Historical Travel Wasn’t Always the Safest

   Holidays are a time for family and friends. Some are fortunate enough to have those people close by, but for many that isn’t the case.

   More often than not, life pulls people apart, leading them into different cities, states, and even countries. While cell phones and various internet tools allow them to communicate regularly, it’s still good for them to see their loved ones in person.

   Every year, people travel countless miles by car, train, and airplane to see their families, but it isn’t the only time.

   People travel all the time. They commute to and from their jobs every day, as well as taking time to go on vacations and perform more mundane tasks like grocery shopping.

   Americans travel a lot, and always have. And it’s always been a little bit dangerous.


Buggy vs. Car


   The automobile hadn’t quite overtaken the world in 1917. In many places, there was a strange mix of horses and cars sharing the same roads.

   On a January day in 1917, Benjamin Freedman was driving his buggy through Davenport. As he drove along, he probably passed the time by keeping his eyes on the road while letting his thoughts wander. Maybe they took him back to Russia, the county of his birth, or maybe he was thinking about some work-related issue that he had as a butcher.

   As he neared Sixth and Harrison Streets, he may or may not have been over aware of the car following behind him. Whether or not he did quickly became a moot point as the automobile suddenly slammed into the buggy.

   Freedman’s private reverie would have no doubt have been lost as he suddenly found himself momentarily airborne before being thrown from his seat and slamming into the cold hard ground.

   It might have been an error on the driver’s part, or perhaps the car lost traction on a patch of ice. Whatever the reason, the buggy was demolished.

   As people watched, the driver of the car stopped for a moment, and then drove off as fast as they could manage. Someone present was able to write down the car’s license plate, which police used in an attempt to locate the vehicle and its driver.

   Freedman, though badly bruised and probably more than a little angry, was taken home to recover shortly after the accident. Unfortunately for him, the driver was never found.


A Dangerous Dirt Pile

   By 1927, the car had taken its’ place as the predominant mode of road transportation as they ran along the asphalt and concrete of America’s roadways.

West 4th Street, Davenport, Iowa.

   On November 14 of that year, repairs were being done on Fourth Street in Davenport. A large pile of earth had been piled up in the road as part of the operations. Inevitably, a car didn’t see it and crashed into it.

   Almost right after, another car plowed directly into the first. Although both cars suffered severe damage, the drivers and their passengers all survived with cuts and bruises.

   But accidents were not the sole purview of cars.


Danger and Death on the Rails


   Trains had been coming into Iowa since 1855, and had gradually spread west, alternately following and leading people across the prairie.

   In February of 1919, an Illinois Central train hit a split rail while heading through Cedar Falls, Iowa as it made its way along toward its destination. Without warning, several cars, including the engine and passenger cars, came off the track. Thankfully, no one was injured, but authorities quickly saw that it could have been much worse.

waterloo train station
Waterloo Train Station. Courtesy of Google Images

   A river flowed nearby, directly in the travel path of the train. If it hadn’t been for the slow movement speed of the train and a well-placed guardrail, then the train might have very well gone into the water.

   On the same day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a railroad worker named David Jones stepped out in front of a train. While one would assume that he would have been instantly killed, that was not the case. Instead, a severely injured Jones lingered for hours until finally dying from his wounds.

   Travel has been a part of the American way of life since the first settlers landed on her shores in the 17th Century.

   While the methods of transportation have changed and evolved over that time, the dangers inherent in each of them have remined. From potential collisions with other vehicles, inclement weather, or vehicles crashing into people, travel can be a sketchy prospect sometimes.


   You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please check in every week or so for brand new true stories of triumph, tragedy, and everything in-between. If you enjoy these tales from the American Midwest, you can subscribe to John’s blog and have new entries sent directly to your inbox, or you can click the ‘Like’ button on the Kitchen Table Historian Facebook page and receive them in your news feed.

If you have a few moments to spare and really enjoy the blog, I would ask that you would like or recommend it on either WordPress or Facebook. It makes it easier for other people to find me, and helps spread these fantastic stories near and far. 

  And, to be honest, it gives me a tremendous ego boost. 

   Thank you for stopping by, and we look forward to seeing you at the table! 



Buggy Struck By Automobile.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 1/16/1917

Man is Struck By An Auto.’ The Daily Times, 1/16/17

I.C. Passenger Train in Slight Mishap at Falls.’ The Courier, 2/1/1919

Dies of Wounds.’ The Des Moines Register, 2/1/1919

Three Injured In Auto Crash None Seriously.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 11/15/1927

U.S. Federal Census Records

Davenport City Directories


3 thoughts on “Historical Travel Wasn’t Always the Safest”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: