Among the things we most enjoy about saving Birch Lodge are the people we come in contact with who have stories to tell about the historic inn and Trout Lake. Recently we were contacted by Judy, whose great grandfather David Watt was an engineer on the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad during its heyday in the early 20th century. We had seen images of a 1912 train wreck at Trout Lake on old post cards and on the internet. But Judy, who came across our blog railroad history entries, forwarded the personal history below that really adds depth and color to the incident. We are pleased to share this with you.
David Watt (1858-1945) went to work tending mules in the coal mines in Scotland at the age of twelve. When he was sixteen, his Uncle Wilson took him and four other boys to Canada to work on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. In two years’ time, he became a train engineer.
At that time, his uncle moved to Marquette, Michigan, to take a master mechanics job on a young railroad called the Duluth, South Shore, & Atlantic (DSS&A). He brought all five young men with him. The others had their Scots brogue all their lives, but David said that if he was going to live in America, he was going to be an American! He worked hard to rid himself of his Scottish accent.
David was an engineer for 52 years for the DSS&A, traveling between Marquette on the south shore of Lake Superior and St. Ignace, on the north side of the Strait of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, a distance of about 150 miles.
He was in one bad train wreck in about 1914. Where the tracks of the DSS&A and the Soo Line crossed at right angles, all trains were supposed to stop 400 feet short of the crossing and blow their whistles four times. David did this, but the other train didn’t stop.
After he had started up again, he spotted the other train coming at him. He hit the brakes and tried to stop, but when he saw that he couldn’t, he told the fireman to jump off. The fireman did, urging David to jump, too. But David stayed in the cab and applied the brakes.
The fireman was only slightly injured, but when the cab was hit by the other engine, David was badly injured. He was pinned in the overturned, burning engine and was badly burned on the face and head by live steam and coals from the open fire box. About twenty minutes after the wreck, the fireman realized that David must still be in the engine. An unknown salesman soaked his coat in water, put it over his head, and went into the cab and pulled David out. David had his left ear burned off and many other scars. The family was never able to locate the brave man who rescued him.
We can surmise that our property, established as the Birch Lodge Hospital and Summer Resort Sanitarium, would have been involved in treating Mr. Watt and anyone else injured in the wreck. Recall that Dr. E.D. Ford opened the lodge in 1912 and was probably Trout Lake's only doctor at the time. Because Dr. Ford died later on that same year, Mr. Watt might have been one of the few patients ever treated at the lodge during its short tenure as a hospital.
Here are some historic post card views of the wreck: