Fifty years ago, on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 1964, an afternoon explosion rocked a storage tank area of the Case Chemical Company on Canton Road in Marietta.
An unnamed eye witness told the Journal that he heard an explosion at the plant at 1 p.m., rushed outside and saw multi-colored smoke billowing several hundred feet in the air. He also said that “oil or some kind of chemical” had blown out across Canton Highway and was the cause of several vehicle crashes.
“It looked like an oil gusher in a [movie] picture and sounded like tons of dynamite going off,” said Mrs. John Bagwell describing the explosion.
Puddles of slick, black oil were reported as having spread a messy, oily coating over several homes, lawns and cars near the Mitchell Drive intersection of Canton Highway.
Mrs. Bagwell’s 19-year-old son, Steve, was reported as having helped avert a disastrous collision. Minnie Gay, the maid for the Dr. James Roberts family, was driving the three young Roberts children from their home on Sandy Plains Road to school when her car was suddenly drenched in the black rain. Unable to see out of her windshield, Gay skidded to a stop on the highway. Bagwell, who heard her yelling for help, ran out to Gay’s car and helped steer and push it off of the highway just before another fast moving car skidded sideways on the slick road right where the car had been moments earlier.
Thankfully, no one was reported hurt in either the explosion or the car collisions.
Louis E. Cutler, president of the Case Chemical Company, told the Journal that a weak weld allowed a 15-inch diameter steel cover to blow off the top of a 1,200-gallon dehydrator tank, which was used in a re-refining process for used crankcase oil. The cover was later found 200 yards east of the plant in a field. Cutler also predicted that the Case Chemical Company, which had become a division Allied Petro Products Inc. of Narberth, Pa., in September of 1963, would be back in operation in 24 hours.
Plant Manager Jack Ray said that a faulty pressure gauge had probably let the tank pressure exceed the normal pressure of 350 pounds per square inch.
There was no fire involved in the explosion – just a mixture of oil and water under high pressure which had erupted from the opening at the top of the tank. The earlier report of “multi-colored smoke” was believed to have been an oily cloud that was carried by a breeze westward across the L&N Railroad, over Canton Highway and along Mitchell Drive.
The immediate plant area was inundated with the liquid along with a 50-foot section of railroad track that still glistened with oil an hour after the explosion. Canton Highway was soaked with inky black puddles until they were covered with sand. Traffic had to be re-routed around the area for about an hour.
Officer Billy Reed of the Cobb County Police Department was reported as the first officer on the scene and that he had called the L&N Railroad to notify them of the oil on the tracks.
A car driven by Doris Floyd was splattered by the black rain, but she was able to bring her vehicle into the parking lot of the General Hardware and Builders Supply Corporation – which was managed by Mrs. Bagwell.
Mrs. Bagwell’s home, which faced Canton Highway and was across Mitchell Drive from her business, was believed to have received the first and heaviest amount of the explosion’s oily rain. Black streaks stained her white eaves, which she said had just been painted the day before. Oil was seen darkening her shrubbery, grass and chestnut trees. Flue liners, fire bricks, a truckload of house shingles and other building supplies at the property also showed signs of the rain.
Richard Spear, the four-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Spear on Mitchell Drive, was reported as being the only person caught out in the falling oil. Mrs. Spear said that her son had been covered in the black liquid and she quickly gave him a bath. The oily film was seen on the gutters at her home, on the family’s car, a lawn chair and the grass.
Next door to the Spear family, the home of L.L. Ingram also had oil stains on its white shingles. Ingram was reported as unsuccessfully trying to wash it off with a hose.
Carl Brackett, who lived across the street from the Spears and Ingram, was reported as telling the Journal reporter that the Case Chemical plant had been giving off an awful odor for some time. Mrs. Bagwell also confirmed that the plant had smelled bad for the past two months. She said that she had begged and pleaded with Cobb County officials to do something about it and also charged that the fumes coming from the plant had affected both her voice and sickened two of her children.
Ray said the plant had been trying to condense the oil fumes to cut down on air pollution and that both the state and local county boards of health had been assured that the odor problems would be fixed by Oct. 1.
Damon Poirier is the Newsroom Administrator for the Marietta Daily Journal.
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