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Great Salt Lake wreck stole headlines in 1944

Train crash claimed 50 lives on New Year's Eve

Published: Monday, Jan. 3 2005 10:45 a.m. MST

This archival photo shows the wreckage where about 50 people, most of them servicemen, were killed when two Southern Pacific trains collided on the Lucin cutoff west of Ogden on Dec. 31, 1944.

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Scores of soldiers eagerly awaited a happy homecoming after serving in World War II. The train ride ahead of them was long but would be worth the wait.

But such a homecoming was not their fate. It was 60 years ago that a train wreck in Ogden killed some 50 people, including at least 35 army and navy personnel.

The fiery Dec. 31, 1944, wreck left veteran railroad men in tears as they described what they called the worst wreck they had seen in all their days on the tracks.

"It was awful — it all seemed to happen so fast," J.W. Welch, the conductor of the ill-fated train, told the Deseret News at the time. Welch was one of the few who escaped the crash with little to no injuries.

The Pacific Limited was on its way from Ogden to California. Thick fog filled the air as the first whistle sounded about 3 a.m. The train usually traveled in one long section, but on this day the train was split in two sections, the passenger car and the mail express train.

Somehow in the midst of the fog hovering above the Great Salt Lake, the driver of the second engine plowed into the back of the passenger train at Bagley, 17 miles west of Ogden on the Lucin cutoff track. The passenger train was moving at 18 mph, while the freight train was chugging along much faster.

Several train cars plummeted into the cold Great Salt Lake. In total, 81 other people were injured in the tangled mass of wreckage strewn for more than a half mile along the tracks. Three special trains were dispatched from Ogden to carry bodies and the injured away from the wreckage.

Annie Laurie Walker, 58 at the time of the crash, escaped with her husband and 18-year-old daughter. Walker was sleeping when the force of the crash catapulted her into another bed nearby.

"It was a terrible report, just like a bomb," Walker told the Deseret News at the time. "I was pitched into the air. It all happened so suddenly."

Deseret Morning News copy editor Greg Jarrard still remembers the vivid stories his father shared about the train wreck. Jack E. Jarrard was just a 28-year-old newlywed looking forward to spending his first New Year's Eve with his wife.

News of the crash canceled any plans he might have had. The elder Jarrard worked as a photographer and police reporter for the Salt Lake Telegram and spent the day interviewing people and taking pictures of the carnage.

"He always said it was just horrific," Greg Jarrard said.


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com

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