Image courtesy Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
The real name of this collection is the Earl W. Reiger Railroad Collection. It is made up of 3 archival boxes and 66 folders! Do not worry however, this aid will focus on just 8 folders from the first 2 boxes. These folders deal with common railroad hazards and issues, such as: locomotive explosions, complaints, improvements, accidents, fatalities, floods, snow and ice, and wrecks. These hazards and issues are also the titles of the folders in the collection. The documents in these folders prove that corporate greed, neglect, and carelessness led to preventable incidents involving the railroad. The boxes focus on the history of the Kickapoo Valley Railroad, which was a 52-mile rail line that connected Wauzeka to La Farge, Wisconsin. The collection was put together by Earl W. Reiger Ph.D, who was born in Wauzeka in 1912.
Most of the information in the collection is from 1878-1939. It is made up of newspaper articles, official business statements, legal documents, and first-hand accounts. The cool thing about this collection is that you can read about the same incident from different points of view and compare information found in other folders. For example, there are complaints (found in the “Complaint” folder) that warn about a dangerous situation. Nothing was done about the complaint so an incident occurred (which can be found in the “Accidents” folder).
This finding aid is organized in the same order that the folders are in the archival boxes. Notice that the folders are numbered and titled for easy finding. For each folder description there is included one example to read, but there are many more exciting ones to find on your own!
Box 1 Folder 9: This folder contains specific information on locomotive explosions. Find the document dated May 28, 1896. It tells about an explosion and why it happened. Read to see if corporate greed or neglect was a factor.
Box 2 Folder 14: This folder includes complaints about a wide variety of issues. It is a collection of published newspaper articles put together by Dr. Reiger (the man who created this collection). Keep in mind that these complaints were not written by the company. Do you think that this made the complaints unbiased?
The complaints folder is where most of the content against the railroad companies is located, so remember to always compare the information here with what you read in other folders. Find the document dated September 26, 1901. It involves kids and shows neglect by the company. Read to see what happened.
Box 2 Folder 15: This folder contains information regarding improvements to the line, stations, and the locomotives. It is really a list of statements made by the railroad, such as: “the R.R. company has started regular repair work on the Kickapoo Branch….”. However, the cool thing about this folder is that many of the statements contrast with ones made in the “Complaints” folder. For example, find the document dated April 6, 1916. Compare that document with the same topic from the complaints folder and see if they tell the same story.
Box 2 Folder 19: This folder includes information on all types of accidents that occurred on company property. There were a significant number, and a few them could have been prevented. For instance, the company reported that a child lost his leg because he was run over by a train on September 26, 1912. Compare this to a document dated July 19, 1901, that is in the “Complaints” folder.
Box 2 Folder 20: Folder 20 tells about people that died and how they died. Moving heavy transportation vehicles is a dangerous business, so every precaution should be taken to prevent injuries and fatalities. A document within this folder dated November 12, 1903, suggests that maybe not every precaution was taken.
Box 2 Folder 21: This folder gives the reader a good understanding of the weather patterns in this area and how they influenced the line. The company should consider that flooding can pose serious risk to the line and to the employees. But, in a document dated September 23, 1915, the company seems to have ignored this. Read to find out what happened.
Box 2 Folder 23: This folder tells how winter weather influenced the railway. Snow and Ice can cause serious damage and should not be taken lightly, especially when passengers are aboard. But, on the morning of February 4, 1915, the company seems to have ignored the dangers posed by the weather. Look at his document to find out what happened.
Box 2 Folder 25: This folder is a list of facts about wrecks, what caused them, and the date and time. Wrecks are extremely dangerous and expensive to clean up, so they should be prevented at all costs. When wrecks do happen, they should be cleaned up right away to prevent further damage. But the company doesn’t seem to care about these things! Read the document dated December 2, 1915, to see what happened when they didn’t do a good job.
Reviewed by: Alex Schrampfer