From the Hammond Times , May 22, 1952
LOWELL -- Alcohol in six tank cars burst into flames here at 12:20 a.m. today when 30 cars of a 68-car Monon freight jumped the tracks and piled up four deep in the center of this centennial-celebrating town.
The town's business section was threatened when burning alcohol flowed down the streets and into gutters. A number of manhole covers were blown high into the air when the liquid ran into sewers and exploded.
Firemen from eight surrounding communities fought the flames, which at times leaped up to a height of 40 feet. Departments from Lowell, Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Lake Dalecarlia, Schneider, Shelby, St. John and Gary were still on the scene at 10 o'clock this morning putting out small scattered fires.
THE LOWELL depot, a 50-year-old landmark that had gained significance because of the town's 100th anniversary, was "smashed into kindling" by three freight cars. Later, flaming alcohol spewed over the building and destroyed it.
Ironically, Lowell recently had requested the Monon to repair and paint the depot because of the town's centennial celebration, scheduled for the latter part of August.
T.V. Sherrier, Monon superintendent who was on the scene directing operations of two railroad wreckers, said it will take up to midnight for the small army of workmen to clear the main line.
While he declined to comment on the amount of damage, it was estimated by one railroad official at $250,000. Sherrier said an immediate investigation will be held to determine the cause of the accident.
THE USUAL speed of Monon trains through Lowell is 40 miles an hour, Sherrier stated. A railroad spokesman in Chicago said the smashup probably was caused by a broken wheel.
The middle 30 cars of the train were derailed, Sherrier explained. He said the first 16 cars were pulled to Louisville by the engine and that the rear 24 cars were hauled back to Hammond. The train was headed out of Chicago for Louisville.
Twenty-eight of the 30 cars that tipped over were loaded with alcohol, meat, syrup and steel. The other two cars were empty.
Sherrier said trains will be rerouted from Monon, Ind., to Wilders, where they will be switched over to the Erie tracks which run into Hammond. He said it will take at least two days before all the wreckage is removed.
BUD QUALE, a Lowell mechanic, was one of two eyewitnesses to the crash, He was in his car about 250 feet west of the tracks when the smashup occurred.
When the cars started toppling, Quale said he backed up quickly, as did a car in front of him, driven by a woman.
The fire started immediately after the pile-up, Quale said, "and for a while it looked like the whole business district would go up in flames."
Fire departments, however, started arriving in a matter of minutes, but it took 200 firemen nearly four hours to control the blaze.
COMMERCIAL Ave., Lowell's main street, was still completely blocked late this morning by freight cars jammed on top of each other to a height of 30 feet.
Harold Heuson, 43-year-old volunteer fireman from Lowell, said intense heat kept firemen 100 feet away and hampered efforts to bring the blaze under control. "We thought the whole town was going up," Heuson said, "but the boys really pitched in to stop it. If the tank cars had gone 100 feet further, though, there wouldn't have been much we could have done to save the business section."
Firefighters feared the alcohol would "let go" after several small explosions rocked the area, but seven pump trucks spraying water and one foamite unit prevented a large blast.
AFTER THE wreck occurred, nearly all of Lowell's 1,700 residents rushed to the scene. This morning, 12 deputy sheriffs headed by Chief Deputy Sandor Singer were attempting to keep back the crowd and prevent injury.
"Meat, syrup, steel and splintered and smoldering cars jammed up for a distance of 800 feet along the tracks. Some of the alcohol flowed as far as 400 feet down the street, pouring into a sewer in front of the Cullen Chevrolet Sales shop.
Many residents were seen carrying off battered cans of meat, but a railroad official explained that because of the damage the meat is useless.
Shortly after the crash, a group of Lowell women, headed by Mrs. Fred Hutton, set up a coffee and sandwich stand to feed volunteer firemen who worked throughout the night.
The Monon superintendent explained that safety valves on the tank cars carrying alcohol prevented what might have been a tragic explosion.
Stories courtesy of Lowell Library/ Lowell Historical Society
Return to main page