This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on November 23, 1996
ILL-FATED INTERURBAN CAR WAS ON ITS INAUGURAL RUN
by Roz Young
A young writer named Mark Bernstein telephoned the other day. `I am writing a piece for Ohio Magazine about the interurbans,' he said. `Somebody told me you used to ride them. I wonder if you can tell me how it was.'
I felt as if somebody had approached me for information on how it feels to be a dodo bird.
When we visited my grandmother's farm on Eaton Pike, back in the days of yore, I ran out into the front yard every time the interurban, on its way from Dayton to Richmond, slid past the house. `Slid' is about the right word, for the interurban made very little noise as it coursed down the tracks because it was powered by electricity.
I think I rode the interurban once when our Overland touring car was in the garage, but what I know about them comes mostly from books read for a monograph I wrote for Carillon Historical Park. The monograph was written in 1985 when the park added an interurban car to its collection of exhibits on the history of transportation.
The call made me think about the interurbans or tractions, as most people called them, however, and I recalled one story from Dayton's history about a wreck in the East End you have not heard about.
It happened on Jan. 29, 1900, and I wasn't there myself, I would like you to know, but I looked the story up in the newspaper.
The D&X, as it was familiarly called, operated by the Dayton Xenia Railway, was one of two interurban lines between Dayton and Xenia. The line opened in 1899. On the morning of Jan. 29, 1900, car No. 18 was ready in Xenia to make its first run into Dayton. About 12 passengers boarded the car and took their seats. The car's interior smelled delicious, a compendium of leather and new paint.
`Brand new,' said John Cox, the conductor, as the passengers boarded. `Never been used before.'
The car pulled out and began its easy glide to Dayton. It stopped at Alpha to pick up a young woman. She was 22-year-old Hattie Klump on her way to visit in the home of her uncle Joseph Klump, who owned a blacksmith shop in the city.
As the car neared Dayton, its route lay on tracks that ran down the Phillips Avenue hill. Phillips Avenue at the time lay half a mile from the eastern boundary of the city. At the bottom of the hill the tracks curved sharply to the left to make the turn into Wyoming Street.
James Rogers, the motorman, said later that the car was under control as it started down the hill, but suddenly the brakes failed, the car left the tracks and leaped into the air. It plowed up the earth in an open field and and skidded until it crashed into a heavy iron post. One entire side of the traction caved in. Seats were torn from their places, and the body of the coach was hurled from its trucks. For a moment all was quiet.
Then dazed passengers began climbing out of the windows, and those who were uninjured helped those cut by flying glass and others who suffered more serious injuries.
Citizens from the neighborhood also came to help.
The body of one man was found under the car, his body mangled and his face crushed to a pulp. He was later identified as John Hawker, 51, a farmer who lived on Shakertown Pike.
Hattie Klump lay motionless on the floor of the car. When Coroner Harry Hatcher arrived, he said she had died of a fractured skull.
Conductor Cox, who was standing on the rear platform at the time of the crash, was thrown under the wreckage. His foot was badly mangled. Later, two toes had to be removed at St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Others injured and taken to the hospital were a contractor named Beecher, whose ankle was crushed, and N.C. Capen, a Massachusetts native employed by the D&X, and B.H. Ibben of Yellow Springs, both with severe cuts and bruises. Jeannette Hillhouse, a retired nurse, was pinned under the wreckage, but when she was freed, she was found to be miraculously uninjured.
Thousands of Daytonians flocked around the wreckage as the word spread, and the town talked of little else for several days.
At the investigation later, the fault was determined to be the failure of the air brakes, caused possibly by the weather. The owners of the D&X line later straightened the curve in the tracks from Phillips into Wyoming Street.
The D&X served the Dayton-Xenia community until it went out of business in 1937.
Carillon Historical Park has a fine, restored interurban car. You can walk through it, explore the compartments, see the fine fittings and sit on the seats, imagining what fun it was to ride on one of those cars.