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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

100 years ago in Cheney: A train crash killed one crew member and left passengers ‘severely shaken up’

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

A locomotive speeding toward Spokane crashed into a huge boulder a mile east of Cheney, killing the engineer.

The fireman on the train was only injured, but his survival was “nothing short of miraculous.”

The Spokane, Portland and Seattle train rounded a curve in a steep rock cut and barreled toward a boulder that had rolled onto the tracks. The engineer and fireman jammed on the emergency brakes. But there was not enough room to top.

The locomotive smashed into the boulder and derailed. It plowed along the railroad ties and then went down the right bank of the cut, where it struck the rock wall.

The engineer was crushed against the boiler. The fireman said that steam billowed through the compartment and he tried to shut off the flow. Then, “through the steam clouds, I could see that it was no use to try to help Jumbo anymore.”

Jumbo was the nickname of George Koontz, the 220-pound engineer.

The train was fortunately “running light” – it had only 35 passengers in six coaches. The locomotive and its tender absorbed most of the impact’s force, but the passengers were “severely shaken up.” Two railroad employees and a newsboy were injured, but most passengers suffered only scratches and bruises.

From the tongue-twister beat: The Chronicle was running a tongue-twister contest. Some of the early entries included, “Fred Foster fries fresh fish for French fugitives,” and “Political preference procured Poindexter Peru plenipotentiary post.”