Saturday, September 18, 2010

Train Wreck at Rochester

Do you remember when the trains rumbled through Rochester? Growing up just a couple of blocks from the tracks, I was often rocked to sleep at night by the hypnotic clickety-clack of the cars passing through the north side of town. Rochester's last line was abandoned in 1998, and now we have peaceful recreational trails running along the former railroad beds.

In earlier days, however, it wasn't so peaceful with up to forty trains a day running through the village on both lines. Rochester also had its fair share of railroad-related accidents, as this story from the Pontiac Daily Press of September 21, 1906 tells us:

Engine Turns Turtle In Lake at Rochester

Brakes Fail to Work at Right Time and Locomotive Jumps Track

Rochester, Sept. 21 -- An unusual accident occurred near the depot here on the Michigan Central railroad yesterday morning. A heavily loaded stock train, southbound, was switching and being made up on the side track leaving the main track clear for the northbound passenger, which was about due. The rails were in such a slippery condition, owing to the slight rainfall in the morning, that the engineer of the freight found it difficult to manage the heavy train on the sharp grade at that place, and whistled for the brakes to be applied. For some inexplainable reason the brakes did not have the desired effect, and the engine with reversed levers was forced down the grade by the weight of the loaded cars. Although the engine was one of the largest on this line, being built with three huge drive wheels on each side, it was impossible to check the speed acquired by the cars while descending. Near the bottom of the grade, however, the brakes must have suddenly taken hold, as the huge engine suddenly jumped the track and turned turtle, plunging down a three foot embankment and into Chapman Lake, where it lay hissing in about four feet of water.

A peculiar feature of the accident is that beside the engine and tender, none of the other cars were thrown from the track, and also that the main line was not in the least obstructed to traffic. Both the engineer and fireman had barely time to jump clear of the falling locomotive as it became uncoupled from the train proper and pitched from the rails, careening dangerously over the steep embankment, before turning over to the lake where it lies upside down, the short smoke stack dug into the mud.

Need Large Wreckers
A wrecking crew was at once rushed to the spot, but found that the heavy engine, which weighs in the neighborhood of 40,000, would require more than an ordinary wrecking train carries to be pulled from its present watery resting place. The accident occurred yesterday morning about 11 a.m. and up to this noon, the huge engine was still in Chapman Lake, where it probably will be until some sort of a contrivance can be rigged up to lift it from the lake. The engine, except for a few minor damages, can probably be easily repaired, as the soft bottom of the lake served to break the force of the plunge.

Quite a spectacle that must have made for the citizens of Rochester, 104 years ago this week!

This 1908 plat map of the east side of the village shows how close the railroad line ran to the edge of Chapman Lake.


  1. does that lake still exist?

  2. This lake was destroyed by a flood in 1946 (see previous post, here:

    The area once covered by Chapman Lake includes the land where the post office, Rochester Hills Public Library, Sunrise Senior Living and Royal Park Hotel now stand.

  3. May I use this map on my Facebook page of the Interurban Railway? Do you have any other maps or pictures? Thanks.

  4. The map is in the public domain, so you may feel free to post it elsewhere. For other maps and historic photos of Rochester, visit Oakland Regional Historic Sites, Oakland County Historical Resources, and Greater Rochester History Online - the hot links to all of these sources are located in the orange panel on the right side of this page.

  5. Thank, and if you want to see what I have on the interurban check: