By Thomas Palmer
Today we take a quick trip back to the 1870s, when Galion was a bustling place. The city, largely on the strength of the railroad economy, had a population of 3,523 in 1870, a whopping 79.2% increase in ten years.
In short, Galion was the place to be.
While railroading in the late 19th century was a bastion of progress and growth, it also embodied often perilous working conditions. Quick expansion connected Galionites to places all across the country and brought investment and resources here – but it also could come at the expense of safety.
Galion newspapers of the era often reflected this fact in recounting the latest tragedy befalling railroad men. One such tale was recounted in May 1873 in the Bucyrus Forum newspaper. Its contents revealed that these conductors, brakemen, rail layers, and other workers were gutsy, brave, and sometimes perhaps foolhardy individuals.
The story talked about freight conductor John Kelly. It shared:
“JOHN KELLY, Esq., freight conductor, while making up his train at Galion last Saturday evening, had one of his arms frightfully crushed. He was coupling cars in the yards, and when in the act of rearranging the pin, his arm was caught, says the Sun, between the cast iron draw heads as they came together, crushing the elbow and shoulder with such force that the blood spirted (sic) as high as the top of the cars. Calling for whisky, he drank a portion, placed a bunch of cotton waste upon the mangled arm, saturated it with the remainder of the drink, and in this condition conducted his train to Cleveland.”
Five years later, yard master Tom Casey of the Big Four Railroad was seriously injured. While inspecting a freight car, a train was backed against it. Casey was knocked down and dragged by the “brake beams,” resulting in a likely broken back.
Although the newspaper feared that the accident would prove fatal, Casey appears to have been of tougher stock. He appeared in the 1880 census two years later with the occupation of “RR Station Hand” and living with his wife and two sons on Payne Avenue.
Each Saturday, we share a post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.