Lard the Size of an Egg is a series based on stories collected from New York Mills community members by historian and writer Chris Marcotte.  Marcotte spent six weeks in September and October at the Cultural Center Retreat House working on her 1897 murder mystery. Most of the stories Marcotte compiled while there focus on a family recipe, a story that went with it, and a photograph. The following story is the only exception. This is part four of the seven-part series which will run weekly through December 21. 

Sixty-eight years ago this week, Andy Tumberg lost two of his younger brothers to a tragic accident. The train vehicle collision not only devastated the family, but also the community. “Robert was sixteen and Gordon was fourteen. It’s been a long time but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. This story isn’t about a recipe like Janet’s.” 

Andy is one of thirteen children born to Hjalmer and Ida (Fiskari). Both his parents’ families had immigrated from Finland and raised their families in Otter Tail County. The Fiskaris settled in Leaf Lake, and the Tumbergs in Deer Creek. As with most of the Finns in the community, they were farmers. Hjalmer and Ida believed in a good education and encouraged their children to participate in other school activities if the farm chores didn’t suffer. There were ten boys in the family, all were athletic and they enjoyed many sports, including basketball. 

A Christmas we’ll never forget

“It was a normal Tuesday evening. Robert and Gordon had a basketball game in Sebeka and my older brother Clifford was with his bowling league. Mom wanted to do some Christmas shopping so after supper I took her and my sister to Wadena. When we got back to New York Mills we talked about waiting for the bus to return to the school, but Mom said the boys were getting a ride from school with their teammate Clarion Kastama.

I had just gone to bed when Clifford got home and said we had to leave as soon as we could. He explained that there was an accident and that Gordon had died at the crash. We needed to get to the hospital right away as it didn’t sound like Robert would survive. We crowded into the Wadena hospital room. Robert gave his last gurgled breaths, then he died. 

It is believed there were several things that contributed to the collision. It was sleeting, and the car windows might have been a little fogged up. The train did not sound its horn, and it was coming from the west so the lights blended in with the town lights.

It was a day you never forget. Nor the days afterwards. My parents were friends with both families who owned the funeral homes, so they decided to have Kampsula’s prepare one body and Karvonen’s the other. The funeral was at the Apostolic Lutheran church with the Rev. George Wilson conducting the service. Ernie Niskala and Aldrich Lahti sang several Finnish hymns.

That Christmas was very hard for my family. I remember my mother returned several gifts she had already bought for Robert and Gordon. It was hard for Clarion’s family too. He was in Robert’s class, and they were very good friends. Clarion sustained serious injuries and it was a long time before he recovered. 

I know this wasn’t a story about a recipe, and I thank you for listening.”

Of course, Andy’s story should be shared. It was an event that changed his life forever. Thank you, Andy. A heartfelt embrace goes out to you and everyone else who has lost a loved one way too early because of a tragic mishap. 

After the funeral, the New York Mills Herald reported, “the crossing where the accident occurred is located about one-half mile east of the village.  It is an open crossing and has neither gates, as the crossings in town do, nor does it have any signal lights. A number of years ago two schoolgirls. Martha Telin and Ella Muckala, also lost their lives at this crossing in a similar type of accident.”

Thank goodness there are now more safeguards in place at railroad crossings today.