The Nitroglycerin Explosion in Marshburg

September 19, 1941

It was always a dangerous thing to transport, and accidents and explosions were common in the history of the oil fields. Everyone knew of the explosive nature of nitroglycerin. But it had been quite a while since any disastrous accidental explosions had happened and things had been quiet for some time. Until September 19, 1941, that is.

The fatal explosion occurred on that Friday morning, when a truck containing 200 quarts of nitroglycerin, 300 quarts of glycerin, and some dynamite exploded with tremendous force on the top of Marshburg hill, about 10 miles southwest of Bradford. Two men died.

The American Glycerin truck, driven by John Gloss of Irvine Mills, NY, was en-route from Limestone, NY to Clarendon, PA with a full load of nitroglycerin for a magazine in that area. The truck passed through Custer City about 10:15 AM, and Gloss waved to Russell Montague of Center Street, as he passed by. Montague later reported that Gloss was alone in the truck at that time.

Also on the road that day were Clarendon Streeter, a prominent local oil producer, and Clifford Martin, executive secretary of the Bradford District Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Producer's Association, on their way to a meeting in Oil City, PA. R.J. Brennan, Ralph Zook and A.E. Booth, also well known oil producers in Bradford, were to have accompanied Martin and Streeter to Oil City, but decided at the last minute to forgo the trip.

Shortly before 10:30 AM, the nitro truck reached Marshburg hill. Following right behind it was the Streeter automobile. Streeter pulled out to pass the slow moving truck. At that moment, the nitro went off.

What happened next is best reported by the Bradford Era: "the blast blew the truck to bits, shattered the automobile, ripped out a hole 18 feet wide, 10 feet in length, and 4 feet deep in the asphalt highway, and leveled trees for 100 yards along the highway. Force of the terrific explosion was evidenced at the scene where the Streeter car, a large sedan, was blown to a spot 30 yards west of the crater in the road, the direction which the two vehicles were headed. The concussion shattered the windows and pushed in the sides and top of the car. It is believed the main force of the blast hit the right front of the car as the fender was folded back over the wheel on that side. The dashboard was slightly bent, and the front seat shoved forward. The rear seat area was in complete disorder. Largest single piece of the truck was the motor found lying in a ditch to the left side about 100 yards west of the crater. A portion of the right rear wheel was found about 50 feet to the right of the crater, while a small piece of the left wheel was found by searchers to the left of the highway. Scattered over a wide area were small bits of the truck in a nearby wooded section."

Mrs. C.B. Freeman, who lived about three miles east of the scene, said she heard the explosion, and thought it was a dynamite blast on the Forest Oil Company lease nearby.

Martin, seated in the front right passenger seat, was killed instantly. He left a wife, Florence, and three children, Clare Marie, Gloria and James. Gloss, driver of the nitro truck, was "blown to bits", although several fragments of the body were later found in the area. He also left a wife, Delores, and three sons, all under 3 years of age.

Streeter was pulled from the car by John Bryner who was working at a nearby oil well, and rushed by ambulance to the Bradford Hospital. Badly injured, he lived, although he suffered the loss of his right eye.

An investigation by Coroner Thomas R. Clark and Private D.C. Fisher of the Pennsylvania Motor Police was immediately begun. Completed within the week, the report stated that no known factor caused the explosion.

Streeter lived to be 79 years old, dying in 1972.