Carrying Root From the Cab at Skunk Lake

Train Wreck

This 1909 drawing by Jay Hambridge depicts a train that attempted to outrun the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. Engineer James Root chugged his St. Paul and Duluth Railroad locomotive into the burning city, where it was quickly stampeded by people trying to board and escape the disaster. The fire raged forward and the train ignited.

Root reversed the engine and raced six miles north to Skunk Lake. Within minutes of its arrival the train was engulfed as passengers dove into the mud and water. Root was pulled from the train and counted among the lucky survivors. Over 400 people died that day.

1 Comment

Anna Tennis

about 9 years ago

Me and my sister spent an entire Duluth--> Rochester drive discussing this particular horror and the crazy, rare phenomenon that caused the deaths of so many people. I marveled that so many people died. I postulated that it was lack of radios/television/shared notification systems. My sister explained that actually, Hinckley was consumed by a firestorm -  sort of tornado/wildfire combination that is as fast as a tornado and as hot as a conflagration. The fire was so hot it melted the train to the tracks. People survived by swimming to the middle of a lake/river and staying there until the fire ended. 400 people represented 30% of the town's population. It's astonishing.

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