McAnnly Creates Art From Noel Train Disaster Artifacts
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.