Kaysville • In an instant, Rulon and Emily Barnes lost all three of their children in a horrific car-train collision but they refused to become bitter.
Instead, the Kaysville couple concentrated on benefiting youths in the community and left Barnes Park as part of their legacy.
And now, 66 years after the three Barnes boys and three other Kaysville children died in the crash, a new sign pays tribute to the pair who worked so hard to help others. The memorial is the Eagle Scout project of 15-year-old Alex Jenkins, who raised the total cost of $1,500 by wrapping Christmas presents and gathering donations.
“I wanted to help raise awareness about the six children,” said Alex, who will be a sophomore this fall at Davis High School.
He scoured the park at 950 W. 200 North to find the best spot for his project, which was unveiled there last week.
The sign says, in part: “Barnes Memorial Park is the fulfillment of Rulon and Emily’s desire for a safe place for children and families to play.”
The park, which includes land where the Barnes dairy farm once stood, grew out of tragedy.
On March 21, 1947, seven children and two adults piled into a sedan to return from a Friday night movie in Layton. In the back seat were Harold Rice Barnes, 14; Sterling Dee Barnes, 10; David Rulon Barnes, 6; David Sandall, 13; Carol Lee Preslar, 11; and Jo Ann Webster, 10. Jo Ann’s 21-year-old sister, Dorothy, and 12-year-old brother, Dee, were sitting in the front seat with their father, Wilford Webster, who was driving.
As the sedan approached a Kaysville railroad crossing, a southbound freight train passed through, according to Chloe Thompson, a cousin of the Barnes children. Wilford Webster’s view was blocked by cargo cars stacked by the tracks, she said, and he proceeded through the crossing.
All but the back bumper had made it across the tracks when a train going north at 65 mph smashed into the vehicle and “tore the car apart,” Thompson said. The six children in the back were killed and the three people sitting in the front seat were severely injured.
The deaths shook Kaysville and brought national attention. Thompson said the Barnes parents received sympathy letters from around the county, some of them addressed simply to “The family who lost three children, Kaysville, Utah.”
She said her aunt and uncle never blamed Webster.
“He [Rulon Barnes] always said, ‘This is no one’s fault. It was just a horrible accident,’ ” Thompson said.
The couple — who had previously lost an infant boy and did not have more children after their other sons died — were devastated but able to turn their grief into something positive.
Emily and Rulon Barnes, who was the first bishop of Kaysville’s 6th Ward for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were close to Thompson and treated her children as their grandchildren. They also were involved in numerous community and church projects.
“When it [the accident] happened, they just zeroed in on children,” Thompson said. “Whenever it had to do with kids, they were the first ones there.”
Rulon Barnes passed away in 1980 at age 73. Three years later, his widow donated the first 8 acres to the city for Barnes Park — farmland that would have gone to her sons had they lived. The Barnes donation eventually totaled about 30 acres.
Over the years, the park has grown to 45 acres and includes a large playground, sand volleyball courts and softball fields. Thompson said Rulon and Emily Barnes, who was 88 when she died in 1995, wanted a facility that families could use.
“They would love the park like this,” she said.
Alex Jenkins got the idea to put up a memorial sign when his mother, Sherri Jenkins, was researching famous people from Kaysville and found information on the 1947 accident.
Her son wanted to tell the Barnes Park story so the Jenkins family contacted Thompson and everyone agreed that the sign would be done only if pictures of all six children were included.
Photographs of five of the children were tracked down and a newspaper picture of David Sandall was digitally enhanced. Alex Jenkins provided the money and two Kaysville Parks and Recreation employees, Bekki Argyle and Tracy Murray, designed the sign.
Vance Garfield, Kaysville parks and recreation supervisor, who helped build the park, said the Barneses would approve of the sign, with the deaths of all six children acknowledged.
“I knew Emily. She loved to go to Barnes Park while they were building it,” Garfield said. “She loved to watch the children run and play.”
More to come
A sign that tells the story of Barnes Park is the first of 13 planned for significant spots in Kaysville. The places that officials hope to eventually mark include the Clover Club potato chip factory, the Bamberger Electric Railway and Kay’s Ward.