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The Night The Train Hit The Bank

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Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
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Forty-seven years ago toaay a Dizarre mianight cataclysm put Ann Arbor on the front pages of newspapers from coast to coast. On that midsummer night - it was Aug. 5, 1927 - four interurban freight cars broke loose and descended a mile-long grade on the West Side of town, reaching a speed estimated at 50 I miles per hour. They jumped the tracks upon reaching a sharp curve at Hurón and Main Streets and hit the Farmers and Mechanics Bank building head-on. The bank was demolished. No one was killed but the train's conductor, Fern Garn of Jackson, was knocked unconscious by a last-minute leap from one of the runaway freight cars. The accident inspired Ann Arbor TimesNews reporters and editors to special efforts. Front-page headlines read: "INTERURBAN CARS WRECK BANK BUILDING" "F. & M. Structure Is Razed By Runaway Freight Train; Conductor Injured By Leap" "Four-Car Section Left On Huron St. Hill Jumps Tracks At Main St. Turn After Mad Dash Down Mile-Long Grade." "Ann Arbor Nighthawks Are Treated To Unusual SpectacleCrowd Arrivés EarlyRestaurant Patrons Are First To Fee! ShockDust BlocksView" An unusual spectacle it was, indeed. Ann Arbor hasn't seen the likes of it since. It all began when a faulty motor hampered the crew of the Detroit, -Jackson & Chicago Railway in getting the loaded west-bound freight train up the grade in the vicinity of the Washtenaw County Fair Grounds (now Veterans Park). They solved their problem by splitting the train, and moving each section up separately. It was while they were attempting to rejoin the two sections that the four cars broke loose. Gathering speed during a "mad dash," the cars rounded a curve at Jackson, Dexter and Huron with a "screech of the wheels," then "careened" and "raced" under the Ann Arbor Railroad viaduct, passed Ashley Street (where the conductor leaped off), "plunged" across the downtown intersection, and "hurtled" against the bank building "with the impact of acannonshell." Scarcely anyone saw the actual impact. Few people were in the downtown área so late at night and those few were gathered in two restaurants, the Sugar Bowl and Prochnow's Dairy Bar next to the bank, where a wall bulged from the shock and a patrón was knocked from his stool. Most of them thought it was an earthquake. ____-yÉ The restaurant patrons could see little when they rushed out of doors, however, because of the dense cloud of dust rising frotn the ruins. "So thick was the dust," the Times News ' 'feported.that two men'cafne-our onne suar-1 : Bowl and although only two feet apart could notseeeachother." But one. man was found who did see the wreek: W. P. McAdams, night janitor at the Times News who "was performing his duties on an upper floor." The midnight train was familiar to McAdams. In fact, he was in the habit of counting the cars each night as they rounded the turn at Main and Hurón. This night he "paused as he heard the rumble" because "the sound was unfamiliar, in a way. They had never sounded just like that before." McAdams had just decided that something was wrong when "to his startled gaze four charging monsters emerged from the canyonof W. Huron Street" and hit the bank. McAdams responded as a model newspaper employé should: the first thing he did was run and cali his editor. McAdams had a noteworthy affinity for witnessing train wrecks. This one was the second he had seen in 1927. "A little more than a month ago," the Times News reported, "Mr. McAdams witnessed a wreek in Toledo in which seven persons lost their lives as a result of a collision between a steam road train and an interurban." And the paper added: "He was also a spectator at another train accident when he was a child." After daybreak, a great crowd of spectators gathered. The area was roped off to keep them at a safe distance from the one remaining shaky wall of the bank building and a hanging cornice. "Wrecking crews of the railway . . l were on the job at an early hour removing freight from the wrecked cars and the remains of cars from the debris of the bank building," the Times News wrote. The paper editorialized under the heading: "Might Have Been Worse." "Let us be thankful-the accident did not occur during the day, when hundreds of persons would have been on the streets, when automobiles were coursing up and down the thoroughfares and when bank employés were at their posts and patrons in the building. "No fewer than a score of Uves probably would have been lost if the bank had been open for business," the editorial writer continued. And then he gave evidente he, too, was still shook up, for he wrote, "Several automobiles would have been lined up at the intersection of Main and Hurón Streets, their drivers waiting for the green light to change to red ..." Also on the scène early in the morning was Horatio J. Abbott, a member of the bank's board of directors, "comforting other officials and stockholders." "This is the largest deposit in the history of the Farmers & Mechanics Bank," Mr. Abbott observed. But he added, "I hope we shall never haveanother like it." M