Editor’s Note: One of our more popular posts was this unusual tale of the ill-fated Culver Special. This train would take cadets to Plymouth so they could make their home connections for the holidays. But after the Christmas dinner in 1948, it had to make an unexpected stop.
Food-related illnesses have occurred only rarely at Culver, but one instance is easily recalled by any cadet who was on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Vandalia Line leaving town for winter break in December 1948. Its legacy as an event has required some serious detective work to determine exactly what year it occurred because, today, it seems that every Culver cadet was on that ill-fated train.
That year’s annual Christmas dinner was its usual success, a combination of music, singing, and the seasonal hilarity, along with the turkey, dressing, and something no one suspected – food poisoning.
Some signs of the malady appeared before reveille and traffic to the latrines was not simply to shower and shave. However, the early departure of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Culver Special” was not about to be missed and it had a full complement of cadets. The recollections of that brutal day now joined with countless stories so vivid in the telling that reality has given way to myth, making it difficult for a historian to decipher – but fertile ground for a good story.
With rumbling stomachs and growling guts, the cadets settled down as the train moved north from the Academy siding by the Power Plant. Not far north of Hibbard, the agonies grew to epic proportions, and the restrooms on each car proved incapable of dealing with the stricken and panicky cadets. It’s unclear if, at that moment, a faculty member or conductor pulled the emergency cord. In any case, the train stopped and, like lemmings, the cadets abandoned the cars in favor of the snow-swept cornfields of northern Indiana. There was no sanctuary from the December winds, frostbite, or the ribald “cat calls” from those who had avoided the malaise.
Someone managed to reach a telephone and call the Academy. Soon Dr. Baker and Nurse Bailey came trudging up the track carrying a medical bag containing bottles of paregoric, bismuth, and Pepsin. After administering to the ailing, the Culver Special, now more deserving than ever of its name, made its way to the east and westbound connections in Plymouth.