A passenger train traveling to Pendleton in January of 1946 derailed east of Gibbon on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, killing two crew members and injuring two more. It was the most serious train accident for the local Union Pacific Railroad section in 20 years.
Passenger train No. 25, traveling westbound on the Union Pacific main line through the Blue Mountains toward Pendleton, derailed four miles east of Gibbon at about 9:50 p.m. Jan. 19, 1946, in the Meacham Creek Canyon section of the track. The 451-ton engine, five mail, baggage and express cars, and one passenger coach were derailed when the train made an abrupt stop and lunged off the tracks, tearing up six cars’ worth of track and plowing up the embankment of nearby Meacham Creek. Fortunately, the creek at the point of derailment veered away from the tracks, and none of the derailed cars went in the water.
Two men in the locomotive, engineer Clarence R. Rizor and fireman Guy Baum, both of La Grande, died in the accident. Two other railroad employees, Richard Gray of Portland and William Pidcock of Baker, were injured. The derailed passenger coach did not overturn in the accident, and no passengers were injured.
An acetylene torch was required to remove one of the men from the derailed engine, and wreckers from La Grande and Rieth were called to the scene to remove the damaged equipment so track repairs could be made. The rear nine cars of the train, which did not derail, were towed to the Sloan siding. Trains were held at La Grande and Pendleton while the track was under repair. Traffic was re-established on the main line by 12:30 p.m. Jan. 20, but trains were under six-mile-per-hour slow orders on that section.
Hundreds of people walked four miles from Gibbon to view the wreck, so many that UP officials turned some of them back.
UP officials on Jan. 20 began an investigation into the cause of the derailment. Some opinions were heard that perhaps the track had been softened by alternate freezing and thawing in the area, followed by high water three weeks prior to the accident. Others thought that perhaps a faulty rail had given way.