Do you remember where you were on a winter night in 1977 when an explosion rocked the north end of Lake Highlands?
Here’s the story, straight from the City of Dallas online history archives:
“On February 20, 1977, a Santa Fe train derailed near LBJ and Skillman, rupturing a liquid-propane gas tanker causing it and another propane tanker to explode. The BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) was felt as far away as ten miles, damage extended to within a half-mile radius, and the flames which rose several hundred feet in the air were seen from 50 miles away.”
Participants in a Dallas Historical Society online forum recall the event well.
“The Dallas News said that people as far away as Fort Worth and Canton could see the series of three explosions, and a pilot could see them from about 150 miles away,” wrote Mike Shannon. “LBJ was closed off, as the trail of fiery propane quickly spread about a mile back down the track towards the freeway (I remember my sister being hopelessly stuck in the jam-up there. I was deep in Oak Cliff that evening, and the windows rattled clear down there! The Waffle House on Kingsley at LBJ had its windows blown out, and a car traveling on LBJ had its windshield shattered. LOTS of glass blown out at the apartments on nearby Leisure Drive (and doors blown in,) and a day care center near the explosion site was gutted. Some old Pilgrim Mini-Storage units (remember those?) were demolished or badly damaged. (And thank goodness the all-glass building at 9500 Forest Lane hadn’t been built yet.) Apparently one of the three explosions rocketed a tanker car 200 FEET away from the track. By some miracle, no one died.”
“Last article I could find identified the cause as a derailment, caused by one of the cars losing a steel wheel, which, when it detached, rolled along beside the train for over 1,300 feet, then struck a track switcher control, which then routed half the train off to another track,” continued Shannon. “It didn’t disconnect itself when this happened, so the rail cars were crumpled up and torn.”
Norman Dietrich, an LHHS grad, also remembers that terrible night.
“My mother and little brother (10 at the time) were eastbound on LBJ, just passing under Greenville Ave. when she blew. According to mom, she thought WWIII had begun. She recalls our VW bus actually vibrating from the blasts, and the light was blinding. Big, intense mushroom clouds rising into the night sky. They had a terrible time trying to exit off the highway, and my brother was screaming the entire time. I bet she needed a strong drink when she finally made it home.”
Another resident likened the explosion to an apocalyptic novel.
“I witnessed it from Richardson, and a family member expressed the fear that [Texas Instruments] might be blowing up. The eastern sky was filled with flames more than once, then glowed eerily for some time afterward. It was a frightening sight. My high school English class had just finished reading that great literary work, ‘Alas, Babylon.’ How thankful were we that its fulfillment was not what we experienced that night.”