This story was submitted to Mr. John Hix in Hollywood on Nov 30, 1940.  It was told by Charles Stuart Hatch and typed by EV Lincoln.  The Strange as it Seems radio show had asked for letters, but Mr. Hatch’s story was not used and was returned to him.  Had it been used, the story would have likely been lost, not just to his grandchildren but to history.  His granddaughter, Irene Hatch Shepard, sent a copy of his story to the Fountain Library in 2008, so that it could be preserved.  His letter has been reproduced here verbatim.
Mrs. Shepard notes that Charles was 17 when this happened.  His mother Lotta Hodges Hatch was also injured.

D&RG wreck. Rocky Mountain News Apr 24, 1874

Highlights from the Cobweb Express, by Mel McMidland, aka Edward McFarland. Fountain and its railroad Stations.

The Denver and New Orleans, the second railroad to pass through Fountain, came south from Falcon along Jimmy Camp Creek, passing east of Fountain through what is now Metcalfe Park, and south toward Countryside where it ran parallel to the Denver & Rio Grande line.  The D&NO became the C&S Railroad in the late 1890s.  The rail bed was later abandoned and became C & S Road, much of it is known today as Marksheffel.  The C&S did not have a station in Fountain, but used a siding to load cattle.  After 1913, no more trains ran south of Falcon on this line.  The 1935 flood washed out much of the remaining road bed. (first issue, no date).

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was built south through Fountain into Pueblo in 1872.  Originally a boxcar was used as the station in Fountain, and a water tank built.  About 15 years later a station was built, with a freight room, waiting room, bay window and tower.  The Santa Fe reached Fountain in 1887.  In 1917, during the war, the government took control of the railroads and made the D&RG and Santa Fe tracks into a circuit, as it remains today(Advertiser & News May 20, 1998).
The Cobweb Express continues to be published in the El Paso County Advertiser & News.

Train Wreck, Fountain, May 1890, Aspen Weekly Times, May 10, 1890
transcribed by Linda Horton to the Gendisasters website

Fountain, Colo., May 7- A special to the Times says the north bound freight train was side tracked at the Denver & Rio Grande yards last night near the town, and the Trinidad and Durango express for the south, due at 2:51 am to pass, the freight crew left the switch open and the express engine, baggage car, smoker and one coach were thrown from a 14 foot embankment. The engineer of the passenger train saw the open switch, but was unable to stop the train, it being down grade. The engine was badly damaged and fireman Sipes was killed. Engineer Dan Meek escaped by a miracle, receiving only a few bruises.  There were very few passengers in the smoker's coach, as nearly all were in two sleepers which did not leave the track. Those in the cars that left the track escaped injury, other than a shaking up. The tender, baggage and smoking cars were turned over and the day coach thrown on its side and one sleeper derailed, but none of the passengers experienced any bruises. Fireman Sipes was 31 years old and married. His body was taken to Pueblo.

Rocky Mt News 5-8-1890

Denver Evening Post 2-9-1897


The old Fountain Station sign, probably on the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe line.

Weekly Gazette July 2, 1903

A Colorado Springs Gazette article of August 11, 1904 is titled

Strange Coincidences that fate has decreed. Record of three Years. A year-and-a-day seems to have entered with clock-like regularity into the dates of disasters.
August 5, 1902 Ute Pass cloudburst
August 6, 1903 Rainstorm swept Fountain Valley
August 6, 1903 Cloudbursts in Fountain Valley and wreck of D&RG at Little Buttes; no loss of life.
August 7, 1904 Cloudburst and Eden bridge disaster on D&RG; 110 drowned.

The above dates form a rather remarkable series of coincidences, which are of interest following the Eden horror of Sunday, caused by the series of cloudbursts which formed into one raging torrent, rushing down Dry creek, loosening the D&RG bridge and causing one of the worst railroad disasters in the history of the West.

