Have you ever crossed a railroad trestle on foot? Have you ever done it at night during a storm that had already destroyed another nearby bridge? Wearing an ankle-length nightgown? You might do it if people’s lives were at stake, and that’s what 15-year-old Kate Shelley did in July of 1881. A storm had washed out the wooden supports under the Honey Creek railroad bridge in Iowa, which collapsed when a pusher locomotive crew came by to check the bridges.
Shelley lived nearby with her mother and younger siblings, and heard the locomotive crash. She told the two surviving crew members she would go for help. Living by the railroad, Shelley knew a passenger train would be coming in less than an hour, and she had to go to the station at Moingona to warn the railroad company of the bridge collapse. But to get there, she had to cross the larger Des Moines River trestle, and run two miles further to Moingona. Read the story of Kate Shelley’s heroic actions that night that saved around 200 passengers and crew from plunging to their deaths at Honey Creek.
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