ASHLAND, OHIO SEPT. 1943
SPECTACULAR TRAIN WRECK
DESTROYS LOCAL WAR
230,000 Gallons of Gasoline Burns;
Loss is $250,000
A truck plunging from an Erie railroad tank car last night touched off fires and explosions that will total a quarter million dollars in damage, wrecking a war industry and bringing Ashland one of the most disastrous nights in its history.
An estimated 230,000 gallons of gasoline went up in flames to create havoc in the Cottage-Church-Union street railroad district and threaten widespread damage to the city’s industry. As flaming gasoline poured through a big storm sewer another section of town in the vicinity of Myers field faced additional threat.
The Eagle Rubber Company, a total war industry, was virtually destroyed.
The Erie freight house is in ashes. The Erie passenger station, recently rebuilt following an explosion and fire in June, was badly damaged.
Twenty-three tank cars of gasoline went up in flames.
Another score of freight cars on sidings were destroyed.
The Lafayette café was badly damaged, the idle Erie café was gutted, five automobiles were destroyed, windows by the hundreds were shattered.
Six persons in an automobile which was struck by the wheels which slashed out from under the tank car were alive today—miracle of the fire.
Greatest massing of fire fighting equipment in Ashland’s history saved the city. Nine out of town departments sent equipment here to battle the flames that leaped 200 feet into the air.
Fire Chief Paul Soles heroically led the fire fighters from Ashland, Mansfield, Shelby, Wooster, Norwalk, Polk, West Salem, Hayesville, Lodi and Medina. Chief Soles himself dragged hoses over burning cars, actually leading the fire fighting as well as directing it. Fireman from every department showed similar gallantry.
City police, Sheriff’s department and Highway patrolmen were joined by the full force of Ashland Civilian defense auxiliaries, Volunteer police, air raid wardens, fireman maintenance men and demolition crews were all on hand, not only in the vicinity of the fire, but handling traffic and controlling crowds.
As the eastbound train of 23 tank cars reached the Cottage Street crossing at 11:05 last night, a four wheel truck tore loose from under the fourth car of the train it crashed through the flasher signal on the south side of the crossing and drove on into an automobile, operated by Ed Kestner, well known farmer who lives near Savannah, which was standing waiting for the crossing to clear.
Kestner and four other occupants of the automobile, which was mashed in and rolled over by the collision, managed to crawl out of the overturned car. Miss Mary Keener, who lives at Kestners, was pinned under the car, which was righted to rescue her.
Miss Keener, whose home is at R.D.1 Nankin, sustained multiple lacerations of scalp and face, compound fracture of right jaw, possible fractures of vertebrae, lacerations of left knee, multiple contusions and abrasions and shock. Her condition was reported as “fair” at Samaritan hospital.
Kestner suffered minor lacerations of the right side of the face and right hand. Glenn Benner and three children, Rachel, Viola and Robert Benner, who were also in the car, received only minor injuries. They were not treated at the hospital.
WIRES RIPPED DOWN
After striking the Kestner car, the tank car wheels plowed into a service pole, ripping down electric wires serving that section and bringing a blackout that added to difficulties of firemen and other workers.
As the car from which the wheels had come went hurtling down the grade to the depot, other cars of the train began pilling up in zig-zag fashion. As gasoline, leaked from the cars, the first explosion was heard about 11:15. It was followed by succeeding sharp explosions and roaring bursts of flame.
As the 23 cars on the gasoline train piled up, other cars were ignited on nearby tracks. They included three coaches used by work crews and boxcars holding cotton batting cloth and miscellaneous items.
Carlton Tucker, 15, of 1006 Cottage Street was cut about the forehead and sustained a possible fractured skull while helping firemen. His condition is fair.
Herman Stone of 250 East Ninth street was hurt while working at the Garber plant. He sustained severe lacerations of the arm.
Oil from the wrecked cars gushed down the tracks as far as the Orange street crossing, igniting cars along the way.
POURS INTO SEWER
Flaming oil poured into the big storm sewer, which drains the industrial district and burst out in Town creek, near the Myers field house. Manhole covers popped into the air as gas generated in the sewer exploded. Polk Fire department kept working the flames away from the sewer opening to prevent major explosions in the big line. Vegetation along the creek was burned, but nearby buildings were saved, including the field house. Nearest the fire came to the field house was the tackling dummy post, which was burned.
Dean Baker, Erie ticket agent, had a pair of narrow escapes. As the oil cars piled up at the crossing, several jackknifed into the end of the depot. After his escape from there, Baker was in the doorway of the depot when fragments were hurled in his direction by one of the explosions.
Second floor of the Eagle Rubber Company. Inc. was burned out completely. It was here that the company made sealed tube life belts, delousing bags and food bags. Back of the first floor, where inspecting, packing and cutting were done, was not damaged extensively. Some lifebelts which were ready for shipment to the nations armed forces were undamaged.
Damages could not be estimated today because of the fire which was smoldering and charred lumber which continued to drop.
Richard Long, executive vice president of the Eagle firm, said an attempt will be made to rehabilitate the plant and if that is impossible, efforts will be made to find other factory quarters. Office workers were on duty at the Eagle today, the office building not being damaged.
