Since I established last time with my post about the Connor Hotel collapse in Joplin in 1978, at least to my own satisfaction, that events that happened within my memory can still be considered history, I'm going to write briefly this time about another incident that occurred in the 1970s: the explosion of a truck loaded with dynamite on I-44 just outside Springfield in late September of 1970. I was in Vietnam at the time. So, I didn't get a lot of information about it when it first happened, although I think I did at least hear about it, even in Vietnam. Perhaps my mother or father mentioned it in a letter. And when I got home to Springfield a few months later, I recall that people were still occasionally talking about it. Where they were when it happened--that sort of thing.
The facts in the case, as reported in newspapers at the time and as they later came out in court, were these: The Teamsters Union was on strike against Tri-State Trucking of Joplin in the fall of 1970, and some of the striking Union workers had started firing rifle shots into the company's trucks as they drove down the highway and otherwise harassing the company's non-union drivers in an apparent effort to force the company back to the bargaining table. On the night of September 29, Bobby Lee Shuler, Gerald Bowen, Mrs. Bowen, and a woman named Mrs. Kimmel started from Joplin in Kimmel's car. Shuler and perhaps the others had been drinking before they left Joplin, and they drove to Springfield and bought more beer. Starting back toward Joplin, they met a Tri-State Truck going the opposite way. At the next overpass, they turned around and overtook the truck, and Shuler and Bowen fired three shots into the grille of the truck as they passed it, thereby disabling it.
The foursome was again on their way back to Joplin in the wee hours of the morning on September 30 when they met two more Tri-State Trucks. They again turned around and passed the vehicles, but this time they raced ahead to the next overpass, crossed it, and stopped the car on the westbound ramp to await the approach of the trucks that were coming toward Springfield in the eastbound lane. (I think the overpass where they stopped was at the Republic exit, although I'd have to check more to be sure.) Shuler got out of the car with his rifle and fired two shots into the grille of the first truck, a flat-bed unit, as it passed. By then, the second truck, which had an enclosed trailer, was near, and Shuler also started firing at it. The first two shots hit the grille, doing little damage, but the third shot apparently went slightly awry. It exploded the trailer, which was carrying almost 43,000 pounds of dynamite, upon impact, and the driver, John Galt, was blown to bits, killing him instantly.
The explosion blew a hole in the road fifty feet wide, seventy feet long, and twenty-five feet deep. The effects of the explosion were felt at least seven miles away, and it was even reported that windows were blown out in Springfield. The Shuler party headed back toward Joplin on I-44 but soon took to the back roads, where they had a flat tire and eventually had to abandon the vehicle. They soon afterwards gave themselves up and were taken into custody. At trial the following year, Shuler claimed he wasn't trying to hurt anybody (even though he must have known the danger of shooting toward a truck carrying dynamite, since he himself had driven such trucks), but he was convicted of 2nd degree murder and received a sentence of 99 years in prison. Bowen was also convicted, presumably of a lesser charge, and got ten years in prison.