The Great Cone Lake Railroad Bridge Collapse of 1912

On April 11, 1912, the railroad bridge over Cone Lake collapsed. According to the Muscatine Journal, the bridge had been weakened by high waters. An engine was sent ahead of the main freight train to test the structure's strength. The engineer and the fireman inched the engine over the bridge, which suddenly collapsed. Both men were pinned under water. The fireman was able to free himself (losing his leg in the process), but the engineer was trapped. Ultimately both men would lose their lives. Margaret Buser's father, John Winfield Buser, was the Conesville Railroad Foreman, and most certainly would have been a part of the recovery process. Photographer James Geddes Baker, whose studio was in Columbus Junction, captured a series of photos of the event. The photos illustrate not only the event, but many members of the Conesville community, who came out to witness the engine's recovery from the lake. Margaret and her family were among the observers, and Margaret naturally recorded her observations in her diary: April 11, 1912: The Milwaukee Lake Bridge went down as an engine was crossing it. The engine went clear under water. The fireman got his leg completely pinched off, and he came to the top and was saved. The engineer is still under there. A diver came on the five to get him. All of our section men were down there and didn't get back until seven, and we didn't know they were there. People from far and near went. April 12: They brought the engineer up last night at eleven. Only his foot was caught, and by the spur(?) that had cut the fireman's leg off. April 14: George (Margaret's brother) took Mama, Gladys (George's wife), Vivian (George's daughter), Charlie (Margaret's husband) and I all down to the Lake to see the engine come up. Papa had the headache and couldn't go. We didn't get back until six. There was an awful crowd down there. People that had been there all day. The cable broke when they were pulling and they didn't get the engine up. I saw the diver go down. The fireman (who initially survived the wreck, but lost his leg) is dead.