Two years ago, the Ute pass cloudburst swept down the pass, obliterated Rainbow Falls, left a pile of wreckage twenty feet high in the Soda springs park, flooded Manitou and did thousands of dollars damage.  The following day a rainstorm did considerable damage to crops and railroads in the Fountain Valley.

Last year a series of cloudbursts and downpours in the Fountain Valley crippled railroad traffic and tied the D&RG railroad up for 24 hours between here and Pueblo. At 4 o’clock in the morning the train was crossing the Fountain River at Little Buttes, when the trestle gave way and sent the locomotive into the water.  For 15 minutes the engineer and fireman battled for life in the waters of the flood, and finally by clinging to pieces of wreckage reached dry land and safety. This washout was caused in a manner similar tot hat of last Sunday night, but only the engine went under and there was no loss of life.  This same night a three-span bridge at Hardscrabble on the same road washed out. The Santa Fe reported water to a depth of five feet in many places along the tracks.

Kelker is a small railroad station south of Colorado Springs.  There was also a Kelker airfield in use in 1922.  According to postings on The Scoop: Fatal Train Accidents (, Kelker station was named after John Kelker, who worked as a master mechanic on the Denver & Rio Grande railroad for 27 years.  He died in California in 1907.  His son Grant Kelker worked for the D&RG for 54 years, retiring in 1934.
Mrs. E.A. Hatcher Killed by a Train
Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, April 27, 1905 p 2

While riding to her home in Fountain with her husband in an automobile last night shortly after 7 o’clock, Mrs. A.E. Hatcher was struck by Missouri Pacific train No. 11, southbound, and instantly killed and Mr. Hatcher was badly bruised and now lies at the St. Francis hospital, hardly able to believe that his wife is dead.  Mrs. Hatcher was 35 years old and childless.  The remains are in charge of Coroner Law who will hold no inquest.

Mr. and Mrs. Hatcher, who own and reside on the Hatcher Ranch near Fountain, came to Colorado Springs yesterday morning in their automobile and spent the day shopping in this city.  They started to return home early in the evening going south on Weber Street.  At a point ¼ of a mile below the slaughter house the road crosses the D & R G tracks, the wagon road making a steep decent. It was at this point that the fatal accident occurred.  Just as the front wheels of the automobile were crossing the track the machinery bucked and the auto came to a standstill.  Looking down the track Mrs. Hatcher saw the train speeding south and excitedly grasped the throttle of the auto, throwing the machinery and making it impossible to go either ahead or to the rear.  Seeing that it was impossible to start the auto before the train reached them, both jumped from the automobile.  Mrs. Hatcher then rushed to the rear of the machine and standing in the center of the track, tried to shove the auto ahead.  Her husband yelled to her to get out of the way and let the auto alone, but it was too late.  She was struck by the engine and thrown several rods.  Death was instantaneous and nearly every bone in her body was broken.  When the train struck the automobile, the latter was hurled against Mr. Hatcher, and his head and body were badly bruised although no bones were broken.  The automobile was wrecked completely.

Coroner David Law was immediately notified and a special D & RG train sent to the scene of the accident. Upon its return to Colorado Springs the remains of Mrs. Hatcher were taken to the undertaking rooms of Fairley Bros. & Law and Mr. Hatcher was taken to the St. Francis hospital.

Mrs. Hatcher was about 35 years of age and was well known in this city by her maiden name, Katie Hall.  She was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Hall of Fountain, and had lived in Colorado Springs and Fountain during her life.  She is survived by her husband, parents and two brothers, all of Fountain.

A peculiar feature of the accident was that the train which struck the automobile was the ill-fated Missouri Pacific No.11, which was wrecked near Eden August 7 and again wrecked at Fountain a few weeks ago.

Colorado Springs Gazette Mar 16, 1905

Wreck near Buttes caused by bridge washing out, ATSF 4-6-2 engine 1359. Undated 1910s.
Photo courtesy of Herb Whalen family.

