Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project


Internet Presentation

Version 030611





By Kathy Block

APCRP Historian




FRANCONIA, Arizona is a derelict railroad siding stop, formerly the site of a section house for the Santa Fe Railroad. It was named by F.W. Smith, a railroad general superintendent, born 1857 in California, for his son Frank. In the 1900 Census, three people were stationed there. J.R. Carroll was the section foreman with two Japanese RR Laborers, Inni and Ymoanoto (no first names). The data indicated that Carroll, Age 26, was born in England in Dec.1873, had been in the U.S.A. for 13 years, and was nationalized.


The laborers, labeled “Jp N”, were both born in Japan. Inni, age 25, was born in 1875, and Ymoanoto, age 19, was born in 1881. Inni had been unemployed for nine months. All could read and write and speak English, and all were single. They may have lived in small houses at Franconia. There are ruins of concrete pads with remnants of foundations and walls to the north of the railroad tracks, and piles of rusting cans, broken glass, and other debris scattered throughout the area. Some workers lived in railroad cars that could be hauled from section to section. These were parked on unused sidings.


A note from Kay Ellermann, librarian at the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, indicated that: “As far as I can tell, there was only a section house at Franconia. We have a letter on file stating that a lady's father was born at Franconia on Oct. 3, 1908. The Grandfather was a section foreman for the railroad. They could have had a few houses for workers there also, but I can't find any information to verify it.” Later Kay wrote that “They probably lived in a section house made from a railroad car. Most times they went from job to job that way.” She found that the RR at Franconia had two small wooden houses, valued at $100 each in May, 1887.


Two fascinating legal documents from the “Solicitor” for the Atlantic and Pacific Railway Company in Albuquerque, N.M. To the Mohave County Assessor, dated May 28, 1887, challenge the legality of the assessment of “2 small wooden houses” at Franconia plus other buildings at Kingman, Yucca, Powell, and East Bridge for a total of $18,615.38 value.” The grounds for dispute was that “the improvements and buildings placed thereon for the purpose of operating and maintaining said road, are, by Act of Congress, exempt from taxation within the county of Mohave.”


 The railroads also built section houses by the railroad tracks for section crews. They were typically two-room buildings. The railroad companies divided the tracks into sections between 10 and 30 miles long and assigned a foreman and crew to tend each section. These workers used the section houses, which were often near a water tank or well. The ruins at Franconia had drain holes in the concrete, probably for the kitchen area. They probably had clap board siding.  In 1935 section houses down by the tracks were given away for the hauling from the site. .


Typical section house


Section House near Magnolia Plantation, Louisiana. Wikipedia photo.


Present day ruins of platform where the section house may have stood.


Workers on the railroad were often killed by accidents and poor safety practices. Death Certificates for the early 1900s reflected deaths from falling off trains, being caught between cars, getting run over. No Death Certificate could be found for this man in this news report, from the June 20, 1903 Mohave County Miner, Kingman, Arizona: “George Payne, a Santa Fe engineer, was crushed beneath his engine last Saturday evening while oiling up. The engine was standing on a side track at Franconia when from some cause it moved ahead and the unfortunate man tried to get out between the drivers and was caught and crushed. He leaves a wife and two children.” Possibly the death was recorded in Needles, CA. This death was two years after a major disaster at Franconia.


Map showing RR Sections.


A terrible train wreck was at precisely 5:12AM on November 20, 1901, about two miles west of Franconia. Santa Fe Flyers,  No. 3 westbound and No.4 eastbound collided head-on on a sharp curve west of Franconia, described in news accounts as “a small flag station 35 miles SW of Kingman.” There was only a single railroad track at this time. They could not have seen each other until they were within a few hundred feet of each other. The collision immediately killed every fireman on the two trains and many other people and destroyed three engines, the dining cars (one on each train), one Pullman, and two composite cars. The eastbound train was pulled by two oil burning locomotives and the second engine exploded, throwing the burning oil into the wreck and setting the cars on fire!  Details of the accident did not fully emerge until 1906, when the lawsuit “Santa Fe Pacific R. Co. V Holmes, 202 U.S. 438 (1906) was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 18, 19, 1906.  Both the full text of the case and the case preview are available on the Internet on Open. Jurist Blog.  Briefly, the defendant, one of the engineers who was severely injured, sued for, and won $9,000 on the grounds that the collision was caused by the negligence “of a fellow servant”, of  “the master,”  - the RR company.


