Skip to Content

Eagle Grove, IA Explosion In Downtown, Feb 1973

The two stores that exploded are the first two on the right

BLAST ROCKS EAGLE GROVE.

FEAR VICTIMS IN RUINS OF STORE, CAFE.

FIRES ERUPT AFTER EXPLOSION.

Eagle Grove, Ia. -- Several persons were presumed dead after an explosion that leveled a downtown store and adjoining cafe here Friday evening.
The explosion occurred at 6:18 p.m. and was followed by flames that engulfed the Coast to Coast store and the Chatterbox Cafe.
Authorities said WOODROW LOUX, an Eagle Grove fireman, died of an apparent heart attack as he arrived at the scene.
Most reports said nine persons were in the cafe when the blast occurred. There were some reports of cries for help coming from the wreckage of the two buildings shortly after the explosion.
"There were nine to 19 perople in the restaurant," said Mayor KENNETH BRAUMAN. "We can't even get to it, everything's on top of it."
WALTER MARTINS, 62, of Eagle Grove said he and his wife were in the cafe 15 minutes before the explosion occurred.
"We smell gas, and I told the cook, LUCELLE ANDERSON, and she said it was just the oven, and not to worry about it."
Presumed Dead.
BRAUMAN and TERRY JOHNSON of Spencer, an agent for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, compiled a list that identified eight persons as probable victims. MRS. ANDERSON is among the missing and presumed dead.
There were several apartments above both destroyed buildings and on the third floor of an adjoining jewelry store, but no reports were available as to how many persons were in the apartments at the time of the blast.
Eagle Grove residents said the Chatterbox Cafe hald fish fries every Friday night.
Witnesses said the number of persons eating in the cafe was fewer than usual because a church was having a chili supper Friday night and a number of residents went there to eat.
A temporary morgue was established at the Memorial Hall here.
Mayor BRAUMAN was not injured in the explosion, although he said, "I usually eat there every Friday night for the fish fry."
"Full Of Dust"
The mayor said when he arrived, five minutes after the explosion which occurred at 6:18 p.m., he found the air "full of dust." He said there was smoke rising from the rubble, but there was no fire.
The mayor said the Coast to Coast store had been completely blown away by the explosion and the cafe "looked like a pile of dirt." Of the cafe, he said, "just the roof is laying on top -- everything else is in the basement."
An Eagle Grove police officer, MIKE WELP, 23, said he was about three blocks away when the explosion occurred. He said he "saw a flash in the sky. It was just a poof."
WELP said he immediately called the 30-member Eagle Grove volunteer fire department.
He said he saw a child's doll lying in the middle of the street and thought at first it was an infant, but then realized it was only a doll.
No Sign Of Life.
He said he could observe no sign of life or movement in the rubble.
Fire broke out about three minutes after the explosion, WELP said.
At midnight, no bodies had been recovered from the rubble. Eagle Grove fire officials said the rubble was still "too hot to get into."
A spokesman at Bethesda Hospital in Fort Dodge, about 20 miles from Eagle Grove, said the staff had been alerted to possible casualties "and we have called all our extra people in, but so far we have received no casualties."
"We have concluded that those caught in the explosion are beyond help," the spokesman added.
No one was in the Coast to Coast Store at the time. It had closed about 5:30 p. m.
Just "Exploded"
EARL LAWSON, part-owner of the Gulf service station 50 feet from the Coast to Coast store, was in the station at the time. "Everything exploded," LAWSON said. "The windows just started coming in a splattered all over."
"We looked out and all we could see was smoke and dust and bricks flying."
Another Eagle Grove resident who was in the service station said the blast "only took a few seconds, but it seemed like an hour."
LAWSON said large fires in both businesses started after the blast and hindered rescue efforts. He said that fire-fighting equipment from surrounding towns had been summoned to Eagle Grove.
The fires still were burning at 10 p.m., and rescue workers were unable to get into the buildings. Authorities were calling for derricks to help life debris from the area.
TIM FLETCHER, 19, manager of the DX service station across the street, said he was talking to a truck driver, at the time of the blast.
"I heard a big explosion," he said. "Fire started to shoot out the back side of the building less than a minute after the explosion. No one came out of the buildings."
FLETCHER said a large window exhaust fan from the cafe slammed into the side of his service station.
Witnesses to the blast said the Cedar Falls High School wrestling team, in town for a meet with the Eagle Grove High School team, left the cafe moments before the blast occurred. They quoted the team's bus driver, who was not identified, as saying he had smelled gas while in the cafe.
Call Ambulances.
Seven to 10 ambulances also were summoned, and both entrances to Broadway, Eagle Grove's main street, were blocked with emergency vehicles.
WILBUR JOHNSON, state fire marshal, arrived here from Des Moines about 10:30 p.m. After surveying the blast scene he said he believed the explosion was caused by natural gas.
"Natural gas explosions blow up a building from the top out, while LP gas blows a building from the bottom out," JOHNSON said.
JOHNSON said it would be "well into Saturday" before he could attempt to pinpoint a cause. He said it probably also would be that long before bodies could be removed from the rubble.
He said a large loder would arrive here from Fort Dodge this morning and would begin removing debris.
Service Crews.
Iowa Public Service crews were on hand shortly after the explosion and began shutting off gas to the area.
All windows within a one-block radius and in most businesses along Broadway were shattered by the explosion which was felt as far as 30 blocks away at the junior high school here.
Damaged in the blast were LOCKE'S Jewelry Store and the M. Bar L. Western Shop which are on the same side of the street as the cafe, and the Coast to Coast store, and four other businesses across the street.
Adjutant Gen. JOSEPH MAY, commander of the Iowa National Guard, said the state fire marshal's office had sent help.
Several witnesses reported looting shortly after the explosion at the Coast to Coast Store, LOCKE'S Jewelry Store, and a hardware store. The area was cordoned off by Iowa State Highway troopers.
About 25 members of C Company, 747th Battalion of the Iowa National Guard, which is based in Eagle Grove, were summoned to duty to help in rescue efforts and prevent looting.
One Eagle Grove resident, who asked not to be identified, said the Iowa Highway 17 near the blast scene was covered with debris for half a block.
He said merchants and residents were boarding up broken windows with plywood, which had been donated for that purpose.
All Eagle Grove policemen were summoned to aid sheriff's deputies from Hamilton, Webster, Wright and Humboldt counties, and Iowa Highway Patrolmen and State Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents.
The American Red Cross (ARC) sent two disaster action teams from Mason City and three first aid workers from Fort Dodge.
"We'll set up a shelter to care for the injured, if necessary," said ALTFELDT, a spokesman for the ARC.
The Coast to Coast store and the cafe occupied two separate two-story buildings covering about a half block at the corner of Commercial and Broadway streets.
One apartment resident, JAMES McDERMOTT, who lived above the Coast to Coast store, said he had left his apartment at 5:50 p.m., about 40 minutes before the blast. He said he returned to the Fareway Store, where he is the assistant manager, when the blast occurred. He said windows at the store were blown in, and he ran back to the Coast to Coast store.
"All I've got is what I have on my back, but if I would have waited to leave until 40 minutes later, I wouldn't have a back."
McDERMOTT said the lost $900 in cash what was in his apartment. A picture of himself that had floated to the street in front of the demolished building was recovered by an onlooker, however, and returned to him.
Nearly all incoming telephone calls to Eagle Grove were blocked and communications were being handled by "ham" radio operators.
In Des Moines, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) set up contact with three ham operators in Eagle Grove.
ALAN HARRIS, an amateur radio operator on duty at the Red Cross center at 406 Fifth Ave., said a Red Cross first aid van, four first-aid specialists and a nurse were sent to the disaster site.
CHUCK JOHNSON, owner of the cafe, and his wife, MARILYN, who operates it, had both left Friday afternoon to start a trip to Hawaii. They had gotten as far as Des Moines, where they were to spend the night, before being notified of the explosion.

