Topic - Southern Belle &
Extra 51-A Troop Train Collision
August 10, 1951

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Tragedy Near Lettsworth, Louisiana


Photo by Langston McEachern


The passenger train Southern Belle collided with a 15-car troop train (Extra 51-A North) near Lettsworth, Louisiana on the morning of August 10, 1951.  The Southern Belle was operated by the Louisiana and Arkansas Rail Company, a subsidiary of the Kansas City Southern Rail Company.  The Southern Belle was en route to New Orleans and the troop train was north-bound with 288 US Marines en route to San Diego, California.  A sign painted on the side of the troop train read, "Korea Bound".  Many of the Marines were in the back of the train having breakfast in a dining car at the time of the early morning collision.

There were nine fatalities at the scene of the wreck and one civilian fatality associated with the accident.  Seven crew members, one civilian passenger, and one Marine died. The Marine was trapped in a burning car, wedged so tightly in the debris that he could not be rescued by his fellow Marines before he was engulfed in flames.  J.A. Platt, the Pullman conductor on the troop train, said his engineer was thrown about 40 yards into the woods and died from the impact. One passenger died of a heart attack after the collision.  A nine-year old boy died when he was hit by a car while riding his pony to the accident site.  Dozens of passengers were injured in the fiery crash.  Twenty-six Marines were injured--five in serious condition. 

The collision took place three miles north of Lettsworth where the flat timber/cotton land was swampy and the railroad track was curved. The accident was caused by human error on the part of a troop train crew member.  The Southern Belle was on schedule and traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour.  Although Extra 51-A should have moved over to a side track to allow the Southern Belle to continue on its journey, it didn't. It continued to operate on the main track at a speed of 40 miles per hour.

Four cars and two engines burned as a result of the collision due to diesel oil spillage.  Furniture from the cars were strewn across the tracks and the more than 50 nurses and doctors called to the scene found death and injury, bloody bandages and marine shirts splattered with blood when they arrived. Three hospitals and one undertaking business sent ambulances to the crash site and medical personnel brought blood plasma and other emergency supplies.  Five nurses and two nurse's aides from the Baptist Hospital showed up to help, as did ten nurses and two Sisters from the Catholic Hospital. 

The seriously injured were taken to Baton Rouge and the St. Joseph Clinic at New Roads.  Plauche Clinic at Morganza had over two dozen patients from the trains and some nearby citizens took the less injured into their homes. Marines and train personnel made heroic efforts to rescue passengers.  Mangled metal and fire hampered them, but they managed to save many lives that morning.

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Southern Belle Fatalities

Cunningham, Joseph Kenneth (Paris, Texas)

Joseph was born February 08, 1906 in Paris, Texas, the son of Joseph W. Cunningham (1822-1931) and Edna Bishop Cunningham (1877-1964).  He was married to Ara Smith Cunningham (1909-1999).  Joseph died of a heart attack just after the collision.  The Cunninghams are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Paris.

Lucine, Walter (fireman, Shreveport)

Rainey, Leonard Lee (engineer, Shreveport)

Leonard was born July 30, 1884 in Sanford, Mississippi, a son of Marion Malcolm Rainey (1855-1927) and S. Rebekah Quick Rainey (1860-1904).  He was married to Mary T. Weathersby Rainey (1889-1949).  They were parents of Mary E. Rainey Laird (1915-1978) and Carl Bruce Rainey (1922-1986).  His  brother was John Lewellyn Rainey (1879-1937). Leonard is buried in Greenwood Memorial Park, Pineville, Louisiana.

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Extra 51-A Troop Train Fatalities

Lipa, Cpl. Chester Louis (Detroit, Michigan)

Chester was born March 11, 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, a son of Stanley A. Lipa (1904-1972) and Anna R. Salima Lipa (1908-1984).  His brother was Anthony Stanley Lipa (1939-2009).  The Lipas are buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Detroit.

Marcotte, Alcide William Sr. (conductor, New Orleans)

Alcide was born February 26, 1897 in Rexmere, Louisiana, a son of John Rusk Marcotte (1871-1937) and Falonise A. Recoulley Marcotte (1874-1908).  He was married to Maude Ella "Madeline" Hess Marcotte (1899-2000).  They were parents of a daughter, Jane Marcotte, and a son, A.W. Marcotte, Jr.  Alcide's siblings were Mrs. Luna Rabin, Mrs. John Laws, Mrs. Merrick Tassin, Mrs. Joe Gregory, R.H. Marcotte, David Marcotte, and William Marcotte.  Alcide had been an employee of the Louisiana and Arkansas (Kansas City Southern Lines) for 33 years.

Moore, B.I. (trainmaster, Minden, Louisiana)

His wife was Irene Booth Moore.

More, C. (brakeman, Shreveport)

Reed, James (fireman, New Orleans)

Yates, Claud Arthur (engineer, New Orleans)

Claud was born February 12, 1909 in Birta, Arkansas

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Fatality - Age Nine

Stears, Aubrey Jr.

Mention of Aubrey's death appears in the Madera Tribune, Volume 60, No. 111, 11 August 1951.  He and his pony both died.  It's possible his last name was Spears instead of Stears.  The KWE hasn't clarified that one way or the other.

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Survivors (incomplete list)

Marran, Annetta H. Eschbach

Annetta (1887-1971) married Ray Marran in 1910.  She and her husband are buried in Mount Saint Mary Catholic Church Cemetery, Kansas Ciity, Missouri.

Marran, Raymond Joseph

Raymond was born July 03, 1886 in Hot Springs, Arkansas and died October 16, 1958 in Kansas City, Missouri.  He was the executive secretary of the Kansas City fire department at the time he was in the train crash.

Platt, J.A.

Conductor on the troop train.



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