Hell On Wheels

News items that I gathered a few years back while spooling through microfilmed pages of the Lovewell Index, suggest that my grandfather Jake Switzer was a terrible driver.  He was always careful in his later years when I knew him, whenever he slid behind the wheel of his little green Rambler sedan to head into town, or sat perched on the seat of his gleaming gray Ford tractor to drag a plow across his potato patch.  However, for a few years in his reckless youth he must have been hell on wheels in his buggy.  The Index reported on at least two crashes that occurred when he was in his mid-twenties, though the more serious incident may not have been entirely his fault.  According to coverage in the Belleville Telescope, June of 1915 saw historic flooding along the Republican River and White Rock Creek.

All day last Sunday auto loads of people were going and coming on the road to Scandia to see the high water.  The river was higher at Scandia by about two feet than it was ever known to be before, and many people in the lowest parts of the town were compelled to move to higher land.  The Mo. Pacific depot was flooded up to the windows, the lumber yard was in the midst of five or six feet of water and the wagon bridge was cut off from dry land on the east side by water to a depth of about six feet and running back to the hotel.

The Hardy bridge has been washed out and is lodged in a bend of the river just up stream a ways from the Warwick bridge… The culvert in Big Bend and White Rock township have been carried away by the floods.  White Rock Creek in White Rock township is said to be the highest it was ever known to be and is contributing its share to the flood waters.


So far we have heard of no loss of human life, but hundreds of head of live stock have been drowned.

Buggy in Frame

While there was no loss of life to anyone in Jake’s horse-drawn carriage, it must have felt like a close call.  A section of road near the creek bank had been washed away by flood waters, and as the wheels rolled past, one suddenly plunged into a rut and the carriage tipped.  Jake scrambled to keep from sliding down the embankment while his buggy tumbled past him into the rushing creek.  When last seen the horse was swimming vigorously downstream.  Jake's wife Sarah and little Alice were thrown to the ground on the other side of the road, but landed unhurt.

I bring up the matter only because I found a photograph posted on Ancestry.com over the weekend showing the proud young driver seated in his mud-encrusted carriage before its watery plunge.  The horse, harnessed and ready for the master’s next command, may be the same steed forced to swim for dear life in 1915.  This photo was one of several taken of Jake and Sarah Switzer and their various relatives to be scanned and posted on the public pages of the website.   My favorite is what may have been a carefully-posed “candid” shot of a teenage Sarah smiling as she holds a telephone receiver to her ear.  It’s an uncharacteristic look.  People hadn’t gotten into the habit of smiling whenever someone pointed a camera in their direction, but Sarah looks utterly solemn in most of the pictures, and especially glum attired in her wedding gown while standing next to her new husband. 


Along with enough photos to fill a small album, there was a newspaper clipping containing her obituary, and a copy of her death certificate, which names chronic endocarditis as the cause of her death at the age of 37.  I had been told long ago that my dad’s mother was stricken with rheumatic fever as a child, leaving her with a weakened heart.  In most of her pictures, it’s easy to imagine a woman whose simple joys were overshadowed by the certainty that her time on earth would be short, that she would have to say goodbye to her children long before they were grown.  Perhaps it’s merely knowing what we know about her that gives all her pictures a tinge of melancholy, all, that is, except the one where’s she’s a teenager immersed in conversation with a phone friend (or pretending to be), oblivious of the future.

Familiarly known as “Sadie,” Sarah Elizabeth Switzer was the daughter of Will Simmons and his wife, the former Emma Alice Vanmeter.  Emma was the sister of Villa and Lulu (or Lulla), who, respectively, married Thomas Lovewell’s boys Stephen and William Frank.  This much I knew before.  What I didn’t know, until consulting the archives of the Belleville Telescope while writing this, was that my father had an older brother, born in 1911, the firstborn child of Jake and Sarah Switzer, one who evidently did not survive infancy.

I had never heard of the woman who posted all of the pictures and documents noted here, and have no idea why she would have such an extensive collection of mementos of my grandparents - most of them, treasures that I never dreamed existed.  It validates my notion that old pictures, especially the ones that have been captioned, should be freely shared.

However much as they mean to you, they might mean much more to someone else.

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com