Burlington, IA Ordnance Plant Explosion, Dec 1941





Burlington, Ia. -- (AP) -- Plans for early resumption of full production at the Iowa ordnance plant here were being laid Saturday night as the probable death roll in Friday's blast totaled 13 or more.
With six identified dead and two unidentified bodies, officials of the operating company, Day & Zimmerman, Inc., listed seven perons as missing.
They added it was doubtful if the two unidentified bodies were those of any of the missing, but did not explain how this premise was reached.
Several more men, among the 21 persons taken to hospitals here following the explosion in the melting unit of the group one shell loading line, remained in critical condition.
Two government groups, in addition to officers of the plant, had investigations under way to determine the cause of the detonation which virtually destroyed one of two duplicate melting and pouring units on the mile long line which had been loading 81 millimeter trench mortar shells.
Identified dead are:
E. C. SCHILLERSTROM, 50, Agency, Ia.
PEARLY J. PETTIT, 48, Lansing, Ia.
JOHN K. CUMMINGS, 36, Bunch, Ia.
J. D. STUTEVILLE, Chariton, Ia.
LYLE W. TEAL, 27, Keosauqua, Ia. (he died Saturday morning in a Burlington hospital).
The list of those unaccounted for as released by officials Saturday:
TRACY A. PERRY, 54, West Burlington.
VIRGIL HOPKINS, 30, Middletown.
GORA GORE, 34, Bloomfield.
R. I. McKAY, 44, Washington, Ia.
L. E. ROBBINS, 33, Keosauqua.
WAYNE T. HOEFLE, 36, Fort Madison.
HOEFLE was a government inspector. The others were plant employes.
Lieut. Col. Keith Adamson and E. F. Johnstone, general manager for Day and Zimmerman, said they had no idea what caused the blast which virtually demolished the unit in which the explosive is melted and poured into the .81 millimeter trench mortar shells being loaded.
There was no fire.
A duplicate unit to the north and another processing unit to the south in the mile-long group one loading line were not damaged.
The officials, in pointing out how the safety construction of heavy walls had prevented further casualties, said unexploded TNT remained in buckets and filled shells in the loading bays.
The explosion appeared to center in the melting rooms and the dead all were found in that section.
The men in the pouring bays suffered least.
Although women are employed at the plant,none was in this building.
About 3,000 workers are employed in current operations and another 5,000 in construction work.
Johnstone estimated that about 75 per cent of the one building was destroyed.
The federal bureau of investigation continued Saturday to question survivors of the blast and other witnesses and Col. Adamson said the FBI would make a complete inquiry.
In addition, three explosives experts arrived Saturday afternoon.
They were Maj. C. J. Bain of the arms division of the ordnance department at Washington; Lieut. W. M. Cobb of the plant section of ordnance, and E. Williams, a civilian expert, of the Western Cartridge Co.
"The technical investigation of the explosion by the ordnance department experts will seek to determine the cause in order to prevent and recurrance of the accident," Colonel Adamson explained, "rather than to fix any blame."
The group will report its findings to the chief of ordnance at Washington.
Colonel Adamson added ordnance officers already are meeting in Washington to lay plans for resumption of work and rebuilding.
"The tentative plane is to sufficiently repair the unit so as to continue it in scheduled production," the officer said.
He declined to estimate when production would recommence or the monetary extent of the damage.
Although the destroyed unit was duplicated on the production line, all work in group one ceased, since conveyors from the remaining melt unit to the next building were destroyed.
Informed persons indicated the immediate plan may be to rebuild the conveyors as quickly as possible, simply by-passing the damaged building.
This could be done very rapidly and it was indicated the plant had been designed especially so the one melting and pouring unit could maintain regular production.
The 21 men who were hospitalized after the ordnance plant explosion were:
WILBUR C. TOCK, 35, Oakville, Ia., skull fracture, condition critical.
SHERMAN MULLIKIN, 34, Keokuk, Ia, skull and back lacerations, critical.
LYLE M. TEAL, 27, Keosauqua, Ia., scalp lacerations, concussion, critical. (TEAL died Saturday morning.)
MERLE C. ADAMS, 25, Stronghurst, Ill., lacerations, serious.
ALVIN HOOD, 50, Mt. Pleasant, Ia.
LOWELL BOYER, Burlington.
C. R. SULLIVAN, 39, Burlington.
KENNETH SPARROW, 23, Hannibal, Mo.
LAWRENCE BAGBY, 34, Fairfield, Ia.
E. R. BROWN, 33, Burlington.
ELMER GULICK, 36, West Burlington.
HAROLD RUSSELL, 18, Williamson, Ia.
WILLIAM PRATT, 22, Burlington.
RAYMOND NIETERS, 35, Fort Madison, Ia.
DONALD BROOKS, 24, Burlington.
CHARLES ELMORE, 22, Fairfield, Ia.
LLOYD LAYMAN, 43, Eldon, Ia.
LAWRENCE FISHER, 36, Burlington.
WESTON SLOAN, 19, Danville, Ia.
EDWIN SEITZ, 23, Garden Grove, Ia.
BERT A. SELBY, 53, Burlington.
Strange tales of narrow escapes in the Iowa ordnance pant came to light Saturday.
Chutes, similar to those used at some school houses, were available from the second and third floors of the wrecked building.
Some of them were blown away and apparently no one reached one in the normal way.
But one fellow was blown backward out a door, he tripped over the mouth of the chute, slid down it backward, came out unhurt.
Another man had his back to a concrete wall. The blast blew out man and wall together. He had only a slight concussion, and a scratched face.
One man, who worked in the part of the plant most seriously damaged and in which the employed were killed, had entered a wash-room a moment before the explosion.
He escaped with only a small head cut.
Hospital employes here -- when they finally had time Friday -- got quite a scare.
They discovered the clothing of many of their patients injured in the explosion at the Iowa ordnance plant was spattered with T.N.T.
A general warning against any fires was passed around among doctors, nurses and other workers in both hospitals, and new "no smoking" signs were prominently displayed.

Waterloo Sunday Courier Iowa 1941-12-14


Mason and Hanger

Why do some of these stories say Day and Zimmerman had the contract?? My Dad worked at La. Ordnance, Burlington Ordnance, (Iowa Ordnance Plant), which was I.O.P. and Pantex Plant in Amarillo. The Operating contractor was MASON AND HANGER and MASON AND HANGER, SILAS MASON.

L.E. Robbins

Louis E. Robbins my birth father (Earl Downey)was his first cousin. I remember picnics with Uncle Louis. They did not find 1 piece of him. Aunt Fern had to look through body parts, but never found anything. He had a scar on one of his legs. It got caught in a chain on the back of a truck. His father Sam was a brother to my Grandmother (Pearl Robbins). But I lived with Great Uncle Sam Robbins sister Flora Robbins.