The Southern Pacific railroad tracks have always been dangerous in Madera. Beginning in 1877, scores of people have lost their lives on them — some within a few feet of the downtown depot. While in most cases, the victims were transients with no known next of kin, in one instance a very prominent Maderan fell victim to the steam and steel that ran through the heart of town.
Caroline Kegel and her husband, Charles, had come to Madera in 1885. The couple purchased a farm on the north bank of the Fresno River, near where the Schnoor Bridge is now located. For 30 years they were pillars of the community. Their two children were born just before the turn of the century and attended local schools. By 1916, their daughter, Frieda, was enrolled at Mills College near Oakland, while their son, Francis, attended Madera High School. Mrs. Kegel was very active in the social life of Madera, particularly that of her church, which made her sudden death all the more tragic.
On the day before Mother’s Day, 1916, Caroline had come to Madera in the family buggy, hitched to a single horse. She had completed her Saturday morning shopping and was headed out of town on Central Avenue, which at the time was on the outskirts of town.
No one knows why she didn’t see the train coming that day. R.G. Vaden, a young man who was shoveling rocks nearby, said that she appeared to be deep in thought, driving along with her head bowed. Ren Miller, the driver of one of the city’s water wagons, told later that the horse was just plodding along toward the tracks, as unconcerned about the oncoming cars as the driver appeared to be...