McAnnly Cre­ates Art From Noel Train Dis­as­ter Ar­ti­facts

McDonald County Press - - FRONT PAGE - Rachel Dick­er­son

Ray “Toosie” McAnnly of An­der­son has been study­ing the Noel train ex­plo­sion on Aug. 3, 1969, for 48 years.

He has re­cov­ered a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of ar­ti­facts from the dis­as­ter and has be­gun to make art from the larger pieces. He plans to cre­ate a dis­play open to the pub­lic at his home on Plain­view Road.

“There’s a dis­play in Har-Ber Vil­lage, Okla.,” he said. “I didn’t think it was fair there was a dis­play in Ok­la­homa. This is an at­tempt for McDon­ald County to have a dis­play. It all came from Noel.”

McAnnly said that, as far as he can de­ter­mine, the brake­men for­got to un­lock the brakes on one

of the cars, and four locked wheels were slid­ing and cre­at­ing fric­tion and heat. The train was car­ry­ing am­mo­nium per­chlo­rate, an ox­i­dizer for rocket pro­pel­lant fuel pur­chased by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The am­mo­nium per­chlo­rate caught fire, and there were a few small ex­plo­sions be­fore the big ex­plo­sion. A car of al­falfa meal was pulled over the hot spot cre­ated by the am­mo­nium per­chlo­rate and it ex­ploded. The ex­plo­sion lifted the car 2,000 or 3,000 feet in the air, McAnnly said.

McAnnly found pieces of the train half a mile from the blast site, 500 feet up a hill 38 years later. He got per­mis­sion from landown­ers to re­cover the ar­ti­facts. The heav­i­est piece found at the great­est dis­tance is nick­named “Grandpa” and is part of a sus­pen­sion. Weigh­ing 600 to 800 pounds, Grandpa was found on a ridge 1,000 feet high three-fourths of a mile from the blast site, McAnnly said. Two pieces of rail­road track were found across But­ler Creek and Mis­souri High­way 59 at 200-feet el­e­va­tion, he said. Two wheels were re­cov­ered half a mile from the blast site.

McAnnly said he loaded up 1,900 pounds of the smaller pieces and took them to the scrap yard.

The first piece of art he cre­ated was a but­ter­fly from a large piece of metal that hap­pened to have a but­ter­fly shape to it. A friend, Luwana Wil­cox, painted it. The but­ter­fly is named Rox­anne, af­ter Rox­anne Miller, the first fa­tal­ity from the train ex­plo­sion, McAnnly said.

“She was the owner of the beauty shop on Main Street. They told her to evac­u­ate now and she ran back up­stairs for some­thing. She was struck in the chest by a piece of shrap­nel,” he said.

An­other large piece is called Puff the Magic Dragon. It has yet to be painted with scales, McAnnly said.

Asked why he is mak­ing art out of the ar­ti­facts, he said, “Some women look at them and say, ‘All I see is a rusty piece of junk.’ To make them ap­peal­ing and take the ugly out of it. To piece it back to­gether and find out what did hap­pen and take the ugly out of it. To make some­thing beau­ti­ful out of some­thing so ugly is why I’m mak­ing art. Trash to trea­sure. What did hap­pen? I’ve won­dered for 48 years. It’s been a mys­tery. Was it ni­tro­glyc­erin? Was it some­thing they were il­le­gally haul­ing? No one can tell us what trig­gered it.”

He said his next piece to make art out of looks like a co­bra with fangs.

McAnnly is plan­ning on putting in a cir­cle drive and mak­ing the dis­play open to the pub­lic. No pets, please. Dona­tions are wel­come at 117 Plain­view Road, An­der­son. He said Lou Keel­ing, for­mer McDon­ald County sher­iff, has been his great­est in­spi­ra­tion in com­plet­ing his work. He also has sev­eral ar­ti­facts on dis­play at the McDon­ald County Mu­seum.


Ray ‘Toosie’ McAnnly is pic­tured with a piece of metal from the Noel train ex­plo­sion that has been painted to look like a but­ter­fly. McAnnly has a large col­lec­tion of ar­ti­facts from the ex­plo­sion that he is turn­ing into art­work.

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