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Dr. S.R. Howard and his only son’s tragic train accident in 1920

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, in our colloquies about the life and times of longtime Hillsboro veterinary surgeon Dr. Samuel Rogers “S.R.” Howard (1861-1933), we discussed last time how his wife, Clara, passed away in 1894 at the age of 28 shortly after giving birth to their son, Joseph, and how Joseph survived World War I, but died in a railroad accident in May of 1920.

I’ve been asked how Joseph died, and we’ll examine that tragic accident this week, but please be warned, if reading about or pondering blood, gore and suffering bothers you, it might be best to stop right here before this proverbial train leaves the station.

Joseph H. Howard, age 25 in 1920, was in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) for two years in WWI and was honorably discharged in October of 1919.

In the spring of 1920, Joe was working as an electrician for the company that was wrecking the Cincinnati and Columbus “C&C” Traction Company’s line, and the company was tearing up the line near Fayetteville at the time.

It was Tuesday morning, May 4, 1920, when the accident occurred just after the men began their work for the day. Joe was on the wrecking train which was in motion and was switching, and he attempted to step from one of the cars to the engine.

“Misjudging the distance, he fell between the engine and the car onto the track. Three cars passed over him. His left arm was broken in two places between his wrist and elbow. His left hip dislocated and his left leg was badly lacerated with the flesh being torn from the bone in places. The bones
in his foot were broken and his body was a mass of bruises.

“He was taken at once to Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, and according to news reports, because of his bruised condition, his limbs could not be set until the following day. … As soon as the word reached here, Dr. Howard went to his son and will remain with him until he is out of danger.

“On account of his many injuries, Joe’s convalescence will of course be very slow, but his friends are hoping his recovery will be complete.”

Despite being listed in serious condition and suffering from severe pain, it was thought the young Hillsboro native would pull through.

However, as the days passed, Joe “grew worse and realized that he could not get well and talked freely of his condition with his father, who remained throughout the entire time, never losing consciousness for one minute. His sufferings were intense, and death came to him as a sweet
message of peace. He often said to his mother, ‘Do you think God will help one to get well? He is our only hope, mother; but if He cannot, it will be all right, for I cannot stand this much longer.’”

The accident occurred on May 4. Joseph H. Howard died on May 15, 1920 – 11 long days later.

In an article announcing his passing, it was written, “It was indeed a sad feature that Joseph after giving almost two years’ service for his country in foreign land should return to meet death in a fearful accident in the homeland. He was an impulsive, happy hearted lad, with a smile and a
jest and a hearty greeting for all he met, and probably had as many friends among the older men of the town as any boy reared in the community. This was due to his unfailing courtesy always extended to his elders. This heartfelt sympathy of the community goes out to Dr. and Mrs. S.R. Howard in their great bereavement.”

I can’t imagine the suffering Joe went through in May of 1920, nor can I imagine the terror he must have felt the moment he realized he was going to come up short when he made his ill-fated leap from the train car to the engine on that railroad in Fayetteville.

I also cannot fathom the pain Dr. Howard felt as he pasted the articles of his only son’s tragic accident and death in his scrapbook.

Life can change in an instant. Let’s always remember that and do our very best to stay safe at all times.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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