Lowell Logo

From the Gary Post Tribune , May 22, 1952


No One Injured

A Monon freight train wreck brought a spectacular fire to downtown Lowell early today.

The 30-car derailment and ensuing blaze, fed mainly by industrial alcohol, fuel oil and gasoline from six wrecked tank cars, had three primary results

1. Tumbling cars splintered the three-room freight and passenger station and the spreading fire completed its destruction.

2. The fluid-fed fires ran down the gutters of the town's Main street, blocking traffic on busy Ind. 2.

3. Many of Lowell's 1,600 residents - the men bearded in preparation for the town's centennial celebration - were roused from their sleep to watch the fire which broke out with a roar about 1:15 a.m.

4. Some 150 firemen from five other Lake County communities, including Gary, fought the blaze more than four hours before bringing it under control.

5. Damage, primarily to railroad property and freight, was estimated "roughly" by a Monon official at $250,000.00. The value of.

One In Texas, Too

Odessa, Tex., May 22 (AP)

- Eight runaway railroad tank cars filled with high octain gasoline roared into Odessa last night, crashed into a switch engine and exploded, starting a huge warehouse fire.

No injuries were reported. The crash took place only a few blocks west of the business section in this west Texas town of 30,000 persons.

The cars apparently began rolling from a siding near a carbon black plant 12 miles west of Odessa.

There were no immediate explanation about how the cars broke loose.

the 50,000 gallons of alcohol consumed was estimated at $30,000.00.

On the credit side were these results:

1. No one was injured.

2. While the entire business district seemed threatened at one time by the gutter-carried flames, only a few structures near the railroad were scorched.

Immediately after the wreck, which firemen said aparently cracked seams in the tank cars, alcohol began pouring on the town's main street was soon ignited.

Quick Calls For Help

Realizing they were unable to cope with the fast spreading blaze, Lowell volunteer firemen sent out quicks calls for help.

Responding were fire fighting units from Gary, St. John, Crown Point, Hebron and Shelby.

Chief Joseph Zale said Gary sent a combination truck from the Glenn Park station and the high pressure truck from the Ambridge station.

Gary firemen took 20 cans of foamite to add to five or six on hand in Lowell for use in smothering the blaze.

Firemen were fed from a nearby coffee shop which opened voluntarily to help.

Many Lowell residents wakened members of their families and hurried outside the flaming district. Others began moving furniture from their homes.

Steaks For Some

Two of the smashed freight cars were loaded with molasses which also flowed onto the streets. The molasses and alcohol mixed, flowed into a sewer and this mixture exploded in one sewer, blowing a manhole cover more than 100 feet into the air. Luckily, the heavy cover fell into a backyard where none of the onlookers was standing.

The wreck brought steaks to several Lowell residents. Refrigerator cars caught in the wreck were smashed open, dumping large quantities of meat onto the pavement. Witnesses reported some bystanders made a dash for the free meat and walked away with their arms loaded.

The 69-car train, bound from Chicago to Louisville, was being pulled by two diesel locomotives. They and the 15 front cars remained on the rails. All members of the train crew had time to jump to safety before the alcohol caught fire.

Blames Broken Wheel

The train was in charge of Engineer Claude Smith and Conductor Frank Elliot, both of Lafayette.

Lowell Police Chief Harry N. Brown said members of the train crew told him it was caused by a broken wheel. Other rail officials said, however, they were not sure whether a locked or broken wheel was to blame.

The locomotive and first 15 cars of the train continued on to Louisville this morning. A section of the cars on the rear end were hauled back to Hammond.

Wrecking crews began clearing the debris but it appeared traffic would not be restored until some time tonight.

Meanwhile, passenger and freight trains between Chicago and Louisville and Chicago and Indianapolis were being rerouted over the Erie railroad tracks to Wilders, where they were switched back to the branch of the Monon that operates between the city of Monon and Michigan City.

Last September, a Monon passenger train wrecked the station at the city of Monon.

The passenger train roared around a curve, left the rails and demolished the limestone station.

Story courtesy of The Post Tribune/ Lake County Public Library

Return to main page