Leaving Jamestown in 1902

In November of 1902, a derailment occurred in the Northern Pacific yard in Jamestown.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig
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There is a version of an old saying that goes something like “when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough take off running."

It appears there were a couple of examples of that right here in Jamestown in 1902.

In the first, a threshing crew operator took off after the end of the harvest season, leaving a “small army of creditors” in pursuit, according to a front-page article in the Jamestown Alert.

The man had bought the threshing machine on credit before the harvest season started. He’d employed a crew through the harvest with the promise of payment at the end of the season but left them holding an empty pay envelope as well.

The crew foreman claimed he was owed $200 for his work through the harvest. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $6,500 today.


If the vanishing threshing crew owner was ever apprehended, it never made the newspapers of the era.

The other man fleeing Jamestown was a victim of his lack of experience on the job.

In November of 1902, a derailment occurred in the Northern Pacific yard in Jamestown. The wreck was considered minor with the engine and three freight cars leaving the tracks. The accident occurred at such a low rate of speed none of the cars or the engine tipped and was upright but off the tracks.

The accident was traced to a new brakeman, who it appears was on his second day on the job. The man, known only as “Curly” in the area, decided it was best if he leave the area and find employment elsewhere.

It is unlikely he included his time at the Northern Pacific in Jamestown on his resume.

Additional investigation by the reporters at the Alert found that Curly had been previously warned to get a job or leave Jamestown or he would face vagrancy charges.

The railroad must have been hiring without a lot of “on-the-job” training.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the derailment although the wheels of the engine sank deep enough into the ground alongside the tracks to require a crane to set it back where it belonged.


It would seem that not everyone is cut out to run a threshing crew or be a railroad brakeman.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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