William S. Dolson

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22

Originally published to Facebook on December 17, 2021.

Today’s Facebook Friday North Platte History looks at a railroad pioneer: William S Dolson.

William S. Dolson was born in Lansing, Iowa in 1857 to John A and Lucretia (Taylor) Dolson. At age 16, Dolson started his railroad career as a machinist’s helper in Sidney, Nebraska. By 1874 he was promoted to fireman and in 1886 promoted to a locomotive engineer. Dolson came to North Platte shortly after being promoted to engineer, age 29.

On April 10, 1878, William S. Dolson married Miss Margaret E. Platt (1857-1914) and they had five children together:

  1. Ralph Leo (1881-1903) was born at Sidney, Nebraska and graduated from North Platte High School. He became a railway fireman and died tragically in a railroad accident at age 22.
  2. Frances E. (1883-1934), married J.D. Wolbach, an engineer for the Union Pacific in North Platte.
  3. William A. (1885-1943) grew up in North Platte and worked for the Grain Exchange in Omaha, Nebraska.
  4. Frederick C. (1888-1930) grew up to work in the machine and welding business in Oakland California.
  5. Howard F. (1891-1918) died of influenza in Grand Junction Colorado in 1918. He was 27 years old.

On January 24, 1903, Ralph F. Dolson and William S. Dolson were involved in a serious train wreck in the Gothenburg train yards. William Dolson was the engineer for a passenger train heading west and the train was moving quickly to make up time, as they were behind schedule. An ice train was waiting to go on their way. On the train was an engineer and Ralph Dolson, William’s son and a UP fireman. The ice train knew the passenger train would be arriving, but didn’t believe it would arrive for at least an hour, so they went ahead and started the track switching process for the ice train.

When William saw the ice train engine on the same train tracks as his engine, he was running at 50 miles per hour and knew it was too late to stop. When the engines collided in the switch yards, William was thrown out of the cab and the engine rolled over him. William survived with minimal cuts and bruises. After the crash, William began looking for survivors, as he knew his son was on the other engine. He found the engineer of the ice train who had several injuries. And then he found Ralph in the mangled train engine. According to newspaper accounts, Ralph’s right leg had been torn away at the hip and his left leg was cut off below the knee. William pulled him from the wreckage and carried him into the Gothenburg Depot, where he passed away from his injuries.

Throughout William S. Dolson’s life, he exercised good business judgement and acquired a large amount of property. He platted and sold a twenty acre addition to North Platte called The Dolson Addition. The Dolson Addition was located on the North side of the tracks just north of the new roundhouse. Lots were being advertised in 1913 that were for sale. The lots were being promoted as being perfect for those railroaders working in the new roundhouse. <See advertisement>

Dolson also owned twenty-six hundred acres of land in Texas! This land was perfect for his favorite thing to do when not on a locomotive—hunting. Dolson was an expert marksman and entered shooting Tournaments, many of which, he won. He was the manager of the local Gun Club for many years in North Platte. William was most proud of the medals he was given by the Buffalo Bill Gun Club in both 1903 and 1904, and also, a vase awarded by the Hunter Arms Company at the Omaha contest in 1903.

William Dolson also built three houses in North Platte. Two of them he sold right after they were finished. The third one was his pride and joy.

On July 28, 1911, the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune announced that work had started on Dolson’s two-story residence. On January 18th, 1912 the newspaper published a much longer article, again on the front page, titled “Beautiful Home Now Complete.” That article talked once again about the many features of the grand home and it focused on one room in the house which Dolson was most proud of—the den. The den which was a little room at the front of the house on the second floor and William called it “the handsomest room of the house”. It was decorated with his many pictures, trophy’s, and medals that he had won in all his marksman matches. Some of the elaborate features of this home were:
• a furnace complete with an automatic clock arrangement for the regulation of heat;
• a complete laundry department in the basement-including an electric ironer and washer (washing machine);
• two dumbwaiters (one from the basement to the attic and the other rom the cellar to the pantry);
• speaking tubes (designed to help people communicate across floors;
• first floor finished in oak trim;
• dining room with built-in china cabinet that covered the entire wall;
• the second floor boasted four large bedrooms, all finished in mission wood;
• the third floor was a store room (storage)—but the 3rd floor also had a shower/bath installed as well;
• steam radiators;
• vacuum attachments on every floor; and
• Telephone wiring was installed throughout the house

On May 30, 1913, Mrs. Dolson died unexpectedly. She had been to the North Platte Cemetery to decorate graves and returned home, where she had a stroke and passed away.

In 1915, William S. Dolson married again, this time to a Mrs. Anna T. Guendell, a widow, of Grand Island Nebraska. They divorced in 1920.

William S. Dolson retired from the railroad in 1922, with 45 years of service to the Union Pacific. William passed away in 1928, at home, in his beloved den.

Please join us again next Friday-for more North Platte History!

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