Marshfield, October 1914: Backing the wrong horse
A former local train station agent is arrested in Chicago
By Kris Leonhardt
Born in Wisconsin in 1877, R. Frank Turnell would leave a notable history with the state and its railroad system. When his parents moved out to Washington state to run a hotel, Turnell remained to begin a substantial career with the Wisconsin Central Railway.
Working for the stations in Oshkosh, Wisconsin Rapids, and Stevens Point, where he met and married Anna Rothman, Turnell held various positions before leaving the railroad for a job as secretary to a Wisconsin Rapids paper mill.
After the mill filed bankruptcy in 1907, Turnell returned to the Wisconsin Central Company, where he had developed a solid reputation as a valued employee.
Turnell then filled positions in Waupaca, Fond du Lac, and finally Marshfield, where he worked as a cashier and station agent. While working with Wisconsin Central’s Marshfield depot, Turnell either grew restless or disgruntled and accepted a position with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.
The new position would take him to the north suburbs of Chicago, where he would work as station agent for the Evanston station at North Avenue.
By the time that Turnell and his wife arrived in the Chicago area, the city had already grown to over 2 million people. The railroad system had more than doubled since the turn of the century, and Chicago’s “L” had become the third longest metro railway in the world.
The city was bustling with activity, and horse racing was becoming one of its primary thrills. Harness and thoroughbred racing had grown to encompass 10 major race tracks in the area.
Turnell, always the dedicated railroad worker, was soon promoted to assistant cashier at the Evanston station. City life was treating Turnell well. However, it was not long before Turnell’s wife grew disillusioned with the city and returned home to her mother in Stevens Point.
Then, in the early weeks of October in 1914, Marshfield received news that its former trusted railroad agent had been arrested in Chicago. Charged with embezzlement, the railway was seeking retribution for the nearly $10,000 that had been taken by its prized employee.
Turnell admitted to the theft, which he had exhausted at the local race tracks. Although employed in a job with a stable salary well enough to provide for his family, Turnell had succumbed to the temptations of the riches that track-betting enticed.
After serving time, Turnell and his second wife Goldie moved to Akron, Ind. They would later return to Chicago, where Turnell would die at the age of 75.