Alice (Poppe) Haberlin
Alice (Poppe) Haberlin is one of two eyewitnesses to the accident. Alice was sitting in her vehicle, on the west side of the Commercial Avenue crossing , the first vehicle at the crossing. Bud Quale, a mechanic for Hardings Inc. was sitting behind her in the second vehicle. Bud has passed away, leaving Alice as the only "true" eyewitness to the wreck. When I was told that Alice was still around Lowell, I was excited and knew I must contact her. Our first conversation astounded me. She told me that none of the newspapers had contacted her for an interview. She stated that she spoke briefly to one radio station the morning of the accident, however, she could not remember if they even aired the interview. Here are her recollections of the events on the morning of May 22, 1952.
" I guess you could say that I really was the only true eyewitness. I witnessed the wreck, in a sense. It was really dark out and things just happened so fast. To be honest the whole thing happened so fast I didn't realized right away what was happening. I was waiting at the crossing on my way home from work that morning. I was employed at a restaurant out at Route 2 and U.S. Highway 41 and had just finished working the 4-12 shift. I was on my way home. At the time I was still living with my parents at 349 Castle Street in Lowell. Our house was on the east side of the railroad tracks and north of the downtown area.
Like I said, I had worked the 4-12 shift at this restaurant on 2 and 41 and was headed home. The fellow I was dating at the time had gone on ahead of me and was suppose to meet me at my parent's house. As I waited for the train to approach, it did seem louder than normal, but after having been caught there many times waiting for trains, I was use to waiting. As the freight cars passed the crossing, in my headlights, they seemed to be jumping and moving funny. Very erratically would be a better word. I didn't realize what was happening until it was over. I looked up and noticed that there were now several railroad cars piled up in the crossing, crossways on the tracks. It looked like they were three or four layers high at some points.
One of the cars laying in the crossing was an oil tank car, or tank car. When it suddenly burst into flames, that is when I realized what had happened and my reactions took over. At one point the flames were probably 30 to 40 feet high. Sitting between two gas stations and fearing the tank car could blow up, I put the car in reverse and attempted to back away. I was very frightened and could only get back up the street to where the hotel was. It was hardly a block from the crossing, now engulfed in flames. There were rumors circulating around town for years that I backed up all the way to the edge of town. Quite frankly, it was not true. In fact it was impossible. I was so frightened, I'm preety lucky to get as far as I did. I had escaped the fires which were now burning uncontrolled at the crossing and hadn't run into something backing up as far as I did.
A friend of mine found me there. By the hotel. He had heard the train coming and said that he believed it was shooting sparks before getting into downtown Lowell. He was also worried that I had been hit by the train. I'm not sure how long we remained there. Maybe for an hour or so. Like I said, a friend of mine was sure I had been hit. When he found me by the hotel, he just wanted to make sure I got home safe. I would say that we remained there an hour or less. Besides watching, there wasn't much else to do. Fire departments started to arrive on that side of the tracks. I suppose I was still pretty frightened about the whole incident, so I decided to go on home. I had come close enough to everything.
The next day, or later that morning, I learned that those cars jumping across the crossing in front of my car had lost their wheels as they entered the crossing. I remember hearing also that a number of the wheels were driven into the ground on top of each other. I was contacted by a reporter from a radio station. He came to the house and interviewed me for their broadcast. I can't recall what radio station it was, or if they ever used the interview. I was young and still nervous and if I remember correctly, I laughed a whole lot.
My friend, the one who came to find me at the hotel, ended up my husband. He spent time with me down there that morning, but he passed away. I wish there was more that I can remember, or say that I saw it coming. It all happened so fast. I know the trains move fast through town at night. You sit and wait for the train. You just get use to it, and don't pay that close attention, or think that something like that could happen. When the fire started, that caught my attention. I suppose it could have been much worse. I suppose I was lucky that I wasn't injured or that others were not killed or injured. "
-Alice (Poppe) Haberlin, March 28, 2000-
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