Doodlebug disaster

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Doodlebug disaster
Date July 31, 1940
Time 5:58 p.m.
Location Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Country United States
Operator Pennsylvania Railroad
Type of incident Head-on collision
Cause Failure to obey order
Trains 2
Passengers 46
Deaths 43
Injuries 5 (includes 2 bystanders)

The doodlebug disaster was a railway accident that occurred on July 31, 1940, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, in the United States. A Pennsylvania Railroad, gasoline-powered "doodlebug" rail-car collided head-on with a freight train, the impact and resulting fire caused the deaths of all but three of the 46 on board.


The "doodlebug" concerned, No.4648, was a self-propelled gas-electric rail-car that used gasoline to power its traction motors and was built in 1928 by Pullman/Electro-Motive.[1][2] It had departed Hudson at 5:49 p.m. on its usual 13-mile (21 km) run south to Akron on a warm summer evening.[3] At the same time a freight train comprising 73 freight cars hauled by two locomotives was traveling from Columbus to Cleveland departed Arlington in Akron heading north.[4]


Within ten minutes both had met with disaster; the doodlebug should have pulled into a siding at Silver Lake to allow the freight to pass through the single track section of rail at that point; but instead it continued southward. Although both trains braked, their combined speed was 55 mph (89 km/h) when they collided at 5:58 p.m.[1] The engineer, conductor and a railroad employee managed to jump free, though they were badly injured; but no-one else on the doodlebug survived. As the lead freight engine telescoped 12 feet (3.7 m) into the railcar,[1] its 350-US-gallon (1,300 l; 290 imp gal) gasoline tank ruptured and sprayed the interior of the coach with burning fuel,[5] as the doodlebug was pushed over 500 feet (150 m) up the track by the momentum of the heavy freight train (which remained on the track); "flames shooting out twenty-five feet [7.6 m] in all directions.[3] The medical examiner determined that only nine passengers were killed on impact, the rest were burned to death. Firemen fought the blaze for 45 minutes, but it would be several hours before the bodies could be removed; most required saws to separate them from the seats to which they had been fused by the flames.[5] Ambulances soon gathered at the scene, but there were only the three railroad employees to take to hospital; instead, they took the charred bodies to funeral homes.[4]


The doodlebug engineman survived and was able to recall receiving orders at Hudson to take the siding at Silver Lake, but he was unable to recall passing the siding. The investigation considered the possibility that the engineer could have been "under the influence of carbon monoxide poisoning with a resultant temporary impairment of mental faculties, but not be wholly unconscious", which would explain his behavior. The driver had complained of fumes in the cabs on previous occasions.[1] No charges were held against him.[6]


Doodlebug Memorial

41°08′43″N 81°28′24″W / 41.14526°N 81.47328°W / 41.14526; -81.47328

In 2005 a memorial monument was erected near the site of the disaster on its 65th anniversary. The memorial was the result of a school project by three 13-year-olds at Sill Middle School, which led a fund raising campaign to establish a permanent memorial to those killed in the disaster.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c d ICC Investigation No.2440
  2. ^ "The Doodlebug". Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  3. ^ a b Lafayette Letters Archived July 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b Piqua Daily Call, Ohio 1940-08-01
  5. ^ a b The Doodlebug Tragedy
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-01-14. Retrieved 2010-06-30.  Cuyahoga Falls History: The Doodlebug
  7. ^ Rankin, Beth (2005-08-01). "Doodlebug Crash Memorial Stirs Old Stories, Grief". Akron Beacon Journal. 
  8. ^ Bowed Radio at the Doodlebug Memorial

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°08.766′N 081°28.372′W / 41.146100°N 81.472867°W / 41.146100; -81.472867