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Bob Lind, Published November 18 2012

Lind: Woman recalls train derailment 50 years later

Betty Ellingson, Moorhead, has a number of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving: Lyle, her husband of 47 years; their two children; her career as an Army nurse and as an ICU staff member at the old St. Ansgar Hospital in Moorhead; the enjoyment she and Lyle gain from their Kiwanis Club activities.

None of the above would be true, though, if a train accident had turned out differently for her.

That accident was recalled here earlier. It was of the Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited passenger train that hit a curve near Missoula, Mont., in 1962, and derailed, killing a young girl.

Now, 50 years later, Betty tells of that accident. She was one of that train’s passengers.

Feeling a jolt

She was Betty Sullivan then, a self-described “flaming redhead” who had just graduated from Drummond (Mont.) High School.

“I traveled a lot by train to school functions, on organizational trips, to visit friends; you did it that way back then,” she says. She knew many of the crew members of trains that came through Drummond because she was such a frequent passenger.

This day, she visited friends in Washington state, then boarded the Limited at Renton, Wash., taking a window seat in a coach. She had a female seating companion she didn’t know.

Betty knew about this “wicked, sharp curve near Missoula,” she says. “It always bothered me, it was so sharp, and the train always went so fast around it.”

She was dozing when she felt a jolt, “and abruptly I was awake,” she says. “Stuff from the overhead bins was falling out. People were screaming, crying.”

Her coach had derailed and was sitting at an angle. People across the aisle were falling her way.

“I remember checking to see if I was OK,” she says. “I stayed in my seat, and I wasn’t hurt at all. But I saw people with lacerations, abrasions. People were trying to care for those who were most seriously injured.”

Betty, this future nurse, also did what she could to help the injured.

She has no idea what happened to her seatmate.

Only later did she learn a child had been killed.

The NP sent a train to take the Limited’s passengers to Missoula, where she called her parents. They were worried sick. The accident was in the news and they knew she was on that train.

Calm passenger

Betty says the accident didn’t deter her from riding trains. She’s done it often. “After all,” she says realistically, “how often does a train have a wreck?”

She’s not nervous about flying, either, although she says she is “irritated by all that security.”

By the way, here’s another reason Betty might be thankful this Thanksgiving: She didn’t get a famed TV newsman for a father.

Her mother, you see, once dated Chet Huntley before he came famous. But her mom didn’t like him. “She said he was too conceited,” Betty says.So she’s glad her mom married the man who became her father. He, she says, was a good dad. And he wasn’t conceited.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com