Floods caused bridge to collapse in 1921, resulting in this train wreck south of Fountain

Rebuilt AT&SF Station, after the 1888 blast

AT&SF Water Tank in 1944, later moved to Little Ranches subdivision
-   -   -   -   -   -  

Benito Trujillo was paid $15 for his cow by the Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway Company.

Colorado Springs Gazette Feb 23, 1915

A detailed investigation report of this accident can be found at

This map was found with letters written by the Fountain school children.  Note the West House near the Double Crossing.  This house still stands on N. El Paso.


In looking through Security Advertiser and Fountain Valley News papers from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there is no shortage of accidents between trains and vehicles. 

This accident on May 7, 1970 spared the family of four, and all the windows on the vehicle!

The Last Passenger Train arrives in Fountain - 1971
     click to enlarge
In 1993 this caboose was placed in a new park on Santa Fe Avenue.  The caboose was renovated and the park is known as Caboose Park, or Mayor's Park, as it is on land donated by Mayor Aga.
Old photo of train crossing the Colorado foothills

Just some brief thoughts on the railroads...

I had read in some early articles that there were two train crossings in Fountain that were dangerous. I was thinking of railroad track crossings, but I was wrong. While looking up old newspaper articles on the subject, I came across a story from the 1920s about making the two main lines - the Denver & Rio Grande and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe, into a circuit where they would share tracks.  The D&RG was cpmpleted to Fountain in 1872.  When the AT&SF put in its route in El Paso County, parallel and often immediately adjacent to the D&RG, it sometimes had to cross that line, to fit within the topography. This was done by building up large earthen slopes and adding bridges. The earthen buttresses without the bridge, opposite the Fountain Creek Regional Park, are the remains of one of these crossings (seen below).

The 1920s agreement was that the D&RG tracks would be the north bound portion of the route, at least in the Fountain Valley, and that the ATSF would be the south bound. In other regions, when trains shared a track and wished to pass, they would have to pull into sidings.

Regarding the location of the AT&SF station, browsing through old articles will generally point you toward the Illinois Street crossing. Dorothy Christian Boyd, who grew up on Illinois and whose family has lived in Fountain since the 1890s, placed the station and explosion just south of the crossing, where a short railroad siding exists.

Many folks have walked the area looking for the remains of the 12 foot deep hole that was created by the 1888 explosion, with varying results. My opinion is that no trace will remain, unless you use ground penetrating radar or something. After the explosion, the AT&SF trains were stuck, with no connection between Denver and Pueblo. They immediately began work to fill the hole and replace the tracks that were damaged. When you look south down the AT&SF railroad tracks today from the Illinois crossing, they are straight. The engineers didn't reroute the tracks around the hole. They filled it in and got back to business. Hence, no evidence.

D&RG Depot in about 1954

Foundation of Denver & Rio Grande Station

The D&RG Station was near the end of Hanover Road and Waverly and the foundation still exists, as since in this photo. The station house was sold off sometime in the 1950s after this station was closed and moved a short distance east out C & S Road, where it stands today.


Fountain is famous for the 1888 explosion that nearly leveled the town.  Here is the article as it appeared in the New York Times on May 15, 1888.  Note how the details differ from the article that appeared in the local Gazette.

A Whole Town Wrecked

A Collision Followed by a Terrible Explosion.
Three Persons Instantly Killed, and Three Fatally Injured and Many Others Seriously Hurt.

Denver, Colo. May 14. A collision between four cars and a caboose of a freight train, and a passenger train on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Road at Fountain, 12 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, caused a terrific explosion of a can of giant powder at 3:20 o'clock this morning. The explosion killed three persons instantly, mortally injured three more, and almost destroyed the entire town. It tore a hole ten feet deep and thirty by sixty feet in area in the earth, threw iron rails three hundred yards, scattered debris for half a mile, and demolished or damaged every structure in the place. The report was heard for 20 miles and awakened nearly every person in Colorado Springs.  Its fearful effect can only be imagined and not described with any approach to the true horror of the situation, which was heightened by the burning of a car of naphtha and the flames which issued from a half dozen burning cars and the whole station buildings. The killed were: C.F. Smith, lumber dealer of Fountain, formerly of Keokuk, Iowa.  He leaves a family. William Whitman, disabled railroad brakeman of Greenland, Col; Mrs. F. P. Widrig of Fountain, a milliner.

