Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mark Ellis

Second Advisor

Jeff Wells

Committee Members

Christopher Steinke, Torsten Homberger


Catastrophe;Disaster;Mass Casualty;Rail;Train;Wreck


At 8:18 AM on March 21, 1910, the lead tender of a Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railways “double header” passenger train left the tracks four miles outside Green Mountain, Iowa. Detoured because a freight train crash blocked the Rock Island’s main line to Waterloo, CRI&P operations in Cedar Rapids arranged for the two trains to travel west on the Chicago Northwestern’s tracks and then turn northeast towards Waterloo along the Diagonal, a section of Chicago Great Western road that was part of the Maple Leaf route. The wreck completely destroyed one wooden passenger coach and half of a second that killed more than forty people immediately and injuring fifty more. Ultimately, the crash took fifty-four lives. When the Iowa Railroad Commission concluded four factors contributed to the crash, they sought to answer why the lead tender left the tracks. This was the wrong question. Instead, what board members should have first understood is why they conducted an inquiry at all and from that starting point, could find the right question and its answer. Forgotten Loss uses a narrative history approach to explain this was a disaster. It assembles all of the components to build a chain of events that resulted in a catastrophe. From prehistorical climate changes reshaping the regions topography to the genesis and construction of a line from Waterloo to Des Moines through Marshalltown and then the sequence of events, each spawning the next leading to the crash. Throughout, Forgotten Loss corrects misunderstandings and exposes mythologies around the wreck that grew up over the years as narrators recounted stories they heard or conclusions they reached after a cursory—if any—examination of the evidence. Finally, it memorializes a forgotten catastrophe in Iowa history and the victims who lost their lives.



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