The Des Moines Register Iowa 1973-02-03

Comments

That's very interesting

Hello Monna.
I also remember when this explosion happened at the age of 11.
Last week I drove out to Missouri from California and found in my fathers garage the Eagle newspaper from the very next day. Old and yellowed but still complete and legible.
Which made me Google this subject and found this page with your posting. I remember a few days before this happened having dinner with my grand parents in that restaurant and being served by a pretty nice young lady, probably your sister. We would drop by the Chatterbox every so often as my great aunt worked as a waitress and sometimes cook there. In 1990 my grandfather passed away and I attended his funeral in Eagle Grove. When I mentioned the explosion to Grandma she just has tears from losing her older sister June. Dr Harding eventually determined it was her from dental records. We lived a few blocks away on south Commercial street. Definitely a bad day to think about. I remember the loud sound and wondered if another train derailment or soybean plant explosion happened again.

The interesting part I find from your posting is the fact that my grandmothers maiden name was Bernice Boyington. And she had relatives all around that section of Iowa. From Clarion, Fraser, Lehigh, Webster City etc.

Best of wishes for your family, and thank you for sharing.
All be well
Bobby

explosion

Chuck and Marilyn are my aunt and uncle...I lost many relatives in the explosion. It was a sad time for my family and the community. I don't remember a lot of it, but I know my mom said that she remembers how the house shook, that it was scary to know that something had happened. My prayers go out to those that remember and to the families who lost loved ones.