Those who are mortally injured are: Lawrence Weibert, carpenter of Fountain, H. W. Hutchins, merchant of Fountain.

The wounded are: HP Bosworth, Fountain, broken collar bone; Dr. EG Walls, Colorado Springs, cut in head and body by glass; JF James, Fountain, arm broken; Walter Loomis, Fountain, leg shattered; Mart Loomis, Fountain, head injured; Lawrence Veinbart,  Fountain,
contused wound in head; Lancelot Bell,  Fountain, leg broken; Mrs. L. Bell,  Fountain, bruised head; Myrtle Bell Fountain, one arm broken; AJ Benedict Fountain, bruised head and limbs; Mrs AJ Benedict, Fountain, bruised legs; WH Butler Fountain, contused face and breast; Mrs. Fred Eubanks Fountain, bruised head; Mrs. WL Hinch Fountain, cut in the face; CS Hatch, Fountain, cut in the thigh; EH Kirk, Kansas City, cut in the head; H Murray, Fountain, cut in the head; Joe Patton Fountain, cut in the hip.

A fast freight train from the South on the Santa Fe Road arrived at Colorado Springs at 2:30 o'clock in the morning.  In this train were three cars of live stock, a car naphtha, a car of giant powder, a car of rails for the Midland Road, a car of merchandise, and a caboose. The stock cars were cut off from the rest of the train, which was left standing on the main track. The conductor, WC Chubbuck, instructed his brakeman to securely set the brakes on the standing cars and this was done. Ten minutes afterward a tramp asked the brakeman what had become of the cars.The latter ran to the place where they had been left standing and was horrified to find them gone. The cars when loosened started at once at a high rate of speed down the steep grade toward Fountain. As they ran their momentum increased until the speed was frightful. The Kansas City passenger express train bound north had just reached the station at Fountain and stopped as the wildcat cars crashed in to the engine. The shock was terrific and burst open the naphtha car tank. the inflammable fluid ran out under the station platform. The engine and the cars immediately caught fire. The whole population of the town was aroused by the shock and brought out more hastily by the fierce flames which shot up about the wreck.Next to the naphtha car was the one with rails, and next to it the car with 17,000 pounds of giant powder. The naphtha immediately enveloped the whole station, the shattered locomotive and the wrecked freight cars, as well as the baggage and express cars of the passenger train.

On the train there were 30 passengers and at the collision all were shaken up greatly and rushed for the doors.  The people of the town flocked to the scene and sought by the appliances available to extinguish the flames. The passenger coaches, which, with the exception of the baggage car had been uninjured, were detached from the engine and pushed down the track for a considerable distance. Suddenly the agent at the station, JC Denny, shouted that there was giant powder in one of the cars on fire, and warned all to run for their lives. They plunged one over the other and scattered in every direction. Then the terrible explosion came. People were knocked senseless to the ground.  The burning station collapsed as if swept by a cyclone. The air was filled with iron rails, pieces of broken car wheels, and debris. The Baptist Church which stood near the station was totally demolished. the grocery store of HW Hutchins was wrecked and every building was shattered. Mrs WP Wilding, who is dead, was struck by a piece of flying iron as she was standing 500 feet away.

When the explosion occurred CF Smith was on the roof of the station endeavoring to stop the fire. He went down with the buildings. HW Hutchins was on the tender of the wrecked engine, and HP Bosworth was passing him water. Both were buried under the debris, and as the wild cars neared the locomotive the engineer and fireman were near. They ran for their lives and escaped, and Whiteman, who was in the caboose of the cars when they were cut loose, was last seen on the top endeavoring to turn the brake.

The damage can be but roughly estimated at $100,000, of which the company will loose half. It is currently believed that tramps who had been put off the freight train at Colorado Springs released the brakes of the disconnected cars.


