ON THIS EPISODE
“The railroads depended on population and product. The population and product depended on shipping. The railroads became the most valuable method of shipping, particularly for landlocked areas like Illinois.”-Bill Leitze
As part of our Oral History in Forgottonia series, Cuba High School senior Gavin Johnson sits down with local Railroad enthusiast, Bill Letize to discuss the impact of railroads in western Illinois. Bill is a graduate of Canton High School in Canton, IL. He received a B.A. in Carthage College and a Master’s degree from Bradley University. Bill and his wife Judy have 2 sons and 3 granddaughters. Bill was a longtime teacher, coach, and Army veteran. Bill is also a passionate railroad enthusiast who gives local history presentations throughout the area about the important impact railroads have played throughout our local history.
- The emergence of railroads in the western Illinois region and what these trains were like
- How railroads impacted the area, especially in terms of making or breaking small communities
- Why young people should learn about transportation history in our region
- Significant events in western Illinois railroad history: The recent Seville Bridge Collapse & Train Derailment, The Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887, & the TP&W Propane Train Derailment which led to the Crescent City Explosion of 1970
GAVIN JOHNSON BIO
Gavin is a senior at Cuba High School and the son of Dale & Patty Johnson. Gavin has a love of all things history, especially railroads. He enjoys fishing, making model railroads, and four-wheeling. He is involved in history club and bass fishing. Gavin is also a huge Green Bay Packers fan, a Star Wars nut, and his favorite TV show is Impractical Jokers. After high school, Gavin plans to continue working for the township and possibly work on the railroad.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Our ORAL HISTORY of FORGOTTONIA series is part of the NCHE Rural Experience in America grant in partnership with the Western IL Museum, and the Western IL University Archives. In 2021, the National Council for History Education (NCHE) recruited teachers nationwide to participate in free and open professional development that occurred asynchronously and synchronously online, focusing on rural history and historical inquiry using Library of Congress sources. Teachers travelled to Norman, Oklahoma to collaborate with a community partner selected from their hometown to create a public history project.
These community-based, service-learning public history projects enable students to investigate their local and regional histories deeply and to connect their own histories to the larger human experience. A key purpose of this project is to link rural communities and their histories to national narratives and primary source collections, and the targeted focus of this proposal provides an avenue for such purposeful connections.
Our project, The Oral History of Forgottonia, is one of several throughout the country featured by the NCHE. To learn about other projects featured by this grant, check out this list and visit the links at the bottom of this post.
- Toledo, Peoria, & Western Railway History (TP&W) – Bill & Gavin mention this RR throughout the podcast. It was one of the most historically significant railroads
- Seville Bridge Collapse & Train Derailment, State Journal-Register; Seville Bridge Collapse & Train Derailment, Peoria Journal Star Story – Bill & Gavin reference this local train crash which spilled large amounts of corn syrup into the Spoon River. (see pic below)
- History of FP9 Locomotives – Referenced by Bill & Gavin
- History of the CB&Q (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy) Railroad – Referenced by Bill as one of the main RR in Western IL, along with the TP&Q
- Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887 – Bill mentions this TP&W train wreck was one of the worst in U.S. history
- The TP&W Railroad Strike of WW2 – Bill mentions how the TP&W became the only Nationalized Railway during this time
- “The Murder on Moss Avenue: A Peoria, Illinois Cold Case” – Bill mentions this story of TP&W President George McNear’s assassination in 1947.
- The Story of George McNear’s Assassination – McNear was walking home from a Bradley University basketball game
- Crescent City Explosion of 1970 – Bill References this TP&W Derailment of Propane Cars that destroyed downtown Crescent City, IL. This was one of the very 1st hazmat incidents.
- Video of the Crescent City Explosion