E.M. Bainbridge 1923 train crash in Glendale

A local amateur historian recently pinned this note on a tree in Verdugo Park, telling the story of E.M. Bainbridge and his fatal attempt to stop a runaway train car that barreled down Glendale Avenue 90 years ago. The tree is on the site where the railroad car's brakes went out. (Photo by Brittany Levine / December 4, 2013)

E.M. Bainbridge's plans to stop a runaway train car thundering down Glendale Avenue were thwarted 90 years ago when a northbound steam engine crashed head-on into the railroad car, leaving behind a plume of smoke, snarled steel and splintered wood.

The attempt cost Bainbridge his life and newspaper articles at the time dubbed him a hero. But his story faded, like so many others do in time.

That gnawed at Michael Morgan, a member of Glendale's Historic Preservation Commission and an amateur historian.

Morgan decided to unearth Bainbridge's story, and on Nov. 30, the anniversary of the train worker's death, he held two small vigils for the 20-year-old, one at Verdugo Park, where the train car let loose due to faulty brakes, and the other near Glendale and Lexington avenues, where the crash occurred.

They were simple ceremonies. Morgan brought flowers and pinned a nearly 2-foot-long note sharing the tale of how Bainbridge chased after the runaway car in an electric locomotive. He stood on the platform, poised to jump onto the runaway car to run in and pull its brakes.

But before he could, the southbound electric locomotive and the runaway railway car crashed into a northbound steam locomotive.

Morgan only read a biblical scripture at the vigils he alone attended: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

The note he pinned to a tree at Verdugo Park, near the corner of Colina Drive and Canada Boulevard, and the bouquet remained on Thursday, five days after the vigil, but Morgan noticed that the flowers were gone from the second memorial site just a few hours after he left them.

"I just thought he should be recognized," said Morgan, who has been haunted by Bainbridge's story since first learning about it nearly 30 years ago.

While researching the Glendale & Montrose Railway, which ran through Glendale in the early 1900s, Morgan came across a newspaper clipping from the Nov. 9, 1923 edition of the Glendale Evening News. On the front page was the photo of an electric locomotive adorned with a sign that said "I'm on my way to Glendale, California, the fastest growing city in America."

Later that month, on Nov. 30, the same newspaper printed the story of Bainbridge's death. Bainbridge, who was described as having a "wild ride," suffered six fractured ribs, punctured lungs and other injuries. He was transported to a local hospital, but died later that night.

The Glendale & Montrose Railway tracks have disappeared from the landscape, as have most of the memories of those who helped install and operate them.

A small crack in the asphalt at the back of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale reveals a portion of the historic tracks, just as Morgan's posting sheds a small light on one person who died while working on the railway.

Those newspaper clippings inspired Morgan to get a copy of Bainbridge's death certificate from Los Angeles County. Through that, he discovered that Bainbridge was buried in Leander, Texas, a city about 22 miles northwest of Austin and where he grew up as an only child.

Morgan called the Leander public library and city hall in search of more information about the man he imagines was boisterous and fearless, one who moved west in search of work and opportunity.

He ended up finding a picture of Bainbridge's gravestone on findagrave.com, a crowdsourcing memorial site. The large stone marker features Bainbridge's name, dates of birth and death, and a small inscription: "We loved him."

Those three words tugged at Morgan's heart strings.

"It seemed poignant and tragic all at the same time," he said.

Morgan continued gathering information about Bainbridge, as well as 80 others who worked on the railway, posting their information on findagrave.com.

"If you have all this stuff, what's the point of keeping it to yourself. You should share it," Morgan said. "Time goes and everything gets swallowed up."

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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