Chicago, IL Street Car - Gasoline Truck Wreck, May 1950

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They believed, however, that the bodies of all victims had been found.
Meanwhile, officials organized a sweeping inquiry to determine whether criminal negligence was involved in the disaster.

Coroner A. L. BRODIE said he would impanel a jury of experts June 1 to investigate. He was expected to coordinate inquiries by the fire department, police, state fire marshal, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the State Commerce Commission.

Report Four Children Safe
Private investigations were expected by various insurance companies and by petroleum associations interested in the shipment of gasoline and other inflammables.

A search for four children previously reported missing was abandoned after their mother reported that she personally had handed them through a window of their flaming apartment to a stranger who apparently took them to his home. Radio stations broadcast a request for the stranger to take the children to the Red Cross for return to their mother.

The tragedy struck the south side at the dinner hour last night.

"It was terrible," said one eyewitness. "I could look into the window of the street car and see those people roasting to death in a tangled mass as they fought to get out the doors."

Disaster Plan in Effect
"Only a few escaped through windows. Their clothes were on fire. They looked like little flaming dolls."

The city's "Disaster Plan 5" was put into effect minutes after the blast. It is the same plan that will be used if an atomic bomb ever hits here. One thousand police and all available fire equipment responded.

The street car motorman, PAUL MANNING, 42, died at his controls. The truck drive, MEL WILSON, 39, of Valparaiso, Ind., burned to death in the cab of the truck which was owned by the Sprout and Davis Trucking Co., of Whiting, Ind.

As the trolley smashed into the tanker, "balls of fire" ignited buildings nearby. Firemen were forced to fight the flames in the structures at the same time they tried to save the passengers caught in the street car.

Tear Buildings Apart
At dawn today, heavy wrecking equipment began tearing the buildings apart brick-by-brick as searchers sought the bodies of persons who may have been trapped in them.

Officials said gasoline which did not explode or burn had poured into the sewer system under a two-block area surrounding the crash scene at 62nd and State streets.

Firemen and police warned spectators to stay out of the area as they began pumping tons of water down manholes to flush the sewers clear. They said a cigaret[sic] or other flame dropped into a sewer might set off explosions that would blow sewer covers and pavement from the ground.

Twenty-eight burned and injured persons lay in hospitals and doctors said 10 were near death.

Ploughs Into Truck
The tragedy occurred in a predominantly Negro district at 6:36 o'clock last night as streets were crowded with workers homeward bound.

Continued on page 5

Comments

Streetcar-gasoline truck crash, Chicago 1950

I've read many reports of this and all state that the flagman "waved frantically" but the Streetcar did not slow down for the turn, and the driver of the gasoline truck did not stop either. Why would that be? My answer is that the flagman was NOT there. Streetcars in Chicago in those days ran frequently--probably every minute or two. The flagman was there to alert streetcar motormen that the switch was open and the car was going to make a turn and be rerouted instead of going straight. The flagman must have abondoned his post briefly--maybe needed to use the toilet in a nearby business or something--and hoped he'd be back in time for the next streetcar, but he was not. If he had been there the gasoline truck driver would have stopped for the turning streetcar and the motorman in the streetcar would have stopped if the gasoline truck had not. But neither the truck driver nor the streetcar motorman knew that the streetcar was going to turn, and that can only have happened if the flagman was NOT there "waving frantically." That's the only way this could have happened, and I'm sure people at the time suggested it but were paid off or threatened not to pursue the matter. If there were witnesses who stated that the flagman was not there, they were probably also paid off or threatened, and Chicago was notorious for crooked government and law enforcement. So the Chicago transit authority was never held accountable. The newspapers made a point of stating that most of the passengers in the streetcar were "negros" and that the surrounding buildings that were destroyed were "negro housing," probably for the purpose of minimizing the likelihood of public outrage in those racist days.