Ed Rinebold drove his delivery truck carefully down the icy roads toward the railroad tracks at Poppy Crossing, about twelve miles from Moline, Illinois. He had driven that route dozens of times as a driver for the Daily Times, a local newspaper. But he wasn’t taking any chances. The last thing that he wanted to do was hit a tree or go off the road.
Absently, he noted the headlights of a car following some distance behind them. He wondered what someone would be doing out on a night like this. Probably out doing a job like he was, he thought.
Ed slowed the truck down even more as he reached the tracks, easing it over as gently as he could manage. A few moments later they were past the crossing and on their way toward home.
Just a few moments later, a train started heading across the tracks. They had made it just in time, Ed thought.
Ed and his fellow delivery driver, Will Clark, talked casually as they drove. They had just made it around a bend in the road when Ed suddenly stopped talking and a concerned look crossed his face.
Pulling onto a side road, Ed began to turn the truck around. Will, confused, asked him what he was doing. Without looking at him, Ed said that something had just happened at the tracks. That car that had been following them had just gotten into an accident.
This confused Will even more. He remembered the car that had been following them, but they were a fair distance from the tracks now. They hadn’t seen anything, nor had they heard any loud noises that would indicate a crash.
Will asked why Ed thought there was an accident. Honestly, Ed couldn’t explain it himself. But he knew that something had just happened. Shrugging his shoulders, Ed said, “I just have a hunch.”
When they came within sight of the tracks, Rinebold knew he had been right. The car was just a mass of twisted metal and fire. The flames illuminated the winter night, revealing the writhing forms of the burning passengers a fair distance away.
Ed quickly put the car into park and jumped out, Clark fast behind him. As they ran toward the injured people nearby, the train slowly ground to a stop.
All three of the people were on fire, and Rinebold and Clark used their coats and hands to beat out the flames. The victims – two women and one man – had burns on their exposed skin, and were bleeding from wounds suffered in the crash.
Rinebold and Clark knew that they were going to need immediate medical attention, so they decided to take them to the closest doctor they could find. Starting with the man, who seemed to be the most seriously hurt, they carefully lifted him and began to load him onto their truck.
As they did, members of the train crew ran into the crossing. Rinebold asked them what had happened. The crew replied that the car had slid into the train. It had been thrown through the air and had exploded. As soon as they could, the engineer had stopped the train and the crew had gone back to check on the people in the accident.
Taking a quick look at the victims, the crew came to the same conclusion as Rinebold and Clark had. These people were going to need help right away.
One of the crewmen said that they should load the three onto the baggage car of the train. The train could move faster than the car could, especially with the roads being as bad as they were.
Rinebold and Clark agreed, and together, the assembled men moved the accident victims onto the baggage car.
As they worked, Clark happened to look at the wreck. His eyes caught something that didn’t seem right, and, as he stared at it, he realized what it was.
There, behind the wheel, was the charred, burning remains of a person. Clark sighed. It looked like the driver hadn’t been thrown free like the other three.
A few moments later, the train began to pull out from the crossing, heading toward the nearby city of Moline, Illinois.
Some of the crew members stayed behind, making their way to a nearby farm. There, they called the Moline Police Department. They explained what had happened and said that they would need ambulances to meet the train at the station.
The police agreed, and immediately sent for every available ambulance and a doctor.
As the train made its way into the city, porters went through all the passenger cars, calling out for a doctor. Unfortunately, there weren’t any. However, one man, J.A. Krichel, a veterinarian on his way to Minnesota, stepped forward to help.
With the help of some of the crew members, he bandaged their burns and wounds as best as he could. There was little else that he could do.
When the train arrived in Moline, several ambulances and a doctor were waiting. The three injured people were loaded into ambulances and taken to a nearby hospital.
While the ambulance carrying the injured man was in route, another car crashed into it. It was struck hard enough to send it up onto a curb, but the ambulance was still drivable and, thankfully, was able to take their patient the rest of the way to the hospital.
At the hospital, the three patients were identified as Charles Frey, Eva Gardiner, and Sophia Inkman. Singleton, Eva’s husband, had been driving that night.
A physician’s examination had revealed that the three survivors were suffering from extensive injuries.
Eva Gardiner had burns on her face and hands, as well as three deep lacerations on her head. Doctors also suspected that she was suffering from internal injuries.
Sophia Inkman, Eva’s personal caregiver, had suffered severe blunt-force trauma to her face, which included a missing left eye. She also had a deep laceration on her head and was suspected to have a fractured skull.
Charles Frey had suffered serious burns all over his body. In addition, he also had a dislocated knee and a fractured skull.
Frey was the only one of the victims to regain consciousness at the hospital that night. After an examination of the accident scene at the crossing, a brief investigation, and what little Frey was able to tell them, the authorities were able to piece together the story of what had happened.
Singleton Gardiner squinted through the misty windshield, trying to wipe away some of the frost with his hand. For as cold as it was that night, he was just glad that he could see well enough to drive.
His passengers seemed to be warm enough, too. Charles Frey, his fellow insurance agent, was sitting beside him, peering out the windshield along with him. At least they knew about how much it would cost if they did get into an accident, Gardiner thought with a small smile.
He was more concerned about his wife, Eva, in the backseat. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she seemed to be handling everything okay. Her caregiver, Sophia Inkman, sat beside her. She was a good woman and took good care of Eva.
