Letter to the Editor:
The picture in the “A Glance at the Past “ column in this weeks Chronicle, and the column “From Out of the Past” in this weeks News-Herald brought back memories that hadn’t crossed my mind for a long long time.
I was with my dad (Hod Walton) in the Gamble Store in Tama probably within ten minutes of the time the store exploded. My dad operated a small automotive repair shop in a building just south of the Tama County Annex building. (His shop building was taken down several years ago to make room for a parking lot for County vehicles assigned to offices in the Annex building. You will recall this time (1936) was still the worst depression time this country had ever seen and money was very scarce. However, like now, people still needed to be able to keep cars running and to do so would often request my dad obtain the necessary repair parts from the Gamble Store if possible as they had less expensive parts than purchasing them from a car dealer or from an out of town parts supplier. There were no Napa or Car Quest Stores in Toledo or Tama at that time.
We had gone to Tama to the Gamble Store to obtain parts to repair a car, but the store either did not stock the needed parts or they were currently out of stock. I recall my Dad being rather out of sorts because not being able to obtain what was needed meant he would not be able to repair the car as planned, thereby missing out on a few dollars labor he had expected.
We immediately headed back to Toledo, and found on our arrival there had been an explosion on “main street” in Tama. Dad recalled later thinking he had heard something as were about half-way back to Toledo but of course had no idea what it might have been. Because we had no parts and therefore he could not do the repairs, we headed back to Tama to see what had happened.
The sight of these buildings made a tremendous impression on me being not quite 9 years old at that time. In those days there were no EMS services, no air lifting bags or jaws of life to assist with the rescue attempts being made to help those trapped in the the buildings. Of course the Firemen were doing the best they could with the equipment available to them. I believe probably all the doctors from both towns were present, doing all they could to help each victim as they were brought out of the ruble. Of course I knew the Toledo Doctors-Pace, Fee, and Maplethorpe, Sr., and although I did not know the Tama Doctors by name they were also on hand to help. I was in awe as Dr. Mapiethorpe crawled into the wreckage with the rescuers to reach and try to help those still trapped . Even though very dirty and his clothing a real mess he went back repeatedly to try to minister to those still pinned in the debris. It would appear that although the Gamble Store building was the better of the three buildings prior to the explosion it was the one most damaged, with the remains of the building on the front sidewalk or pancaked down upon itself
At the time this occurred, the City of Tama was in the process of constructing a new waste-water/sewage plant along the river south of downtown Tama. I believe this was a WPA project that was one of the things the federal government had promoted to assist with the massive unemployment of that time. At the site of this project was a large crane being used to do this construction. The use of the crane to help with the lifting of the large pieces of debris was apparently ok’d, but to get it from the site where it was being used to where it was needed meant driving it up highway 63, across the railroad tracks, and down 3 rd street to where it could assist in lifting the ruble to get the people out of the collapsed building. This machine was equipped with cleats on its tracks, which made it a huge no-no to operate it on hard surface streets. However, the need for it overruled any damage that might be done by driving it to the sight so it was driven as quickly as possible to where it could be used. This occurred in a time when people did what they had to do with whatever was at hand. As the articles in your papers pointed out, there were several fatalities and numerous injuries, with some resulting in long time handicaps for the person unlucky enough to be in the store at the time of the explosion. I felt extremeiy fortunate to not have been one of those, although I am not sure at that particular time I realized just how lucky my Dad and I had been.
If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was later determined a faulty gasoline powered device of some type in the basement of the Gamble Store had been the source of the explosive vapor that had accumulated that resulted in the blast. I believe they determined that in all probability someone turning on the lights to go to the basement was the most likely ignition source, although I do not know if this was ever definitely proved.
This was just one of many things that made life for a depression era kid anything but dull.