The train dispatcher, representative of the company to “promulgate orders for the running of trains, and not a fellow servant of the engineer,” had “disobeyed the orders, rules, and regulations of the company.” The dispatcher failed to take into account “what a prudent man would have taken into account and done.” The colliding trains were regular passenger trains. The eastbound passenger train  failed to receive vital information that the westbound train was running six minutes late from Yucca but then it passed Franconia SIX MINUTES AHEAD OF TIME. The operator of the westbound train had approached Franconia station for orders and received, by semaphore signal, that there were “no orders from the train dispatcher.” So, he didn't stop at Franconia.


 Meanwhile, the eastbound train from Needles would have reached and been placed on the siding at Franconia two or three minutes before the westbound train came thru. Due to the six minute error, they collided one and a half miles west of Franconia. The east bound train was going 40 to 50 miles per hour and the westbound train was running 60 to 70 miles per hour! 


What a fatal difference six minutes made.


There were poignant descriptions of the deaths in the Mohave county Miner. 


J.B. WILLIAMS, engineer of the west bound train jumped and was severely injured.


L.HOLMES (who later won the lawsuit), jumped, and was buried in the oil from the overturned tank and was so weak it was “only by the greatest effort or will that he managed to keep his head above the oil.” The oil was burning all around him, and had he not been dragged out in time, he would have burned to death!


P. M. McELLIGOTT, engineer of the first east bound engine, was instantly killed in jumping.


J.L. MORSE, conductor, was on the engine with him and was badly injured by jumping.


F. GOLDSCHMIDT, fireman, was instantly killed.


H.E. BRAUNHARDT, baggage master, was instantly killed.


W.I. CASE could not initially be found. Later, his charred remains were identified by the general outline of the features.


W.H. ARMITAGE, fireman, was later identified by scraps of clothing in which was his watch and keys. His body was found hanging in the firebox of his engine, completely incinerated.


SAM BROWN, waiter, was never found.


ROBERT HIGGINS, conductor of the west bound train, was in the baggage car at the time of the wreck. He was surrounded by flames and gave himself up as lost, but “the thoughts of the good wife and babies at home gave him wonderful strength and he tore himself loose and was soon placed on the train under the care of the doctors. He was badly crushed and died in Los Angeles.”


WALTER DAVERAGE, a colored waiter, “was so badly burned that he died while being taken aboard the relief train.


The charred bodies of several “tramps” were found later in the wreckage. Two were reported to have boarded the train just before the wreck and three others at Needles.


No Death Certificates were found for any of the victims, suggesting they were recorded in California or elsewhere. The bodies were taken by train to Needles after the wreck.


 R.M. Bryant, who was working a bridge gang near the scene of the disaster, was awakened by the crash and ran with his men to the scene and saved lives and property. A relief train from Kingman with Dr. Ealy aboard was quickly sent. The wounded and dead were placed in one of the Pullmans and met at Mullen by relief train from Needles carrying doctors and nurses. Four bodies were taken to Needles.  Another casualty was a coffin carrying the body of a young woman from San Francisco to Pittsburg. It was entirely consumed by the fire. Only three passengers were injured and 14 employees and trainmen were also hurt. All the mail and baggage in both trains was destroyed.


The news article concluded: “In the history of the Santa Fe road no worse wreck than this has ever occurred, and we hope it will be long before we have another to report.” Unfortunately, there was another train wreck near Franconia in 1945!


The pile of wreckage from the train wreck west of Franconia. Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts.