The following is a recent Gazette article on the 1888 explosion. 

Train Accident in Fountain May 14, 1888 Still a Mystery

This photo of the AT&SF Depot at
Fountain is said to date from 1882.

The town of Fountain developed long before Colorado Springs was a twinkle in General Palmer’s eye. Though Fountain wasn’t incorporated until 1903, it was an early settlement of pioneers in the 1860’s. The first settlers homesteaded in the valley along Fountain Creek a dozen years before Colorado Springs was founded in 1871. Among the early arrivals were Tom Owen and Mr. and Mrs. Amos Terrell, who built houses in around 1860. Mathias and Barbara Lock, Oliver M. Cotton, and J.C. Woodbury settled in the fertile valley soon afterward. It was called Terrellville after Mr. and Mrs. Amos Terrell.
The little town prospered with the coming of the two railroad lines, the Denver & Rio Grande (which was started by Gen. Palmer) and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. By the 1880’s it had become a commercial center, and some folks thought it might rival Colorado Springs, so it’s likely that Fountain residents were feeling confident about the future when their world was shattered on May 14, 1888.
A load crash awakened the town at 2 o’ clock a.m. that day. Leaping from their beds, the citizens saw flames coming from the area of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe depot south of town. Five railroad cars had detached from a freight train in Colorado Springs and rolled the 13 miles to Fountain, where a passenger train was stopped at the station. One freight car was full of naphtha oil, which burst into flames when the cars slammed into the passenger train’s engine.
Fountain residents hurriedly formed a bucket brigade to try to save the depot. Someone soon realized that another car containing 18 tons of giant powder, a form of dynamite, had caught fire. The passenger train conductor shouted a warning and people ran for their lives.
A few minutes after 3:00 a.m. the powder car exploded with a tremendous flash, a roar like the Earth being engage asunder, and a procession that threw people to the ground and damaged every building in Fountain. The blast gouged a crater 10 feet deep and 30 feet wide. It shattered windows in Colorado Springs, rattled doors in Pueblo and was clearly heard 90 miles southeast in La Junta.
The 34 passengers on the train from Pueblo escaped after the initial crash, but not everyone was as lucky. Fountain resident C.F. Smith, who was on the depot roof fighting the fire, was killed by flying debris. H.W. Hutchins, who was thrown from the engine onto the tracks, died of his injuries about 36 hours later. Two blocks away Mrs. D.P. Widrig was cut down by missiles of iron. She died several days later. A fourth person later was found dead inside the caboose from the freight train. Many more people throughout the town were injured by flying debris from the massive explosion and falling building. Damage was estimated at $ 90,000 to the railroad and $75,000 to the town.
The cause of the disaster was never officially discovered. Some railroad employees blamed it on three hobos they said were aboard the freight train; a coroner’s jury found that the railroad company had properly set the brakes on the train in Colorado Springs.
Dr. Lester Williams, former Colorado Springs Fire Department physician and historian, proposed one possible explanation for the accident: to cover up a murder. In an article, “Disaster In Fountain—1888”, published in “The Western Brand Book”, he related the stories of two stock men who said two strangers had been fighting in the freight train’s caboose when they left the train in Colorado Springs. An investigation found that the body inside the caboose bore a wound from a blow to the head. According to Williams, railroad officials theorized that one man had killed the other, then, released the brakes to hide the cause of his death.
The people of Fountain immediately set about rebuilding, with assistance from Colorado Springs residents, who sent money and provisions. The little town settled back into a quiet life as a farm, ranch, and residential community, never growing to challenge Colorado Springs.     123 year later the cause of the wreck is still a mystery!
-   -   -   -   -   -  

Rocky Mountain News 5-28-1888

This article which appeared a few weeks after the crash brings up another question.  What became of the $800 Mr. Smith was carrying?

Investigation of the 1888 Explosion

An article that ran in the Central City Register - Call, possibly a reprint of a Colorado Springs Gazette article, is among ephemera at the Fountain Museum.

