John’s Believe It Or Not… July 6th

* 2013 – Unattended 74-car oil train derails at 100 kmh in Lac-Mégantic and explodes – killing 47 people. * 1957 Althea Gibson is first African American to win Wimbledon * 1942 Frank family takes refuge * 1971 Satchmo dies * 1957 John meets Paul for the first time

John Lennon with Paul McCartney

It’s Friday! TGIF! Did You Know…

* 2013 – Unattended 74-car oil train derails at 100 kmh in Lac-Mégantic and explodes – killing 47 people.

The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster occurred in the town of Lac-Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec, Canada, at approximately 01:15 EDT,[ on July 6, 2013, when an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken Formation crude oil rolled down a 1.2% grade from Nantes and derailed downtown, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-two people were confirmed dead, with five more missing and presumed dead. More than 30 buildings in the town’s centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed, and all but three of the thirty-nine remaining downtown buildings had to be demolished due to petroleum contamination of the townsite. Initial newspaper reports described a 1-kilometre (0.6 mi) blast radius.

The TSB (Transportation Safety Board of Canada) found that MMA’s (Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway) operating plan was to leave the train parked on the main line, unattended, with an unlocked locomotive cab, alongside a public highway where it was accessible to the general public, with no additional protection. However, there were no rules against leaving a train unlocked, running and unattended, even if it contained dangerous materials and was stopped on the main line, on a slope, in the vicinity of a residential area.

After finishing his work, Harding departed by taxi for a local hotel, l’Eau Berge in downtown Lac-Mégantic, for the night. En route, the engineer told the taxi driver that he felt unsafe leaving a locomotive running while it was spitting oil and thick, black smoke. He said he wanted to call the U.S. office of MMA (in Hermon, Maine) as they would be able to give him other directives. Taxi driver André Turcotte described the engineer as covered in droplets of oil, which also covered the taxi’s windscreen.

Witnesses recall seeing the train seemingly unattended and in distress around 22:45 that night. People driving on the road that parallels the rail line near Nantes recall seeing the train and having to slow down as they passed the locomotives where there was a thick dark blue cloud of diesel smoke being emitted as well as sparks coming out of a locomotive’s exhaust, due to a broken piston in its diesel engine. According to the TSB, the MMA’s rail traffic controller was warned of the train having technical difficulties while the train was still in Nantes on the evening of Friday, July 5. After the engineer had departed, the Nantes Fire Department, as well as a police officer from the Sûreté du Québec’s Lac-Mégantic detachment, responded to a 911 call from a citizen at 23:50 who reported a fire on the first locomotive; according to Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert, “We shut down the engine before fighting the fire. Our protocol calls for us to shut down an engine because it is the only way to stop the fuel from circulating into the fire.”The fire department extinguished the blaze and notified the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s rail traffic controller in Farnham. MMA did not grant permission to the engineer to return to the scene, instead summoning a track maintenance foreman unfamiliar with the operation of railway air brakes. By 00:13 two MMA track maintenance employees had arrived from Lac-Mégantic; the Nantes firefighters left the scene as the MMA employees confirmed to the police officer and to the Farnham rail traffic controller that the train was safe.

The MMA has alleged that the lead locomotive was tampered with after Harding had left; that the diesel engine was shut down, thereby disabling the compressor powering the air brakes, which allowed the train to roll downhill from Nantes into Lac-Mégantic once the air pressure dropped in the reservoirs on the cars. Teamsters Canada Rail Conference vice-president Doug Finnson disputed this theory, stating that the key braking system on a stopped, unsupervised train are the hand brakes, which are completely independent of the motor-powered compressor that feeds the air brakes.

With all the locomotives shut down, the air compressor no longer supplied air to the air brake system. As air leaked from the brake system, the main air reservoirs were slowly depleted, gradually reducing the effectiveness of the locomotive air brakes. At 00:56, the air pressure had dropped to a point at which the combination of locomotive air brakes and hand brakes could no longer hold the train, and it began to roll downhill toward Lac-Mégantic, just over seven miles away. A witness recalled watching the train moving slowly toward Lac-Mégantic without the locomotive lights on. The track was not equipped with track circuits to alert the rail traffic controller to the presence of a runaway train.

Gathering momentum on the long downhill slope, the train entered the town of Lac-Mégantic at high speed. The TSB’s final report concluded that the train was travelling at 105 kilometres per hour (65 mph) more than triple the typical speed for that location. The rail line in this area is on a curve and has a speed limit for trains of 16 kilometres per hour (10 mph) as it is located at the west end of the Mégantic rail yard.

Just before the derailment, witnesses recalled observing the train passing through the crossing at an excessive speed with no locomotive lights, “infernal” noise and sparks being emitted from the wheels. Gilles Fluet, a Musi-Café patron who was leaving the site just before the derailment, said the wheels were smoking lots of white smoke. The runaway train passed 50 metres (160 ft) behind him moving at highway speed. Travelling with no signals, the train jumped the track, sending a river of burning oil into the lake. “It was moving at a hellish speed … no lights, no signals, nothing at all. There was no warning. It was a black blob that came out of nowhere. I realized they were oil tankers and they were going to blow up, so I yelled that to my friends and I got out of there. If we had stayed where we were, we would have been roasted.”

The unmanned train derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic at 01:14, in an area near the grade crossing where the rail line crosses Frontenac Street, the town’s main street. This location is approximately 600 metres (2,000 ft) northwest of the railway bridge over the Chaudière River and is also immediately north of the town’s central business district.