On a blog (Trainorders.com) was this statement: “While visiting my grandfather for the holidays, he told me a story about him being involved in a train wreck somewhere east of Needles, Ca. . . somewhere in the Arizona desert. The train he was on was pulling out from a siding when another train came along from the rear and smashed into one of the cars. He was then enlisted to help pull out survivors and pick up body parts that were lying about.” Replies from readers led to a government site that yielded a full report of this incident, plus a quote from a news report courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.


Score Hurt in Train Wreck at Franconia: Local Doctors Help Administer to Those Injured” read a headline in the Kingman Miner of August 23, 1945. In this incident, a Santa Fe passenger train crashed into the side of another at the Franconia siding. The Interstate Commerce Commission report gives some interesting details. The report addresses “Accident at Franconia, Ariz. On August 21, 1945, caused by a train fouling the main track immediately in front of a following train.”


Briefly, a westbound passenger train, carrying naval doctors, corpsmen, and nurses had pulled into the siding at Franconia about 1:32 p.m. It was running one hour and 58 minutes late when it passed the last open office at Yucca, 12.5 miles east of Franconia. The weather was clear, no wind. To permit another west-bound mail-express train to pass, which it did 3 minutes later, the passenger train remained on the siding. Then it took another 10 minutes to allow a section crew to perform track work on the siding, after which the section foreman permitted the train to proceed. As it began to move westward on to the main track, a third westbound train traveling about 65 miles per hour hit the second train. The crew of this train had no information that the mail train had been instructed to pass the first train. The signal given by lights east of the siding was “proceed”. The engine men on lookout had their view severely restricted by a curve and high embankment adjacent to the track. When the engine of this third train was about 3,000 feet east of the siding-switch, the engineer observed that a passenger train was occupying the siding. He reduced his speed in order to identify the train on the siding and exchange signals if necessary. By the time he was closer, at 1,600 feet east of the west siding switch, he observed that the train on the siding was moving westward and that the front portion was entering the main track.  He frantically moved the brake valve to the emergency “STOP” position, but he collided with several of the train cars that had entered the main track!


The flagman of the train on the siding had placed two “torpedoes” (small explosive cartridges placed on a RR track and detonated by the train wheels as a signal to the crew) on the north rail of the westward bound main line after the mail train passed, When the train on the siding started to move westward, he placed a lighted 5-minute fuse on the westward main track about 4,000 feet east of the west siding switch. When he saw the third train advancing, he was giving stop signals with a red flag when the engine of this train was passing him! However, the engine men were positive afterward that no warning signal was seen or heard prior to the collision.  These facts were vigorously disputed,, as the flagmen of the third train and the section foreman said they saw a burning fuse after the accident. The engineer of the train pulling out from the siding claims he didn't see a red signal to indicate the third train was coming or he would have stopped his train.

 Typical 1901 2-6-2 engine. Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts.


In the collision, the third car of this passenger train was derailed to the north and tipped over on its right side. Two more following cars derailed, The engine of the train that hit the other was derailed and stopped about 120 feet west of the point of collision at a 45 degree angle and was badly damaged. The second train had 17 cars and was traveling about 5 m.p.h. The train that collided was also a passenger train, with 9 cars, and was going 40 m.p.h.


As a result of the collision, 49 passengers, 5 Pullman employees, and 3 train-service employees were injured.  No deaths resulted. The Kingman train station was immediately notified and two doctors and three nurses rushed to the Santa Fe hospital to help care for the injured. Also three American Red Cross instructors came to the scene of the accident, but weren't needed because the train carried medical personnel who administered first aid and supervised loading the injured into a Santa Fe car which took them to Needles. A sheriff and his deputies took charge of the wreck scene until special agents of the railroad arrived. A Captain Barnes of the Kingman Army Air Field flew to Needles to help. All credit was given by the train members and passengers to the naval men who were riding in the wrecked car and quickly helped passengers more seriously injured.


