Smithfield, NC Truck Explosion, Mar 1942

After The Explosion

TRUCK BLASTS, KILLING FOUR.

MUNITIONS EXPLOSION OCCURS IN CAROLINA.

Smithfield, N.C., March 7. -- UP -- Like a gigantic time bomb which dealt death and destruction after attracting a crowd of the curious, a blazing truck and trailer loaded with 30,000 pounds of munitions exploded early today, killing at least four and injuring approximately 100.
The explosion occurred two hours after the truck was in a wreck with a sedan three miles from here. Both vehicles caught fire.
The blast demolished a roadside hotel, wrecked a tavern, leveled a row of filling stations, pock-marked two rows of brick tourist cabins.
Wreckage was strewn for two and a half miles. A hole 30 feet deep and as long as a railroad car was ripped in the cement highway. Windows here were broken. A man standing half a mile away was seriously injured. The blast was heard for 50 miles.
At first it was feared the death toll might reach seven or more. Coroner E. N. BOOKER said at least three persons, in addition to the four known dead, perished in the hotel, which burned to the ground.
Later, however, BOOKER said all hotel occupants were accounted for.
The known dead were GEORGE STROUPE of Gastonia, commander of a CCC camp; CECIL E. PROPST, a state game and fish warden; MRS. MINNIE LEWIS, driver of the sedan which was in a wreck with the truck and BUCK MITCHELL, 46, a cafe worker.
STROUPE and PROPST were in a car which attempted to pass the blazing truck just when the explosion occurred.

The Ada Weekly News 1942-03-12

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FOUR KILLED, 100 HURT IN TRUCK BLAST.

MUNITION - LOADED VEHICLE BLOWS UP 2 HOURS AFTER CRASH.

CROWD GATHERS.

EXPLOSION STREWS WRECKAGE OVER 2 1/2 MILE AREA.

Smithfield, N.C., March 7 (AP) -- Like a gigantic time bomb which dealt death and destruction after attracting a crowd of the curious, a blazing truck and trailer loaded with 30,000 pounds of munitions exploded here early today, killing at least four and injuring approximately 100.
The explosion occurred two hours after the truck was in a wreck with a sedan, three miles from here. Both vehicles caught fire.
The blast demolished a roadside hotel, wrecked a tavern, leveled a row of filling stations, pock-marked two rows of brick tourist cabins and broke virtually all the windows in Selma, a small town a mile away.
Wreckage was strewn for two and a half miles. A hole 30 feet deep and as long as a railroad car was ripped in the cement highway. Windows here were broken. A man standing half a mile away was seriously injured.
The blast was heard for 50 miles.
At first it was feared that the death toll might reach seven or even higher. Coroner E. N. Booker announced that at least three persons, in addition to the four known dead, perished in the wreckage of the hotel, which burned to the ground.
Later, however, Booker said that all of the hotel occupants were accounted for. The ashes were still smouldering, and it was impossible to search the ruins.
The known dead were GEORGE STROUPE of Gastonia, commander of a CCC camp at New Holland; CECIL E. PROPST of Lawndale, a state game and fish warden stationed at New Holland; MRS. MINNIE LEWIS of Raleigh, driver of the sedan which was in a wreck with the truck and BUCK MITCHELL, 46, of Dunn a cafe worker.
The wreck occurred at about 1:30 A.M. at the junction of two U.S. highways.
Riding with MRS. LEWIS were her husband, their two children and two marines. ALl but one of the children were injured.
Immediately after the impact, both vehicles started to burn. Fire departments from Smithfield and nearby towns batted the blaze for two hours. Crowds of spectators gathered. They were warned to keep back, but they didn't keep back far enough.
STROUPE and PROPST were in a car which attempted to pass the blazing truck just when the explosion occurred. They were killed instantly.
MRS. LEWIS and MITCHELL died in the Johnston County Hospital. The woman's death was caused by burns suffered in the wreck.
Immediately after the explosion, telephone calls were received here from nearby communities asking whether there had been an air raid, and which way the planes were headed.
As ambulances with siren open, screamed through the streets, many persons thought "the Japs had come."
Johnston county's newly organized civillian defense unit immediately went into action. Volunteer doctors and nurses went to their posts at the county hospital. Goldsboro, Raleigh and other cities volunteered their hospital facilities. As the patients began arriving, the volunteers went to work.
Dr. V. A. Davidson, county hospital superintendent, said the defense organization worked perfectly in its first test. Many other persons might have died if it had not been for the efficiency of volunteers, he said.

Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1942-03-08

Comments

Catch Me Eye explosion

My grandfather owned the Catch Me Eye resort between Selma and Smithfield and rebuilt it after the explosion. I know clearly where it stood as I actually lived there as a child and went to school in Selma, waiting for the bus at the intersection with 301 & 70 where a funeral home stands today. When headed east as if going to I95, the resort was to the right on 301, a few hundred yards, about where an overpass stands today. I appreciate the photos that have been preserved as I have none. I was not born when the explosion took place, but I have great memories of my Granddaddy and my 'home' at Gurkin's Tavern as it was called when I was there. During the war, he built apartments on the back of the restaurant so that the waitresses whose husbands were in the military could have a place to live. As it turned out, that was the situation my mother was in, so we had one of those apartments. I can still see every inch of it in my mind's eye, though I was 7 years old when my grandfather died and the place was permanently closed. Thanks for this opportunity to reminisce!

Near the lumber yard is not

Near the lumber yard is not where it happened. I know the place you are referring to because I live in the area. The area that it happened is near the intersection of 70 and 301 near Selma, also near a railroad track. Now 70 goes over the railroad track, not sure about then if it did or not.

Smithfield - Munitions Explosion

I have researched this a bit and the locals refer to it as the "Catch-Me-Eye" explosion. You may want to cross reference it with that name. This is a local town link about the disaster. http://www.johnstonnc.com/jc_hc_archives_biopage.cfm?collectionid=9
I have been told the site is near a lumber storage area close to the rail line in Smithfield. Just after you go under the old Railroad bridge that floods out on Main street/ Business 70 just east of Brightleaf Blvd, there is a dead end road to the left. Nothing to see, just the knowledge of what happened there.