Runaway Train

On May 17, 1958, Police Dispatcher Carl Jean Johnson received a phone call from the railroad that a train had been stolen and was headed to Edina. Johnson aired this information to the on-duty officers who started heading to different locations to try and head off the run-away train.

However, there had been a mix up in the initial report. The train had not been stolen; rather the caller was trying to say that some kids were “stoning” the train as they threw rocks at the passing rail cars. This message was misunderstood.

Armed with the information, though incorrect, the officers drove fast through traffic to get to the tracks of the southbound train as it entered Edina. Sgt. Butler radioed that he had reached the railroad tracks near Vernon Avenue, but had missed the train. It was just passing by.

Officer Crawford radioed that he reached the tracks at 70th Street, before the train, and was ready to intercept. But Officer Dick Alstad was ready to intercept at Valley View Road before the train made it past him.

Alstad left his squad, where the only radio existed (before portable radios) and ran down the hill alongside the tracks. Armed with his pistol and a set of road flares he grabbed from the trunk on his way out, Alstad got onto the tracks as the train was approaching. He lit each flare, spiked one into the ground between the set of tracks and began waving the other lit flare over his head signaling the train.

As the burning flare dropped hot pieces onto Alstad, he continued to watch the train move closer, yet not stopping. The train did not stop so Alstad jumped onto the moving train near the front. Thinking the train was being operated by thieves; he climbed closer to door of the locomotive and entered like a moment from an old western film.

Officer Dick Alstad drew his revolver as he burst into the control room and ordered the train conductor to stop. He quickly learned from the conductor that the train had not been stolen, rather “stoned” by kids. Dispatcher Johnson had tried to correct the information soon after it was dispatched, but without portable radios, officers like Alstad were operating on their own without communications with the dispatcher.

For his actions, Alstad earned the nickname from his fellow cops of “Jesse James” from the old wild days – which stayed with him since. The local Minneapolis Star newspaper reported on the incident with the headlines “His train of thought derailed”. 

© 2017 City Of Edina, Minnesota