According to the passengers on the train that was struck, they first felt a slight jar and then a heavy impact as the oncoming engine first sideswiped and derailed a car and then plowed into and thru the side of the Pullman! The most serious injuries were a broken neck, a crushed chest, and a severely crushed leg.  One sailor lost a hand, Contusions, lacerations and broken bones were also reported. When the injured arrived in Needles, ambulance planes from the Las Vegas air field ferried the most seriously injured to the Las Vegas base. The naval doctor on the train badly needed morphine. He attracted the attention of a passing military aircraft by spelling out the word “morphine” with bed sheets near the train and the morphine was rushed by train from Needles! A sailor who had been riding in the wrecked Pullman had escaped unharmed. When he was later climbing out of the ambulance plane, he slipped and struck his head and “knocked himself cold.”


The investigation ultimately blamed the accident on train signals at Franconia that didn't provide adequate protection for movements from siding to main track and that the accident was caused by a train ”fouling the main track” immediately in front of a following train. They recommended that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company “provide adequate protection for movements from siding to main track.” The signals were tested and functioned perfectly after the wreck. At that time, in 1945, in a thirty day period proceeding the day of the wreck, an average of 66.8 trains moved daily on the tracks. The maximum authorized speeds were 100 miles per hour for passenger trains hauled by diesel electric engines, 70 to 80 miles per hour for passenger trains trained hauled by steam engines, and 50 miles per hour for freight trains. The number of tracks thru Franconia had been doubled from one track to two, plus siding, in April of 1923, when the Santa Fe railroad spent millions of dollars to build double train tracks from Chicago to Needles.


When we visited Franconia, it seemed as if a freight train roared by in each direction every ten minutes or so! Many carried shipping containers and truck trailers- no old-fashioned boxcars.


Two trains passing near the curve in tracks east of Franconia.

Photo by Ed & Kathy Block


The “official” Franconia Cemetery lies just north of the railroad tracks and several concrete slabs that probably once were foundations for a section house and some outbuilding. The Cemetery is shown on various maps and appears on several Mohave County cemetery lists. Remains of at least 6 male graves were scattered in random pattern to the north of and east of the slab. Also, a bone, possibly human vertebrae, was partly buried just to the east of the large slab. One grave was marked with a decaying wooden cross possibly made from RR ties and tipped to its side. Another had a semi-upright decayed wood marker. None had writing on them. One sunken burial had pieces of either a wood lining or wood coffin around the top, possibly this grave had imploded.  Some burials were marked with rings of stones. The entire area was littered with broken glass, pieces of metal, old cans, and other trash. Another grave had remnants of a chicken wire fence that may have enclosed it. There was no “Franconia Cemetery” sign.


Further to the north, towards the Black Mountains, Ed discovered five little concrete slabs with drain holes and remnants of foundations and walls. They may have been section crew houses.


                                        Cross marks male grave near concrete slab, N. side RR.                                                 Wooden marker on another grave.


                                                        Remains of wooden coffin or grave liner on sunken grave.                                                             Chicken wire by grave.


To our surprise, the south side of the RR tracks had 8 possible male graves near an old hobo camp. There were also two pet graves. The human graves were between the frontage road along the RR tracks and an ATV trail below an embankment to the south. Some were randomly placed near the pet graves and others were facing north towards the RR tracks in sort of a row with rocks for headstones. None, except the pet graves, had any indication of names. It is impossible to determine if the original Franconia cemetery extended on both sides of the tracks or if these graves were later developed for possible hobo deaths? At one time, several years ago when we came to this area, the camp was very actively used, with a BBQ, old couch, and crude table under a large tree. All has been since removed, possibly by the BLM, which owns most of the land, or the railroad? Only a folding chair by one pet grave remains.


                                                      Pet grave, S. side RR tracks. Male grave in background                                                             Pet grave


                                                                 Ed Block rests amid row of rocks marking graves                                                                Random grave near a tree


I researched Death Certificates and also checked Find-A-Grave. Here is a list of possible burials at Franconia Cemetery. Only one definitely stated “Franconia” as a burial place.  Unfortunately, the other Death Certificates were the skimpy, mostly blank forms, which had been recopied from county records in the 1930s. Even though they say “Franconia” for town, they do not positively state burial there.  This area was about 30 railroad miles northeast to Kingman, and about 25 railroad miles southwest to Needles. A body could have been shipped to one of these towns by train. Here's some who might be interred in one of the graves we found:


ARNOLD, J.C. No birth date. Died 11-18-1896.  Heart Failure “near Franconia.” No burial place.


