On a pleasant June day years ago, while chasing trains on the Northwestern Pacific, I came across a small monument in its Eureka (Calif.) yard. Here was a tribute to three men — engineer, fireman, and brakeman — who lost their lives decades before in a railroad accident. Atop the two-tiered concrete obelisk sat a steam locomotive bell, signifying to even the most naive of bystanders the profession of the fallen. I looked at it for a moment and then went about my business snapping the portraits of the various Southern Pacific SD9s that were then the trademark of the NWP.
(Later, I researched the incident the monument commemorated. The men were D. G. Liscom, engineer; T. R. Porter, fireman; and H. J. Aure, brakeman. They died on January 17, 1953, when a landslide swept their locomotive, NWP Ten-Wheeler 112, into the Eel River at Scotia Bluff. Their bodies were recovered, and the monument was dedicated later in 1953. Engine 112 was salvaged, but never ran again; it’s now displayed at the California State Railroad Museum. The monument has been relocated to the Fortuna NWP depot museum.)
On my way out of the yard, pleased with my well-lit catch of first-generation diesels that never seemed to migrate down to my home area in Los Angeles, I turned to take a last look at the monument. There was something different from when I first spied it: the flowers.
Sometime in the 20-minute span I was blissfully recording the nuts and bolts of railroading, someone, perhaps a friend or relative of the fallen, had laid a bouquet of mums at the base of the monument. These men were not forgotten.
And I have not forgotten them, either. Whenever I get too caught up in welded rail, turbochargers, and onboard computers, I think about those mums. It’s one of the very few railroad photos that I’ve never had to rummage through my notes to remember when and where I took it.
First published in Spring 2009 Classic Trains magazine.
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