Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I-44 Truck Explosion

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.


Anonymous nancybrown said...

Fascinating story. I'd never heard of that.

June 27, 2014 at 6:27 AM  
Anonymous Jane walker said...

My dad told me this story and i got more interested, especially when i drive by there a lot. Pretty scary.

December 4, 2014 at 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Jane walker said...

My dad told me this story and i got more interested, especially when i drive by there a lot. Pretty scary.

December 4, 2014 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Sara Dyuran said...

I was 7 and remember the house and windows rattling and we lived close to the Battlefield Mall in Springfield. Couldn't remember the whole story thanks for sharing.

May 3, 2015 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger Rod Fenner said...

I remember the event. Took out a major portion of the highway and the poor drivers life. As Billy Joel sang 'and the union people drove awayyyy'.

May 13, 2015 at 12:41 AM  
Blogger Christopher Murchie said...

I remember that happening. I was 9 yrs old and we lived in Republic . My parents had a gas station which had living quarters above it on the second floor. On the first floor there were 3 or 4 large windows which were blown out by that explosion.
Chris Murchie

May 16, 2015 at 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember,, It shook the windows 50 mile away, Stuckey's roof was blown off and my favorite bee hive didn't survive.

I also remember when the powder plant blew up, the ground shook under our feet.

The vapor / smoke cloud was tremendous

BJ Branch

July 2, 2015 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Three Gables, Chris Murchie?

March 8, 2016 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Gary Wilson said...

My grandfather was the Missouri State Patrolman that caught those responsible. He tracked them by following the grooves in the road from where their tires ran flat.

June 28, 2016 at 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dad was an over the road driver for Consolidated Freightways out of St. Louis. He crossed the picket line because he had a family to feed and we would have lost everything. He was gone five weeks, and he wasn't even allowed to call my mother out of safety fears. He told my mother that the convoy he was in was escorted by highway patrols in the various states. When he got back to St. Louis someone had poured sugar in his car and it had to have a new engine put in. At least he was safe.

June 30, 2016 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger Christopher Murchie said...

Yes I believe Three Gables was the name of the station we lived in.

October 10, 2016 at 12:51 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I grew up one block down Harrison St. from 3 Gables. I was 19 at the time of the explosion, though.

October 10, 2016 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Christopher Murchie said...

I was 10 at the time but still remember it as if it was yesterday. My Dad operated the Three Gables gas station then.

January 2, 2017 at 7:24 PM  
Anonymous James King said...

My Grandmother lived in Clever, about 12 miles south of Republic. The explosion was just west of the Republic overpass. She heard the explosion. I was a student at Ozark Bible College in Joplin at the time. I can still remember having to drive into the westbound lanes, and the different colored pavement of the repair, visible into the 80's.

February 14, 2018 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The date is not correct. The I44 truck explosion happened nearer 1967. I remember driving around the detour. in 1070, I was in the military.

February 24, 2018 at 4:02 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Thanks for your input, but the date is correct. I, too, was in the military in 1970, which is how I remember for sure. Plus I researched this incident before I wrote about it.

February 26, 2018 at 7:51 PM  

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