GOMEZ, Antonio. Born about 1882. Died 5-11-17, Age about 35. Laborer. Variola, confluent. This is the only burial whose DC says “Franconia” for place.


LOWRY, Thomas. Born 1865 England. Died 2-5-1898. Age 33. Knife wound inflicted by Wm. Reardon No burial place.


RIYARD, John D. Born 1860 Michigan. Died 11-11-1907. Age 47. Married, white, gunshot. “12 miles S. Franconia.” No burial place.


UNKNOWN. Died 3-3-1894. Exposure. 3 miles W. Franconia. No burial place.


UNKNOWN. Died 7-9-1896. Exposure. Found west of Franconia. No burial place.


UNKNOWN. Born 1868. Died 5-17-1926. Listed on Find-A-Grave for Franconia. Note on Find-A-Grave: “I don't understand, they knew when you were born, they knew when you died, but they didn't know your name. God bless and sleep well.” No DC, no burial place.


More research would be possible at these unknown graves sites on both sides of the railroad tracks.


At present, the area slightly to the east of Franconia, on the north side of the railroad tracks, is popular for metal detecting for meteorites. Also, beautiful white quartz rocks are abundant amid basaltic volcanic rocks. A large gypsum mine is located further north of this site.


                                                                Chondite meteorite like those found E. of Franconia.      Beautiful  quartz rocks found  east of Franconia.


In the 1970s, an Arizona Department of Transportation maintenance site was located north of I-40 at Franconia exit, but is inactive. A possible threat to the cemetery has been proposed, but doesn't seem to have been constructed as yet. Franconia Technologies, a subsidiary Waste Management Inc. acquired in March, 1993,” owns a fully permitted but as yet undeveloped landfill site, located in Franconia, on the Santa Fe rail line.” The site has a permitted capacity of 10 million tons, with room available for expansion. There is no limit on the number of tons received per day. The site would have “soil regeneration facilities” to remediate contaminated soil, and waste would be transported to the site by either truck or rail. However, “construction will not begin at the site until a waste stream is available. At this time (1993), no waste contracts have been completed.“ Today, in 2011, there's still no activity.


I wish to thank Kay Ellermann, Librarian, Mohave Museum of History and Arts, for unearthing various photos and research materials;  Neal Du Shane for his helpful suggestions and for making the titles on the Section House sketch; and my husband, Ed Block, for insightful comments and editing.  Any errors or interpretations of history and facts are entirely the author's.


Directions to Franconia Cemetery: Take Exit 13 off I-40, which goes east to Kingman, west to Needles. Franconia Road Exit is 7 miles east of Exit 9 where Highway 95 goes south to Lake Havasu City. Drive north towards the railroad tracks, about 1 mile. The paved road becomes dirt.  At the RR tracks, turn left on a well-used ATV track. Go about 1 mile to a point below an embankment. Walk up the bank to an old hobo camp. The graves are scattered for the “hobo camp cemetery” to the east of a pile of old tires, two pet graves, and a sign hanging from a tree branch.  For the “Franconia Cemetery” the easiest access is to carefully cross, on foot, the two busy railroad tracks and siding directly north.  Look for the large concrete slab along the tracks. This is the referent for finding the Franconia Cemetery. The graves are to the north and east of this concrete slab. Instead of walking across the railroad tracks, it is possible to drive east (right) about .5 mile, cross the racks on a steep, gravel road, then go west  (left) along the tracks about 1 mile until you spot the concrete slab by the tracks. This frontage road is rough dirt, not very suitable for a passenger car.


                                                Cross tracks to N. by pile of tires and pet grave                                               Sign at former hobo camp. Pet grave in background.


Map showing location of Franconia Cemetery and graves.


Detail map of Franconia Cemetery and graves.


Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project


Internet Presentation

Version 030611


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