KIPTON — Monday marked the 125th anniversary of a head-on collision between two trains that led to industrywide overhauls of railroad timekeeping practices.
A small state historical marker nestled between playground equipment at Kipton Community Park and Rosa Street marks where a deadly head-on collision occurred in 1891 between a mail train and a Toledo Express passenger train.
The railroad tracks for the Lake Shore line are gone, replaced by the Northcoast Inland Trail, and all that’s left of the old train station is a brick foundation that can still be felt beneath one’s feet near the historical marker.
On that day 125 years ago, the fast-moving eastbound mail train and the westbound Toledo Express passenger train coming from Elyria were on the same set of tracks at the same time on the morning of April 18.
After the crash, investigators found the Toledo Express crew at fault because their train was late and shouldn’t have started out for Toledo knowing that the mail train was approaching on the same line.
The late start occurred because a conductor’s watch stopped for four minutes after he dropped it in a mud puddle. The watch started again and the conductor didn’t realize it was four minutes off, resulting in the passenger train arriving too late to move to a side track and avoid the mail train.
The crash claimed the lives of six postal clerks, two engineers and a fireman and caused heavy damage to the old depot in the tiny village where the historical marker recalls the event, although the date noted on the marker is one day off.
Cleveland jeweler Webster Ball was appointed to investigate time-keeping issues on the line after the crash and that resulted in watch performance inspection standards in 1893.
Ball became the timekeeper of the railroads, and he was meticulous in how the watches his company made were designed and tested. Ball set forth a number of standards for the railroad industry, one of which specified that all railroad engineers must have watches inspected regularly.
The standards also said all railroad pocket watches needed to be accurate to within 30 seconds each week. The watches were also made with more visible, white faces and clocks at each station were standardized and synchronized after time was relayed to stations by telegraph.
Ball Watch Co. pocket watches became a staple of the rail industry and forever tied the area to a standardized watch industry and railroad industry with standardized timekeeping practices.
Local historian and railroad enthusiast Adam Matthews, 25, has an original Ball watch from the early 1900s, and on Monday he didn’t forget the anniversary of the “Great Kipton Train Wreck.”
Matthews’ parents gave him the Ball watch as a gift when he graduated from Kent State University after purchasing one from historic watch collector Don Barrett, who runs an antique store in Kent.
“Webb Ball created the most durable and precise pocket watch you could ever find,” Matthews said. “These are very solid, gold watches, and they are more accurate than a digital clock is today. My 100-year-old pocket watch is in my hand and still working.”
Matthews said the railroad industry made it mandatory for all railroad workers to own a Ball watch from 1893 until the 1970s.