New life given to contaminated ground
An acre or two in the northeast corner of section 21 in Lehigh Township had laid dormant for 49 years after several train cars exploded in fall 1969, rendering it unfit to farm.
A Santa Fe train was eastbound when four tank cars filled with liquid petroleum gas exploded as the train went through the property.
The land is in a family trust and farmed by Alan Boese. The acreage was abandoned by Alan’s father, Alvin, leaving the field with several triangular-shaped plots that were difficult to farm.
“The railroad didn’t do a thorough job of cleaning it up,” Alan said.
Track ties were pushed to the side, and some spiked plates were left lying 25 feet into the field.
With all the debris and overgrown trees, it was useless. When Alan took over the farm, he made attempts to restore the land. He paid to have the bigger trees removed.
He found heavy springs, metal from a tank car, and some chain links that had been used between cars.
In recent years, more debris has come to the surface.
“It probably was forced into the ground from the explosion and now is showing up,” Boese said.
This past winter, he decided to do a thorough cleanup of the property. He hired Marty Dalke of Hillsboro to clear it and level the ground.
Close to the track right-of-way, Dalke encountered numerous nails and spikes and had a bunch of flat tires on his equipment.
Boese figures the work was worth it even if it probably will never pay for itself.
The field is in soybeans.
“They have pods on them and are looking good,” he said.
Boese said he was a student at Bethel College in Newton when the explosion occurred.
“I saw the fireball, but I didn’t think anything of it,” he said.
A neighbor who witnessed the blast said one tank car flew 100 feet into the air. Another neighbor said his chickens were so shocked from the noise that didn’t lay eggs for a week.
The Hillsboro Star-Journal reported the blast shook the ground 10 miles away. Seven of 12 derailed train cars burned.
Boese said the tracks were rebuilt, but two years later, the branch line from Florence to McPherson was abandoned.