Bob Mitchell: Quick thinking helped stop gas tank explosion

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Back in the days of the Cassville and Exeter Railroad, all types of commodities arrived on the single set of rails. The train ran up hill for four miles to reach active Frisco rails, and then afforded a downhill coast back to the home depot. In sharp contrast, trucks now deliver goods to serve the public.

Quite obvious of this arrival in the modern era is gasoline to serve the American love for their automobile and traveling. In the days of the railroad, there were large storage tanks located adjacent to the tracks that could accommodate railway cars loaded with fuel. One such location was near the Little Troublesome Branch on Townsend Creek, smack in the middle of the residential part of northwest Cassville.

Emergency shock area

Early one evening, the tanks burst into flames while thought to be at least half full. The blaze was probably the largest seen in Cassville since the fire that destroyed part of the square in 1893. There were those at the time who were fearful that an explosion of one or both of the storage tanks — one probably filled with regular grade, the other with ethel — would create a firestorm that could possibly cause a disaster that would equal that of years past.

We were living in the Ray House, just a short block from the fire scene. At the start of the blaze, several people were standing in their back yards, watching what was going on.

At this time in Cassville’s history, there was one fire truck with limited equipment aboard available to the volunteer firefighters — none of whom had ever been close to a blaze equal to this one. From behind a stack of railroad ties that were about halfway between the blaze and depot building, a stream of water was used in an attempt to cool the fire.


Remembering way back to that time, I was thinking it could have been City Superintendent Ray Correll and service station operator Jimmy Turner whose idea it was to put in motion a plan to avoid an explosion of the tanks.

The solution was simple. Turner went home and secured his high-powered rifle — including some of the heaviest loaded shells — and returned to the area from which firemen were operating. No telling how many shots he fired at the two tanks, with the purpose of draining the gasoline to burn on the ground, hopefully avoiding an explosion.

After some time of permitting the gasoline to drain — and using as much cooling water as the meager fire equipment could provide — the tanks were brought to a condition of safety.

Homes in jeopardy

In the immediate area, there were a number of homes in a position of being located in a burn area. Had the two hunting partners not come up with the idea of getting the gasoline out of the tanks to burn on the ground, the outcome would have been much different.

The homes included in the danger area were the Ray house, Messer house, the home of Mary Hawk, Barney Anderson’s, the Conoco Courts and Bert Harper’s. Harpers’ motor repair business was behind the house. His son was physically disabled, but musically talented.

One thing is for sure — no one was ready to anticipate how far-reaching an explosion might of spread the flames. It must have been a long night for the volunteers as they stayed near the area to keep water flowing to avoid a recurrence.

Off the spike

There is a new telephone scam going around these days. It’s a call from a lawyer, representing an unheard of firm, wanting to congratulate the person on the other end of his line on their recently receiving a cash award. This is apparently one of those attempts to get the person receiving the call to give a “yes” answer that can be used to further the cause of the caller. The answer he received instead at our house was, “You have the wrong number.”

Cassville hospital

Overlooked in my recent emergency room information were some folks at Mercy Cassville who should be recognized.

First there was physician on duty, Dr. Joe Himes, Registered Nurse Janet Haddock, and aide Becky McKinney. They put my arm injury back together with butterfly bandages, avoiding any stitches.

In my days of recovering recently, while I was sitting on the back porch one day, I observed a squirrel taking a hickory nut apart — something I had never seen before. If you’ve ever tried to retrieve a kernel from a hickory nut, you realize the difficulty. This gray squirrel had carried its morsel about 50 yards from the source in our lot, to the place where it was going to work. The squirrel was persistent, taking the hard shell off a piece at a time, close enough for me to see each piece falling to the ground.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.