Liza Jane Train–Part 3: Stuart’s Engineer, Murray Johnston

Civil War Veteran

Murray Johnston was only 16 years old when he “heard the call of his country for more soldiers to fight in the great war between the states.” He enlisted at Davenport, where he had been born in 1849, in Co. E, 8th Regiment, Iowa Infantry. After the war he enlisted for three years in the 77th Regiment Infantry of the regular army, serving from 1866-1869.

Rock Island Railroad

Johnston began working as a railroad fireman for the Rock Island in Davenport, married Mary Bogart in 1874, moved with his family to Stuart about 1880, and made his home there.

He survived a terrible accident when two engines collided on January 10, 1899 at the Chautauqua switch just east of Council Bluffs. Murray Johnston was the engineer on engine No. 508. He and fireman John Colwell off and into a ditch. Colwell was killed when struck on the back of his head. A runaway boxcar sheared over Johnston, but he was okay. Two of the three men on the other engine, No. 829, were killed. I was told that the accident had been because the other engineer was intoxicated.


The engines were fused together after the wreck.


Iowa Soldiers and Sailors Monument

According to his daughter, Phyllis Kennedy Cameron, Murray Johnston was selected to haul Iowa’s Soldiers and Sailors monument in sections on flatbed rail cars from Peoria, Illinois to Des Moines.  Family members even got to witness the train arriving in Des Moines.

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Liza Jane

One winter engineer Johnston was on a return trip from Guthrie Center, according to his granddaughter, and got caught in a snowstorm. He was snow bound in Windy Gap for three days, having run out of coal and water.

Murray and Mary Johnston, Stuart, Iowa

Murray Johnston worked for the Rock Island Railroad for 42 years. His last run was on the Guthrie branch in 1912–on Engine #344, affectionately called Liza Jane, possibly a Baldwin.

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Picture taken the day of Murray Johnston’s last run on the Liza Jane, Engine No. 344.

He retired from the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad because of ill health.  


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Rock Island Railroad oil can belonged to Engineer Johnston. Now belongs to his great grandson, Kevan Cameron.

According to his obituary, among his “brother engineers” at his funeral were four from Rock Island, Illinois, and five from Valley Junction. John Murray Johnston is buried at South Oak Grove Cemetery in Stuart. (There are also family pictures on the Find-a-Grave cemetery link.)


Thanks for help with information and pictures from Engineer Johnston’s granddaughters, Phyllis (Kennedy) Cameron and Roberta Kennedy, and Phyllis Cameron’s daughter, Lori (Cameron) Lovett.


    • I found Murray Johnston’s granddaughter 20 years ago, after I’d had an essay published about the Liza Jane–actually, she wrote me several times. But just recently I found her daughter! In fact, I just sent her the original letters her mother had sent me. I certainly had fun with these three “stories.” How I would have loved one ride on old Liza across Guthrie County!

      Liked by 1 person

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