Roanoke Times, Saturday Morning, November 21, 1953, pg. 1
One Dies As Blasts Rip
Radford N&W Tie Plant
Spectacular Blaze Follows Explosion,
No Cause Yet Discovered for Mishap
RADFORD, Nov. 20 (Special)--One man was killed and four others injured today when a series of explosions ripped through the Norfolk and Western Railway timber preservation plant in the eastern section of this city.
KILLED IN the roaring blast was Bentley R. Shelburne, 72-year-old yard workman, who was struck by flying debris and apparently killed instantly as he was working about. 300 feet from the creosote plant. Shelburne had been employed by the N&W for 22 years.
The spectacular fire, fed by thousands of gallons of creosote and petroleum, drew many curious spectators to the scene of the blast which happened shortly before 8 a.m.
Firemen extinguished the blaze in less than an hour, but the explosion and ensuing flames left the plant a shambles. There was no estimate of damages, and late this afternoon no cause had been found for the blast.
A dismantling crew was on the scene this afternoon, and it was reported that rebuilding of the plant will start immediately.
Five workmen inside the plant fled through a flood of oil which cascaded down from overhead storage tanks.
Joseph L. Powell, 34, slipped in the oil, tripped over a fleeing companion and fell. He was taken to the Radford Community Hospital where he was reported to have head injuries not considered seri ous.
Carl C. Saunders of Radford had creosote spattered in his eyes. Frank L. Adkins of Vicker and S. B. Shelbourne of Radford received minor scratches.
The powerful blast, the force of which was clearly felt in this city's business area, a short distance away, apparently occurred in one of the 170-foot cylinders in which railroad ties and other timbers are treated.
The blast blew out the head of one of the cylinders, blowing timbers and debris over a 300-foot area, and the concussion blew the heavy cylinder back about ten feet from its normal position.
Reports indicated that the force of the blast was felt in Fairlawn across the New River from Radford. There were no reports of any broken windows or other damage caused by the searing explosion.
While firemen concentrated their efforts on the fire which crackled through the metal structure, despite the danger of another forceful explosion, many persons gathered to watch.
MANY WERE relatives of those who worked in the yards; still others were children who were on their way to school at the time and students from Radford College which is located a short distance from the yards which border Norwood St., U. S. Route 11.
Fallen power lines also presented a dangerous situation inasmuch as it was not possible at the start to determine whether or not power had been cut off. A line of coal cars were reported to have been hit by a hot wire.
The blast spread a flood of rumors through Radford. Some persons thought there had been an explosion at the Radford Arsenal, while still others believed that a locomotive had exploded in the yards.
An eyewitness to the explosion, John R. Dainty of Pulaski, a Roanoke College student, said his car was moved by the blast's force. Immediately after the blast a large ball of flame shot up from a building in the yard.
The college student added that in a matter of minutes, the entire building was enveloped by flames.
The plant's own fire organization started to fight the flames immediately, and shortly they were joined by the Radford Fire Department
H. C. Martin, supervisor of the plant, stated that he heard the explosion and ran from his office. The flames were already shooting high in the air. Martin stated. “We had water hose out and playing on it in a matter of minutes,” he reported.
PLANT FIREMEN were hampered by lack of pressure caused by damage to water lines. Power and water lines were knocked out by the blast. Thousands of gallons of petroleum sent up a pall of smoke which almost blackened out the city during the morning rush hours.
The fire was fed by around 80,000 gallons of creosote preserving mixture. By a quirk of fate, a 5,000-gallon storage tank of highly explosive naptha, used in vapor drying timbers, did not explode.
The vapor equipment was installed in the plant in 1950. Railroad ties and other timber for use throughout the N&W system are treated in the plant.
Shelburne is survived by his wife, Mrs. Nannie Hurd Shelburne; two daughters, Mrs. William Lorentza, Mrs. Ted Wilson, both of Baltimore, Md.; two sons, Howard C. Shelburne, Portsmouth; Hobart J. Shelburne, Radford; three stepdaughters, Mrs. Raymond Lawrence, Radford; Mrs. Henry Hubble, Martinsville; Mrs. W. E. Gilbert, California; a stepson, Frank Wilson, Radford; three sisters, one brother, 11 grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Church of Christ, Christiansburg. Burial will be in West View Cemetery, Radford. The body will remain at the Seaver Funeral Home.