The Mercury, a streamlined New York Central steam locomotive, made an appearance at Toledo’s Union Station on July 2, 1936. Toledo News-Bee photographer George Blount took this photograph to give readers a preliminary glimpse of the train that would provide regular service between Cleveland and Detroit, with a Toledo stop.
The Mercury, dubbed one of the world’s finest trains by officials and reporters who participated in a promotional run, had carpeting, sealed windows, and the new technology of air conditioning. The aerodynamic, light-weight locomotive was 91 feet long, and pulled seven cars, including a parlor, a diner, coaches, a lounge, and an observation car. On that promotional voyage, the train hit 75 mph just outside of Monroe, but it was capable of traveling at 100 mph.
The train could carry 170 passengers, and its first trip, July 15, 1936, was a sellout. The lounge car was named for Toledo; two other cars were named for Cleveland and Detroit. The trip was scheduled to be 2 hours, 50 minutes, including the stop in Toledo.
The speed of the Mercury was a luxury for passengers, but a problem for other vehicles. On its initial trip, the Mercury rammed an auto at a grade crossing about 11 miles southeast of Monroe. The driver of the car, traveling at about 15 mph, did not seem to recognize how quickly the train was approaching. Though the train sounded its whistle, the car still pulled onto the tracks. Even with its emergency brakes, the train could not stop in time and struck the car. It took about 1,200 feet after impact for the train to come to a halt. The driver of the car was thrown from the vehicle and died.
On the evening of July 3, 1938, the visibility was bad because of a blinding rain storm. The Mercury was traveling about 80 mph when it side-swiped a car just east of Rocky Ridge. The train backed up to the crossing and stopped to look for the car. The vehicle had dented the right side of the Mercury but was able to drive off. But, more trouble loomed. Less than eight minutes behind the stopped Mercury on the same tracks was another New York Central train, the Commodore Vanderbilt, east-bound from Chicago to New York. Automatic block signals did not operate, and the Commodore Vanderbilt, which was traveling at about 60 mph, slammed into the observation car at the rear of the Mercury. Nineteen passengers and crew members from both trains were taken to Toledo and Port Clinton hospitals for treatment of injuries. Two passengers required surgery.
The Mercury remained in operation until the mid-1950s, falling victim to competition from an improved highway system.
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