Thursday, March 17, 2011

32 dead, 10 missing and at least 50 injured in San Antonio Locomotive Explosion 1912

A few months back, I was driving on I-35 in San Antonio. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of what I thought might be the steel truss of an old locomotive turntable. The view wasn't very good, so when I was home later, I took a look on Google Earth to see if I could find it. Sure enough, there it is near the intersection of Duval & North Hackberry. From the satellite image I could see the rail beds of a roundhouse, long gone.

I decided to see if I could find some history on it and what I found, shocked and horrified me. 32 dead, 10 missing and at least 50 injured in the worst locomotive explosion in U.S. history.

The Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad Locomotive No. 704 was in the Southern Pacific shops for repairs due to an accident near Seguine, TX. On the morning of March 18, 1912 the locomotive was being fired (started) after extensive repairs. At 8:55 AM, the locomotive exploded, launching the boiler and pieces of iron through the roof of the roundhouse and shredding workers bodies to bits. The locomotive's oil filled tender was blown backward and tumbled end over end several hundred feet, spewing oil about the yard, catching fire and burning some victims trapped alive in the rubble. Iron shrapnel and large pieces of locomotive rained down on San Antonio for blocks around the roundhouse. The force of the blast blew windows out of houses, ripped trees from their roots and shook the entire city. San Antonio residents thought that an earthquake had struck the city.

Click Images to Enlarge:

This is a shot of the turntable from satellite.

Former Southern Pacific Rail Yard from above.
I found a partial drawing of the Southern Pacific roundhouse and yard. I made the drawing partially transparent and laid it over the satellite image to get an idea of what the yard looked like in 1912

Southern Pacific Yard with roundhouse drawing overlay.

This photo should give you an idea of the size of the locomotive that exploded. This is the same type as number 704.

The remains of 704 circled in green.

704's driver wheel blown off from the force of the blast.

A closeup of 704's remains.

The top of the locomotive boiler came to rest between 2 houses.

Sources and more reading:


shawkl said...

Wow! How cool that you went on this little journey into history. How horrible that event was!

Dave said...

I never expected to uncover all of this after just seeing a piece of steel truss from the highway for a split second!

elsie123 said...

Sharp eye you have there. Thanks for the journey into a bit of Texas history.