Turning his eyes back to the road, Gardiner let his mind begin to wander.
When he was growing up in New York, he would have never thought that his life would have led him to this point. After working places that essentially led him nowhere, Gardiner finally found his calling in his early thirties.
Gradually, the ambitious young man worked his way up the corporate ladder to the position of superintendent. In 1907, he accepted a transfer west to Davenport, Iowa.
Having already proven to be both a capable manager and insurance agent back home in New York, Gardiner soared to even greater heights in Davenport. By the 1920’s, the number of policies carried by Prudential in the area numbered into the thousands.
Prudential had offered him bigger areas to look after, which could have increased both his earnings and his prestige, but he always turned them down. In the nineteen years they had spent in Davenport, it had become home for him and Eva.
Trying to wipe away more frost from the window, Gardiner frowned. He glanced in the backseat toward his wife again.
His professional success had been tempered by personal difficulties. Eva had begun to develop debilitating health problems, eventually becoming an invalid. Her condition required more specialized and frequent care.
The demands of his position frequently required him to be away from home, and he needed to work to support Eva. That meant that he would have to hire someone. When he interviewed Sophia Inkman, he knew he had found the right person. She was hired to serve as Eva’s nurse and had done an excellent job.
And now here they were, accompanied by his colleague, Charles Frey, the regional assistant superintendent of Prudential, travelling back from a business trip to Geneseo, Illinois.
The weather had been particularly bad lately, with local temperatures falling well below zero. The roads had been covered with snow and ice, but Gardiner had been able to manage them well enough.
The car that they were driving, along with every other car of the time, had no interior heater. Drivers and passengers just had to dress as warmly as possible and hope for the best. Gardiner and his companions had fared well enough, but they were more than ready to get into their well-heated homes.
After travelling for what had seemed forever along endless black ribbons of Midwestern roads, they were finally close to coming back to Davenport.
At about 6:45 p.m., they had reached Colona, Illinois, near a railroad crossing that had been named Poppy Gardens.
At the same time, a train was speeding along the tracks toward the crossing.
The engineer, O.C. Gordon, saw Gardiner’s car a fair distance away. Reaching up, he sounded two long blasts on the train’s whistle to warn the car that the train was nearing the tracks.
Through the frosty windshield, Gardiner and Frey could see the train coming. Gently, Gardiner applied pressure to the brakes. The car started to skid.
Even though they weren’t going that fast, it was still just fast enough to cause them to lose traction on the icy road. As Gardiner fought to regain control of the car, the train began hurtling through the crossing up ahead.
Desperately, Gardiner tried everything that he could to slow the car, but nothing worked. His passengers looked on, helpless to do anything.
As the train thundered down the track, Gardiner’s car slammed full-on into the side of the speeding locomotive.
With a crash, it hit a cylinder on the side of the train, putting a large dent into it. For a moment, the car became entangled with it, and the train pulled the car down the track with it. Then, with a shriek of metal, the car broke free.
The force of the train sent the car into the air. As it soared, gasoline from the torn gas tank, soaked the passengers. Suddenly, something sparked on the car. The vehicle exploded, turning it into a fireball streaking across the night sky and engulfing everyone inside in flames.
The burning car illuminated the train and the surrounding crossing in glowing hues of orange and red as it slammed into the ground several feet away. The impact ejected Frey, Inkman, and Eva Gardiner from the vehicle.
Frey and Inkman were on fire, and Rinebold and Clark wasted no time in put out the flames with their coats and hands. They had both been too hurt to put out the fire themselves. Nearby they found Eva, not on fire but still grievously injured. Gardiner was nowhere to be found.
While they were doing this, O.C. Gordon and the other people on the train had heard and felt the impact of Singleton Gardiner’s car. Gordon immediately threw the brakes on the train, and the locomotive slowly ground to a halt.
From there, the victims had been rescued and taken to a hospital in Moline, while Singleton Gardiner’s remains were taken to a funeral home in the same city.
From a law enforcement standpoint, there wasn’t anything else to do. It had just been a freak accident.
Despite the best efforts of doctors, Frey’s health quickly took a turn for the worse. An hour and a half later, he was dead.
Charles Frey was later buried in Moline, while Singleton Gardiner was buried in a private mausoleum in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport, Iowa.
In the aftermath of the accident, safety barriers were placed at Poppy Gardens Crossing to help an incident like this from ever happening again.
Sophia Inkman sued the Gardiner estate and the railroad for nearly $20,000 to cover for the injuries she had sustained in the accident. After a short legal dispute, she eventually settled for $4000.
Eva Gardiner died in 1930 and was interred in the family mausoleum with her husband.
What caused Ed Rinebold to turn around that night?
He hadn’t seen or heard anything, nor was there any kind of indication that there would be an accident at that train crossing.
The accident itself was labeled as a freak incident by investigators. The roads were icy, but Singleton Gardiner hadn’t been speeding or driving recklessly in any other way. A bizarre combination of events had come together that night to cause a horrific tragedy that took the lives of two people.
Perhaps, Rinebold had somehow been touched by the invisible forces that drew all of those circumstances together that night. Or maybe it was just sheer coincidence.
Whatever it was, It was just strong enough to make him go back and look, and in so doing very likely help save the lives of Eva Gardiner and Sophia Inkman.