The article reads:
     About three weeks after the explosion, Ira Pherson, one of the stock men, made a statement to some of the officials of the Santa Fe company which was regarded by them as of sufficient importance to warrant the employment of detectives to investigate it. This statement was substantially as follows.
   In addition to the two cattle men and the one-legged man whose body was found burned to a crisp after the explosion, there was another passenger in the caboose, of who's existence the coroner's jury was left in ignorance. This man boarded the train at Pueblo, and paid conductor Chubback $1.50 for the privilege of riding to Denver. He was a heavy set person, and his face was badly pockmarked.
   He claimed to have been a brotherhood fireman on the Burlington road. The one-legged man had entered the caboose before the last named individual, and to all appearances their meeting under these circumstances was purely accidental.  But their recognition was mutual, and from the conversation which followed the stock men were led to believe that the two men had an old grudge between them of long duration.  During the ride between Pueblo and Colorado Springs they came to blows two or three times, but the occupants of the caboose separated them. When Pherson left the caboose at this place to assist in unloading the cattle the men had renewed their quarrel in the car. Pherson is positive the brakes were securely set on the detached cars, as he was delayed in taking his trunk from the caboose by the brakeman who was setting the brake on the rear end.
   The theory now advanced by the railroad company regarding the manner in which the cars were started is that the one-legged man was murdered, and the brakes on the cars were released in order to send them down the track.  An examination of the skull of the deceased man revealed the presence of two small holes, which apparently had been made by some pointed instrument, but when the circumstance of the explosion were taken into consideration the presence of these holes excited no surprise. The murderer knew that if a collision or accident occurred, the man's death would be attributed to that cause.  If the one-legged man had been alive, his knowledge of railroading would have enabled him to set the brakes on the cars, which would have stopped them long before they reached Fountain.
   The conductor of the freight train when he was first interviewed on the subject denied all knowledge of the presence of the pock-marked individual in the caboose, but after persistent questioning he finally admitted that there was such a man on the train and that trouble had occurred between him and the supposed victim of the explosion.
   The railroad company have now several detectives at work endeavoring to find the man they believe is responsible for the Fountain horror. the states of Kansas and Nebraska have been thoroughly traversed, but no traces of him have yet been found.

Killed and Wounded
W Knight, St Louis, face cut
JC Munn, Tombstone, face cut
Dr EG Wall, Colorado Springs, lips cut
Employee killed in caboose, supposed to be Frank Shipman
C Smith, cuts of face
H Bosworth, dislocation
L Bell, ankle injured
Mrs. L Bell, face cut
Miss Myrtle Bell, arm fractured
Wallace Loomis, leg amputated
M Loomis, injured mouth
Lawrence Meinhardt, head hurt
Mrs Mary Woodreg, head hurt seriously
WH Hutchins, ankle injured
Bernie Bell, contusion
AJ Benedict, cut in face
JL Jones, wrist injured

It appears that AJ Benedict, whose face was seriously cut, is postmaster of Fountain and keeps a grocery store.  Mr HW Hutchins keeps a general merchandise store in Fountain.

This photo from the Denver Public Library collection shows the collapsed Baptist Church and a structure behind it that may be this house at 232 S Main. 

In an April 1973 Fountain Valley News article, H. Kay Larson wrote that in Colorado, John Evans, 2nd Territorial Governor from 1862 to 1865, was the spark behind the Denver and New Orleans Railway, later known as the Colorado and Southern Railway.  He resigned his position in 1865 to devote full time to building railroads and on January 25, 1881, incorporated the D&NO railway.  Tracks of that road, which ran originally from Denver to Pueblo on the east side of the Fountain Valley, were washed away in the 1935 flood.  The main line was completed in 1882 with a trunk line to the Franceville coal mines. Tracks running into Colorado Springs from the manitou junction were laid in 1883.  Only remnants of that road can be seen, most were the C&S highway has been built.

No comments:

Post a Comment