"The Kids Were on the Fence Screaming and Crying"

Memories of a Barrio Anita Train Crash

by Fernando R. Cortez and Zobeida Orozco

When: Thursday, October 24, 1940, 10:55 a.m.
Where: North Main Street railroad crossing.
Result: 9 homes destroyed, 3 people injured.

A Southern Pacific passenger train crashed into the rear end of a large transport truck carrying 6,000 gallons of gasoline causing a huge fire.

Barrio Anita residents watched as more than 3,000 gallons of flaming gasoline ran down the gutters of Main Street. Residents held their breath as the fire came to a stop at the yard of Davis School. Fire damage to local stores and apartments on North Main and St. Mary's exceeded $25,000.

Ben Laguna of 426 St. Mary's road stated,"1 saw the flames coming towards me and thought of all the people who might get trapped on Main Street so I ran to the locomotive and told the engineer, blow 6-6, blow 6-6, which is the whistle signal for an accident."
Sources: Arizona Daily Star, 10/25/40. Tucson Citizen, 10/24/40. Howard Seth interview, 7/2/98.

“A big truck was coming and it had two big tanks... The truck was going south across the tracks [on Main] and the train was going east. I was coming from the store. Every day I would go to the store and buy what we were going to eat. The train was coming fast like always. It honked and honked. I guess the truck was trying to beat [the train] and [they] crashed. The [gasoline] caught fire and ran [down] Main Avenue and a little [fire] came to Davis School. My kids were seven and eight... in [Davis School]. I remembered them and ran to get them. To this day I don't remember what I did with the groceries. They had done a fire drill and the kids were on the fence screaming and crying, trying to get out."
Source: Bertha Rico interview, 6/11/98

"[The train and truck explosion] sounded terrible. We heard... Mrs. Urquides, she was the P.E teacher here at Davis, she blew the whistle really loud. She was outside and she yelled "Fire!" so we all panicked. We kids…started running away from the [school]. I jumped the fence to the west side [of Davis]. Everybody else was jumping fences all over the area. I ended up going around to... Oury Park. My mother got scared and she came from Anita Street [where we lived] running, crying, looking for me. She went straight to Davis [and] she asked my teacher 'Is Dalia in the room?'[The teacher said:] 'No, she's not Mrs. Vasquez--she disappeared. She went running to that side of the fence...she's going to die, you know, the flames are [going to] hit the school.' So [my mother] became hysterical. So I was running all the way over there and she was running over here towards the school and we met on the way and when she saw me she hugged me and I hugged her and we cried because it was very, very terrible."
Source: Dalia Santa Cruz interview, 6/19/98