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History's Headlines: Tragic accident killed Edwin Trexler 115 years ago

By Frank Whelan, Historian, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Aug 15 2014 10:16:27 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 18 2014 09:56:22 PM CDT

History's Headlines: Tragedy on the tracks

A recent railroad accident on a track near Emmaus that left two men dead brought to mind a similar tragedy that occurred on a summer day, 115 years ago, close to that same location.

In 1900, just about everyone in the Lehigh Valley recognized Edwin W. Trexler. Even in an era when most men wore facial hair, his goatee was distinctive. And his habit of driving his own horse drawn “rig,” alternately standing and sitting as he did so, also made him stand out.

The 74 year old father of Colonel Harry C. Trexler (he would not be appointed a General until World War I) had been a presence in the region since he got into the lumber business in Allentown in the 1850s with his brothers.

Edwin Trexler had tried several business ventures before, including a retail and wholesale carpet business in Easton in 1854, at the time Harry was born there. It was his brother Jonas who enabled them to buy Nathan Dresher’s Hamilton Street lumberyard, the basis for Trexler Lumber Co. After spending some time in gold rush era California, he had come back with a substantial amount of money.  

Although Edwin and Jonas had something of a falling out in the 1870s, with rival lumberyards on both sides of the 900 block of Hamilton Street, Edwin, thanks at least in part to business- savvy Harry, had emerged by the end of the 1880s with what was on its way to becoming one of the largest lumber businesses in the country. In fact things were going so well that in 1890 Edwin decided to retire.

In the ten years that followed, Edwin Trexler took up a new passion: the breeding of Holstein and Jersey cattle. After ten years he had, one local newspaper noted, been “largely instrumental in getting Holsteins in this section of the state.”

Some people might say that Edwin Trexler was a gentleman farmer. But true to his Pennsylvania German roots, it was less of the cultivated gentlemen tending to his workers than one pitching in to give them a hand.

Trexler continued to live at his home at 927 Hamilton Street, today much modified and long in use as Kruper Brothers appliance store, with his wife, Matilda Sauerpeck Trexler. But Edwin also purchased a farm just outside of Emmaus. In the summer months in particular he was known for taking an interest in the farm property.

On the morning of July 10, 1900, as he did every summer day it was not raining, Edwin Trexler began his routine of going to the farm. At 6 a.m. early risers on Hamilton Street could see him with his usual stance guiding a simple wagon known as a “piano box” buggy headed out of town, white beard flowing in the wind.

No one tried to call out to him a hello because it was common knowledge that, although in relatively good health for his age, Trexler was almost completely deaf.

There were some automobiles in the Lehigh Valley then, but they were generally regarded as dangerous and experimental. So as Edwin Trexler rode on he would probably have met mostly horse drawn vehicles. Once he arrived at the farm, Trexler joined the men using a pitchfork to help with the haying.

Some days things went slow but that morning all had moved smoothly. By 11 a.m. Trexler decided he was able to take a break and return home to Allentown for lunch with Matilda. By 11:30 he was seen by Calvin Beaker nearing the East Penn Railroad tracks at Emmaus Junction.

In describing the location a newspaper stated that “the road is flanked on either side by houses and trees and travelers find it difficult to see approaching trains.”  It went on to note that Trexler, “had traveled the road hundreds of times” and “entertained no such fears” of approaching trains.

A westbound train had recently passed. Beaker, aware of the train schedule, knew this meant that an eastbound train would follow shortly. Seeing Trexler heading across the tracks at a brisk pace, Beaker wondered later if Trexler knew that another train might be along shortly and was trying to outrun it.

Assuming Trexler did not see the train, which he could hear coming, Beaker began to shout at him. But being almost totally deaf, he could not hear the repeated shouts or the noise of the train. Trexler was in the middle of the eastbound track when East Penn freight No.350, pulled by locomotive # 730, came around the bend at 25 miles an hour.

Engineer George Gable was to testify later that he applied the brakes, but there was no way he could get the train to stop in time. As Beaker looked on in horror he saw the train plow into Trexler’s buggy. The force of the impact threw it, Trexler, and his horse into the air. They came to rest 30 yards up the westbound track.

When the doctor arrived he found the only visible sign of the accident on Trexler’s body was a bruise over his right eye. But massive internal injuries had shattered it. Interestingly in 1933 his son Harry would also die of internal injuries as the result of an automobile accident.

The coroner estimated that Edwin Trexler had died about a minute after the collision. His horse died a half hour later. Trexler rests today, as he has for 115 years, in Allentown’s Fairview Cemetery.