Railroad Collision

In the Feb. 12, 1856 edition of the Hillsdale Standard is an article entitled "Railroad Collision." It describes, in detail, the collision between two passenger trains on the Michigan Southern Railroad that occurred "About eighty rods west of the Passenger House at half past twelve in the morning." Those "instantly killed" were: Nathaniel Van Aiken, Track Master; G. Whitman, Baggage master, on train going east; and Michael Gilduff, Fireman, on train going west. The wounded were: Patrick Keegan, Engineer of train going east, one leg broken and badly injured; Eli Parson, Conductor of the same train, shoulder blade broken; A.L. Porter, brakeman, both legs broken and badly injured; and Samual Morris, passenger, arm broken.

The article goes on to describe where each of the dead was located when killed, the conditions of their bodies and the ensuring fire that destroyed much of the contents of the baggage car, including mail mostly from Milwaukie and Chicago. The proceedings of the subsequent inquisition taken was also reported.

A Not-So-Funny Game

A usually harmless game played by kids was to place a coin on the railroad track so that a passing train would flatten it. A not-so-harmless variation on that game unfolded in May 1924. Investigators of the accident that followed surmised that something larger than a coin, possibly a bolt, was put on

the track. A New York Central train moving along the edge of Baw Beese Lake derailed, tipping into the water and taking the life of fireman L.W. Dietsche, of Toledo. He was pulled from the lake by area farmers.


Treating the accident like entertainment, some Hillsdale employees—including workers from the chair factory—were let out of work to check out the calamity. Clearly, maintaining a “clean” accident scene was not a priority in that era.

Danger at the Crossing

At the end of World War II  the dearth of men to fill jobs on the homefront found 15-year-old Tom Bildner a driver for the Sparling Dairy. When Tom's father wouldn't sign a waiver to allow Tom to drive before he was 16, Harry Sparling signed instead so he would have a delivery man. 

Two years later, in February 1947, Tom attended his final high school football banquet. He had played on the varsity team for three years, earning acclaim and respect for his prowess on the gridiron. But that didn't change his routine. Tom rose the next morning as usual around 4 a.m. in order to make his milk deliveries before school began. With his brother Jack hitching a ride to his job at Allied Products, Tom set off in blizzard conditions. Despite the cold, the

sliding door of the truck remained open to facilitate frequent exits to leave milk on porches. As Tom drove west down East South Street, the floodlights at the loading dock of Hillsdale Steel Products reflected off the snow, blending with the oncoming headlight of a Toledo-Hillsdale New York Central freight train. At that time, no signal except an alarm bell indicated when a train approached the crossing. Tom didn't hear it over the roar of the storm and continued toward the tracks. The northbound train plowed into the left front of the truck, spun it around and tossed it about 15 feet. Tom was ejected through his door, ending up against the unhelpful alarm bell. While his brother had only bruises, Tom was seriously injured and remained in a coma for about a week. 

Tom's parents and 17 siblings were devastated, and his brother Pete bought a new suit to wear for Tom's anticipated funeral. When Tom recovered instead of dying, Pete happily repurposed the suit, donning it for his own wedding.


Three years before Tom's accident, Mrs. Erwin Ziegler had been killed at the East South Street railroad crossing. Perhaps it was the combination of two crashes there or perhaps it was Tom's reputation as a football star that mobilized the city to present a petition with over 1,000 signatures to City Council asking for a flashing signal to warn drivers. Whichever it was, the city and the railroad cooperated to create a safer situation on East South Street.

JoAnne P. Miller   2015