Home Haunted America Ghosts on The Rail: The Haunting of Express Car No. 5

Ghosts on The Rail: The Haunting of Express Car No. 5

by Jennifer Jones

On January 26, 1882, a small article hit the third page of the Reno Gazette-Journal entitled “A Haunted Car.” The article stated that the Wells, Fargo & Co’s messengers have detailed encounters they’ve had with the haunted express car. The car in question was Express Car No. 5 and during this time its typical route was between San Francisco and Ogden. An express car was a guarded car that was used to transport gold, silver, and other valuable items. Well-armed express messengers traveled in the car, something similar to the armored trucks of today.

According to the article, this particular car had been causing problems of the paranormal nature for a number of years. It had become so well known amongst the Wells, Fargo & Co’s messengers and other staff that the company sent it to Sacramento for a complete renovation in December of 1881. The messengers believed that this would “kill the ghost and return the car to the rail free from all demoralizing influence.” Unfortunately for them, that was not the case.

On January 24th, 1882, the car in question left San Francisco and the poor messenger assigned to the car had the experience of his life. He told the paper that the “ghost came in and tumbled the boxes of freight about, tolled bells, and made sweet music, and called the messenger by name.” Wait, what? What was happening in this car?! According to the unnamed messenger, the car’s previous trip before being sent to Sacramento was even worse. The messenger during that run reported hearing strange noises on the roof of the car. Thinking that he was in the process of being robbed he waited for the robbers to try and enter the car. When that didn’t happen and the noises on the roof ceased, he opened the door and looked around but saw nothing and everything was quiet. Here’s where things get extra weird. He closed the door and while walking back to the mail table “down came a box of cooked shrimps and a band-box.” Just imagine the smell of a box of cooked shrimps in an unrefrigerated car back in 1881. Yuck. The freight was tossed around and then everything went quiet.

Whoever wrote the article goes on to claim that on another occasion prior to the renovation the express car had a corpse in transit. The messenger stated that he saw the head and trunk of the man’s body rise up from the casket, take a look around, call the messenger by name, and then vanish. If I had to guess I would say that this was some exaggeration from the reporter or the person who relayed that experience had eaten a few too many of those cooked shrimps. So, what is the cause of the haunting, you ask? The article stated that the car was part of a train that was in an accident several years prior near Truckee, California in which Conductor Marshall and an express messenger were killed. It was this event that started the frequent paranormal experiences of all of those unlucky enough to be assigned to car No. 5. I wanted to see if I could track down any information about this train wreck that led to the haunting of the car and sure enough, I was able to verify that the wreck mentioned did happen, and the people involved were real.

Around October 20th, 1872 on the Central Pacific Railroad an east-bound train was heading for Reno when trouble struck about 3 to 4 miles east of Truckee. The cars somehow became detached from the engine and despite efforts to avoid a crash eventually caught up to and collided with the engine. The post office, express, and baggage cars were thrown from the track killing Conductor Marshall who was caught between the two sleeping cars while trying to put on the brakes. He was nearly cut in two. The Express Agent, John Hawks, Express Messenger, Van Wormer, and Postal Agent, Joseph Taylor were all killed in the accident.

The Haunted Car article of 1882 would not be the last we would hear about the infamous car No. 5, however. On March 7th, 1882, noted Wells, Fargo & Co’s Express Messenger Aaron Y. Ross reportedly took a shot at what he thought was a person standing inside of car No. 5. Ross, who would go on to become famous for single-handedly warding off a robbery of the car in January of 1883 was said to be a level-headed, non-drinker. He was 6’3”, weighed over 200 lbs, and had a “commanding presence.” (Ross would eventually retire from Wells Fargo at the age of 87 and died in Ogden in 1922 at the age of 93.)

Back to the story, because we’re not done with this express car yet. In January 1885 it was reported that Ross demanded a new car. He said that one evening he was working alone in the car and went to sleep around 10 pm. At midnight he was awoken by a noise that sounded like a box falling and being crushed. He got up and looked around, nothing seemed to be out of place, and figuring he must have dreamt it, he went back to sleep. The next time he was on the same route he again was woken up by the sound of a box falling and being crushed. This time, however, when he laid back down he heard the noise again. He said it would happen every night he was working this route and he eventually got used to it and would simply ignore the strange noises.

One night, however, the noise was unusually loud, and he sat straight up in his bed. As he looked around he saw the “shadowy figure of a man standing at his desk, pen in hand.” He couldn’t figure out how the man got in and when he grabbed his rifle the figure disappeared.

There weren’t any further mentions of car No. 5 until 1893. The car was now being used on the mail route between Los Angeles and El Paso. According to the article, there was a macabre death of a “tramp” who was riding underneath Central Pacific Car No. 5062 when it stopped at a water tank. The man was thrown from his seat, horribly mangled and killed. On the next trip when the train neared the spot where the accident occurred a “peculiar moaning was heard” and would continue until the site was some distance behind the train. Messengers would claim this would happen on every trip. It seems the unusual life of car No. 5 would come to an end near Lordsburg, New Mexico on December 10th, 1893 in a wreck.


  • The Daily Bee, 14 Oct 1872
  • The Mail, 7 Mar 1882
  • The Mail, 19 Jan 1885
  • Los Angeles Herald, 19 Dec 1893
  • Arizona Daily Star, 10 Dec 1893

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