It was a late night run on Jan. 15, 1909, for Denver and Rio Grande engineers Sig Olsen, William Jeffreys and their crew. Their train pulled a heavy load of freight eastward through Glenwood Canyon. Sig Olsen’s engine No. 513 led the way, coupled with the power of Jeffreys’ engine Number 1127.Making its way westward toward Glenwood Springs was Denver and Rio Grande No. 5, a single-engine passenger train, guided by engineer Gus Olson. For many passengers on the train, their journey had been a pleasant one. Card playing, singing and conversation had filled the travelers’ time.A dispatch had been issued to Gus Olson’s passenger train to wait at the siding at Dotsero to allow Sig Olsen’s freight train to pass. However, at 9:47 p.m. the passenger train sped past the Dotsero siding. Conductor Al McCurdy noticed the error and pulled the bell cord. His efforts were too late.Just as the freight train rounded a corner, Sig Olsen realized the passenger train was before them. He shouted to his brakeman and fireman, and then blew his whistle as a warning to Jeffreys in the back engine. He then leaped from the engine just as the thunderous concussion of the collision roared through the darkness.Sig Olsen was pinned beneath the wreckage. Snow along the tracks was the only thing saving him from being scalded by the engines’ hot water. Fireman John Anderson rescued Olsen from the debris. Engineer Jeffreys would not survive his injuries.Survivors tended the injured until doctors and nurses from Glenwood Springs arrived to administer aid. Ultimately, the Dotsero wreck claimed 26 lives and injured 33.Passenger engineer Gus Olson had always been a cautious engineer. However, evidence presented at the coroner’s inquest found his actions entirely responsible for the creation of one of the most tragic train accidents to occur in Glenwood Springs’ history.”Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Saturday.
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