The Lafayette café, a one story yellow brick building, owned by Mrs. Hannah Gapster, was gutted, almost completely ruined even though the walls are standing. A small quantity of stock was being salvaged there today.
The Erie café, not operated recently was destroyed. Garage of the Ohio Novelty Company, at the rear of the Erie café, was destroyed, along with two automobiles belonging to the Novelty Company. The Novelty company office was saved.
Fifteen hundred windows of the Form and Stationery department of the A.L. Garber company plant were broken. This department was idle today. Windows were broken in the F.E. Myers & Bro. Company plant.
The plant was closed today because of danger from gas and oil fumes.
Windows were broken, the roof damaged and paint blistered at the Jamison & Nelson coal yard. The J. L. Donely & Bro. Elevator, which was threatened for a time with destruction, was saved with only loss of some windows. A car loaded with wheat helped protect the elevator as flames came close to the big building.
There were 291 windows broken in the Dr. Hess & Clark, Inc., plant. Plate glass windows in the office were broken and force of one of the explosions tore a lock out of a door at the Orange street entrance and ripped open a lock on a garage door.
Prompt action of utility repairmen in taking care of live wires eliminated grave danger from that source as the fire attracted hundreds of spectators. The live wire, incidentally, added difficulty to the rescue of Miss Keener from the wrecked automobile.
There was virtually mass evacuation of the area. When lights went out at the Simmons plant. Interrupting war work there, all employees left the plant. Nearby residents picked up valuables and left, others packed their belongings in automobiles ready to flee. Porches this morning were littered with belongings that had been moved out.
Inexplicable is the small number of injuries when the repeated explosions are considered. It was an explosion in a freight car that knocked down and injured the Tucker boy, who was holding a hose nozzle at the freight house. Men directly back of him were unharmed.
Large pieces of metal were sent flying by the blast. Many were flung over the heads of firemen. One large piece was thrown down Orange street. As James Donley stood on the roof of the Donley plant, a big piece of metal several feet in diameter, went flying over.
The flames were visible for many miles. Mike Kreuger said he saw the flames while in Norwalk. Persons returning from the football game at Norwalk said they could be seen in Fitchville. They were observed in Mansfield. I.M. Thomas, who was riding in the octopus at the county fair, saw the first tank car explosion. As the flames leaped high, most of the crowd at the fair started for town.
The Salvation Army went on duty in the center of the fire area with a coffee, doughnut and sandwich stand in front of Donleys. Salvation Army workers remained on duty throughout the night.
With all rail traffic blocked, Erie trains were rerouted over the Big Four. Railroad workers from Galion, Mansfield, Bucyrus and Norwalk were here today working to clear up the debris and lay new tracks.
Last night’s disaster was first test of the Civilian Defense cooperative program for the departments. Cities recently passed ordinances authorizing lending of equipment to any city in need. The first such calls made in this section were answered quickly, some of them within 30 minutes after the State Highway Patrol had broad calls for help.
The fire threw a heavy burden on the Star Telephone Company. From 11:00 p.m. until 2 a.m., the telephone company handled 5,575 calls. It was necessary to have 17 operators on duty after the fire started. Long distance lines were reserved for emergency call only.
There was more water poured on the multitude of fires last night than had ever been thrown in fire fighting here. Despite this, Mayer Glenn Haller said today there was no danger of water famine here and that the supply was adequate not only for normal uses, but for any further fire fighting. The remaining supply this morning was estimated at 1,300,000 gallons.
Among those with narrow escapes were Mr. and Mrs. Merle Roach and daughter, Maria McVicker. They were asleep above the Erie café when the first explosion awakened them. They escaped, but all their personal belongings were burned.
Patrons of the Lafayette café rushed out front and rear doors in panic, some racing to safety and others to get their parked automobiles out of danger. A car owned by Bernard Spore of Cottage street and a truck belonging to Robert Hankin, both parked in front of the café, were burned. A coupe, said to be owned by Leo Bardy of New London R.D., was pinned beneath a burning car and destroyed.
Four invalids in homes which were in the danger zone were removed in ambulances.
Congressman J. Harry McGregor today called the Times Gazette from Washington to offer services of the National Red Cross disaster service if needed. He expressed relief the casualties were light.
Work of the Civilian Defense auxiliaries not only brought high commendation from Chief of Police M.D. McCarty and other local citizens, but also a tribute from Col. Manford K. Henley, acting OCD regional director, who said the OCD members did a splendid service in an emergency which threatened an entire section of the city.
Preparation was made for blasting buildings if danger increased so that additional sections of the city would not be damaged. Lee Henry of Chamberlain & Henry, Olivesburg brought a hundred pounds of dynamite here to be used in case of dire emergency.
Polk firemen were on the job five minutes after Chief Stanley Miller had called from Ashland to set off the automatic alarm. Thirty minutes after the call the Polk Company was at work at the outlet of the storm sewer near Miller Street combating the flaming gasoline. It was necessary to keep fire watchers on duty today. At noon firemen were called when another fire broke out in a boxcar.
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