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From the Chicago Sun-Times , May 22, 1952

Wreck in Lowell, Ind.



Blasts Rocks Town After Freight Wreck

Explosions rocked the town of Lowell, Ind., Thursday morning as thousands of gallons of flaming alcohol poured out of a derailed Monon Line freight train.

Burning tank cars, loaded with alcohol, gasoline and fuel oil, tied up travel on the town's main street and highway leading to Indianapolis. Thirty cars of the 69-car train left the rails.

The derailed cars plunged into the town's depot, setting it ablaze. Police said the depot crumbled "like a house of cards."


No one was killed or hurt, police said after hours of searching through the smoldering debris.

The fire, seen in the night sky for miles, was under control after 150 firemen fought it for more than six hours.

Indiana state police said it was "a miracle" no one was in the station at the time. Thousands of residents in the Lowell area, which is about 35 miles south of Chicago in Lake County, Ind., rushed to the scene.

In the center of town derailed cars were piled four deep. Flames, drawn upward by the volatile alcohol, shot three stories high.


The first explosion was followed by a series of blasts as the burning fuel seeped into the sewers. The explosions sent manhole covers high into the air.

One witness said, "They went up like tiddlywinks disks."

The blasts knocked pictures and mirrors off walls, smashed windows and dishes for blocks around.

Firemen sprayed the tank cars with foamite.

Bud Quale, 28, of Lowell, a witness, said the wreck seemed to have been caused by a faulty wheel. He said he thought one wheel on a car buckled.


"Then the cars swayed and piled up and began to burn," he told police.

The heat from the blazing alcohol kept firemen 100 feet away. Harold Heuson, 43, Lowell volunteer fireman said :

"We thought the whole town was going up, but the boys really pitched in to stop it.

"If the tank cars had gone 100 feet farther, though, there wouldn't have been much we could have done to save the business section."

The firefighters prevented additional explosions by focusing the hoses of seven pump trucks and a foamite unit on several cars full of alcohol that had not caught fire from the other burning cars.


The train was en route from Hammond to Lafayette, Ind., on the Monon's main line.

Police Chief Harry N. Brown of Lowell said the cars left the rails as the train passed through the downtown district. The tank cars turned over, bursting into flame, and other derailed cars piled up alongside the railroad right-of-way.

Monon road officials had no comment on the cause of the accident nor estimate of the damage.

Stories courtesy of Lowell Library/ Three Creeks Historical Society

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