Bee history: Freight train blasts shock area

A fireball was the dramatic result when a rail car exploded at the Southern Pacific railyard facility in Roseville on April 28, 1973.
A fireball was the dramatic result when a rail car exploded at the Southern Pacific railyard facility in Roseville on April 28, 1973. Sacramento Bee file

The Sacramento Bee is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. This story is part of our ongoing coverage.

April 29, 1973: A five-hour series of devastating explosions ripped through a bomb-laden freight train near Roseville yesterday like a slow-motion string of giant firecrackers, causing the evacuation of thousands of area residents.

Astonishingly, although the blasts were heard as far as 40 miles away and windows were blown out of buildings five miles from the scene, no deaths had been reported by late last night.

A total of 52 persons was taken to area hospitals for treatment, however, and the scene, witnesses said, resembled a war area after a bombing raid. Interstate 80, a few hundred yards from the railroad switching yard, was closed for hours and the small town of Antelope was nearly leveled by the explosions.

The 400-home subdivision of Grand Oaks West was badly damaged, as was the nearby Lichen Elementary School – vacant because of the weekend. Had it been a school day, an estimated 500 youngsters would have been in school.

A spokesman for the State Office of Emergency Services said the evacuation area had amounted to a three-mile radius from the explosion site. Some 3,000 to 5,000 persons were evacuated temporarily to local high school gymnasiums, and the National Guard Armory in Roseville registered 500 persons.

Southern Pacific Railroad Co. railroad officials said the chain reaction series of blasts began at 7:52 a.m., shortly after an employee in the yard tower spotted smoke in one car of a 103-unit train and notified the yard fire department. Firemen, however, were unable to reach the scene before the first explosion.

The train, which arrived about 7 a.m., contained 21 Department of Defense freight cars each carrying 330 unfused Mark 81 bombs weighing 250 pounds apiece.

John Berthelsen

Building boom during Roaring 20s in Sacramento

Sac 1922 (2)
Bustling downtown Sacramento shown in 1922 during the Days of ’49 Parade. Sorci, Anthony - Sacramento Sacramento

1923: Sacramento boomed during the 1920s with the sounds of jackhammers, cranes and other construction equipment, as this April 28, 1923, Bee article points out:

Sacramento stood second in the list of cities of the United States in the per capita valuation of building permits in 1922 and in comparison with the building program of 1921 the valuation increased from $71 to $136.

Only one city in the United States surpassed Sacramento in the valuation of building permits per capita. This was Los Angeles, which had a valuation of $190.00. ... It is hard to find any specific cause which has brought about the disparity in the per capita value of building permits in the cities under consideration.

Among the possible causes we may mention the relative demand for residential, office and other buildings; the character and quality of new buildings; the variation in the prevailing methods of financing buildings; the rates of interest charged on building loans; and the modes and degree of severity of taxes.

Cartoon Corner

A 1962 Sacramento Bee editorial cartoon by Newton Pratt reads: “His program stalled by the congressional alliance of Republicans and southern Democrats, Kennedy sought a solution.” Newton Pratt Sacramento Bee file