In Rememberance of Lynn Boyington

Hi
I was 10 years old when the explosion happened and I REMEMBER it as if it was yesterday. My only sister (Lynn Marie Boyington ) age 21 was the youngest killed in the explosion. Lynn was not supose to work that night. I called to talk to my sister that tragic night. It was friday night and I wanted to go stay with her for the weekend and play with my nephew Tom (age 2). I lived in Clarion and she lived in Eagle Grove. When I called her that night at the Chatter Box Cafe. I REMEMBER so clearly,she told me that she had to work ,her bosses had left to go on their vacation to Hawaii and had asked her to watch over the cafe while they were gone.
This conversation was just as the explosion happened. I remember talking to her and then the phone going dead. Just seconds after I hung up the phone. My sisters mother in law (Norma Thompson) who lived in Eagle Grove , called and said that the Cafe had just blown up.
My parents was just walking in the house from work ,just as she called. As I hung up the phone to telly parent what had just happened. My dads fire pager went off. My dad was a fireman for the Clarion Fire Department. Our family's horrific nightmare had started.
My dad went on that call to see if he could help. He knew that his daughter was in that explosion . When my dad arrived at that terrible scene that night and seen the devistation first hand he charged right in to help. Once the Fire Chief of Clarions fire department (Maurice Riley), who also was our neibor, had found out that my sister was on of the victims that was in the explosion was my sister.Hesent my dad home to be with my mom and our family. Our home was in total cayos for the next several days. I remember my parents had the radio on and as they would fine one of the victims they would broadcast it. For Three days this continued for three days, my family would listen to the radio and sit by the phone. Every time the phone would ring my parents would jump from antisipation of the horrible news. I REMEMBER well that it was on monday, my dad wanted to get out of the house for a little while and went to the Barber Shop. While at the barber shop my dad heard the news come over the radio that they had found my sister and was waiting for positive identification.
My dad rushed home. My brother in law Rick Boyington was there at that time and my dad asked Rick if he wanted to go do the identification. Rick was VERY upset and said he couldnt do it. My brother Don Humphrey (age 16) said he would go do it. My brother went, they took him into the make shift morgue that had veen set up. They showed my brother my sisters rings that they had taken off of her. Her class ring was one of those rings. Once he saw her rings , positive identification was made.
My brother will never forget this either. He said it was the hardest thing he has ever had to do.
My family has never been the same since this tragedy, my dad never fully recovered from the loss of my sister,none of my family has as a matter of fact.
we have all learned to move on in life ,but we will always love and miss Lynn each and every day. And we thank God that she left us with the amazing blessing of her son Tom. Even though God took Lynn to be with him at such a young age he left us apart of her here ,with Tom.

My great-grandpa Woodrow Loux

My great-grandpa Woodrow Loux died that night outside the cafe. My Grandpa, grandma, and uncle were in the cafe that night to eat, my grandma said she was having a funny feeling so they both hurried my uncle, who was 3 at time, to finish up. She said she felt they needed to leave. They no more than exited the building and got across the street before it blew up. To this day they feel my Great-Grandpa Woodrow may have had a heart attack upon seeing their car parked in front of the cafe. This story always hit close to home because if they wouldn't have left because of that feeling I would have lost quite a few family members.

THE EXPLOSION in EAGLE GROVE

That night my wedding was scheduled and while I was getting ready for the ceremony at the Lutheran church, I heard and felt the explosion. I lived across the street from the Lincoln School playground. I remember that night as some the people scheduled to participate were called in to help at the explosion sight. It was a difficult night. So many people that I knew died.

1973 eagle grove explosion

hi mark if you have any questions feel free to ask me thanks for caring about the victims and remembering them . mike Lawson 515-571-8849

Remembering

Mike,

I would never want to ask that you reveal memories that would be personsal or difficult for you to share, but I was ten-years-old at the time and this tragedy has haunted me every since it happened.

I have the Eagle Grove Eagle edition that came out the following week and the Des Moines Register from the next day. I recall the tragedy and have always been perplexed as to why the town hasn't honored the victims. My family went downtown to see ground zero and my dad helped board up Kramersmeir's Drug and other stores.

If you have a personal story to share that can shed some light on this incident, I'd like to hear it. After all these years, I think it is helpful to remember the victims.

Thank you!

Thank you so much for posting this, Stu. I was interested in some of the details of that tragic day. Is this word-for-word from the actual newspaper article? Did you ever post clippings?

I was 13 when this terrible

I was 13 when this terrible tragedy happened and lived just 4 blocks away. The explosion shook the house and rattled the windows. When we ran outside we could see the flames shooting in the air. People we knew perished in the blast. It is something that will always remain with us as a community. We will never forget that terrible evening.

Memories

I was in first grade when this happened. I lost my teacher and family friends mother, Mrs. Michealson (sp?), in the explosion. I remember being in the Eagle Grove High School gym at the wrestling meet. The whole gym shook and dust was falling from the ceiling. Everyone thought snow had fallen off the roof. I'm not sure how long it took before people relized what had happened.



article | by Dr. Radut