Lowell Logo

Indianapolis Times, May 22, 1952

Derailment Spills 'River Of Flames' On Town

Volunteer Firemen Beat Down Threat

Lowell, May 22 - Volunteer firemen who "appeared from nowhere" were credited today with saving this Lake County town of 1800 from flaming destruction.

Twenty-eight cars of a 64-car Monon freight train were derailed and alcohol in six tank cars burst in the heart of the business district.

Burning alcohol flowed in the streets and flames licked at the buildings for several hundred feet each side of the railroad's crossing at Commercial St. in this Lake County town.

The depot was smashed into kindling by three large cars which landed on top of it.

Hero of the blaze was Claude Trump who maintained the night watch.

Help Summoned

The local volunteer firemen were summoned as soon as the first flames showed. Mr. Trump called the fire companies in seven communities, some as far as 30 miles away.

As the local firemen reached the exhaustion point and were ready to surrender the town's business district to the flames, reinforcements started to arrive. Firemen from Cedar Lake, Schneider, St. John, Shelby, Crown Point, Gary and Hammond joined the fight.

Water was of no use on the chemical fire and gallons of foamite were poured on the flames.

Intense Heat

Intense heat kept the firefighters 100 feet from the burning liquid. "We thought the whole town was going up," Harold Heuson, 43, a Lowell fireman said. "But the other boys got here in time - pitched in and saved us."

A Monon spokesman said the accident was apparently caused by a locked wheel. The train was No. 71 southbound from Chicago to Louisville. The engineer was Claude Smith of Lafayette. No one was injured.

'A Miracle'

"It was a miracle," said Bob Cullen, owner of the Chevrolet agency here. His car agency is only 100 feet from the crossing.

"Flames licked right at the walls of my building, but the foamite put them out as fast as they popped up. If it had been during the day a dozen people would have been around the depot.

The town is celebrating its Centennial this year and at one point a stream of burning alcohol threatened a covered wagon. A dozen spectators dashed in and pulled the wagon away from the flames.

Alva Pletcher, member of the town board, said that despite the flames, which leaped 100 feet in the air, there was little damage. "It just burned in the streets," he said. "I even went home and got the kids so they could see it."

State Police said the intersection of Ind. 2 and the railroad was buried 4 feet deep in smashed freight cars and wreckage which was still smoldering at daylight. Traffic was blocked on the main highway for several miles.

Special Monon wrecking crews were dispatched from Monon, Indianapolis and Chicago and expect to have the track open for traffic later today.


Return To Main Page