People on the terrace at Musi-Café—a bar located next to the centre of the explosions—saw the tank cars leave the track and fled as a blanket of oil generated a ball of fire three times the height of the downtown buildings. Between four and six explosions were reported initially as tank cars ruptured and crude oil escaped along the train’s trajectory. Heat from the fires was felt as far as 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) away. People jumped from the third floor of buildings in the central business district to escape the fire. As the blazing oil flowed over the ground, it entered the town’s storm sewer and emerged as huge fires towering from other storm sewer drains, manholes, and even chimneys and basements of buildings in the area.

The Musi-Café owner says that some employees and patrons felt the tremors of the train and thought it was an earthquake. They went out and started running. Other patrons and employees told some survivors that the tremors were an earthquake and that it would be better to stay under a table. Of those that went out, not all survived. Some were not able to outrun a “tsunami of fire”.

The locomotives and the VB car were found intact, separated from the rest of the train approximately 800 metres (0.50 mi) east of the derailment site. The equipment that derailed included 63 of the 72 tank cars as well as the buffer car. Nine tank cars at the rear of the train remained on the track and were pulled away from the derailment site and did not explode. Almost all of the derailed tank cars were damaged, many having large breaches. About six million litres of petroleum crude oil was quickly released; the fire began almost immediately.

Aerial photo of the Lac-Megantic Disaster

* 1957 Althea Gibson is first African American to win Wimbledon

On this day in 1957, Althea Gibson claims the women’s singles tennis title at Wimbledon and becomes the first African American to win a championship at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Gibson was born on August 25, 1927, in Silver, South Carolina, and raised in the Harlem section of New York City. She began playing tennis as a teenager and went on to win the national black women’s championship twice. At a time when tennis was largely segregated, four-time U.S. Nationals winner Alice Marble advocated on Gibson’s behalf and the 5’11” player was invited to make her U.S. Open debut in 1950. In 1956, Gibson’s tennis career took off and she won the singles title at the French Open–the first African American to do so–as well as the doubles’ title there. In July 1957, Gibson won Wimbledon, defeating Darlene Hard, 6-3, 6-2. (In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, when he defeated Jimmy Connors.) In September 1957, she won the U.S. Open, and the Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. During the 1950s, Gibson won 56 singles and doubles titles, including 11 major titles.

After winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open again in 1958, Gibson retired from amateur tennis. In 1960, she toured with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, playing exhibition tennis matches before their games. In 1964, Gibson joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, the first black woman to do so. The trailblazing athlete played pro golf until 1971, the same year in which she was voted into the National Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame.

After serving as New Jersey’s commissioner of athletics from 1975 to 1985, Althea Gibson died at age 76 from respiratory failure on September 28, 2003, at a hospital in East Orange, New Jersey.

Althea Gibson with her trophy.
Althea was a rebel who became a barrier breaker and an extraordinary American athlete. (UBITENNIS)

* 1942 Frank family takes refuge

In Nazi-occupied Holland, 13-year-old Jewish diarist Anne Frank and her family are forced to take refuge in a secret sealed-off area of an Amsterdam warehouse. The day before, Anne’s older sister, Margot, had received a call-up notice to be deported to a Nazi “work camp.”

Born in Germany on June 12, 1929, Anne Frank fled to Amsterdam with her family in 1933 to escape Nazi persecution. In the summer of 1942, with the German occupation of Holland underway, 12-year-old Anne began a diary relating her everyday experiences, her relationship with her family and friends, and observations about the increasingly dangerous world around her. On July 6, fearing deportation to a Nazi concentration camp, the Frank family took shelter in a factory run by Christian friends. During the next two years, under the threat of murder by the Nazi officers patrolling just outside the warehouse, Anne kept a diary that is marked by poignancy, humour, and insight.

On August 4, 1944, just two months after the successful Allied landing at Normandy, the Nazi Gestapo discovered the Frank’s “Secret Annex.” The Franks were sent to the Nazi death camps along with two of the Christians who had helped shelter them, and another Jewish family and a single Jewish man with whom they had shared the hiding place. Anne and most of the others ended up at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Anne’s diary was left behind, undiscovered by the Nazis.

In early 1945, with the Soviet liberation of Poland underway, Anne was moved with her sister, Margot, to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Suffering under the deplorable conditions of the camp, the two sisters caught typhus and died in early March. After the war, Anne’s diary was discovered undisturbed in the Amsterdam hiding place and in 1947 was translated into English and published. An instant best-seller and eventually translated into more than 30 languages, The Diary of Anne Frank has served as a literary testament to the six million Jews, including Anne herself, who were silenced in the Holocaust.

July 6, 1942 – Frank family takes refuge
July 6, 1942 – Frank family takes refuge (HISTORY Canada)

* 1971 Satchmo dies

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, dies in New York City at the age of 69. A world-renowned jazz trumpeter and vocalist, he pioneered jazz improvisation and the style known as swing.

Louis Daniel Armstrong was born in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, in 1901. He grew up in poverty and from a young age was interested in music. In 1912, he was incarcerated in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, allegedly for firing a gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. While there, he played cornet in the home’s band. Upon his release, he dedicated himself to becoming a professional musician and soon was mastering local jazz styles on the cornet. He attracted the attention of cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, and when Oliver moved to Chicago in 1919 he took his place in trombonist Kid Ory’s band, a leading group in New Orleans at the time. He later teamed up with pianist Fate Marable and performed on riverboats that traveled the Mississippi.

In 1922, King Oliver invited Armstrong to Chicago to play second cornet in his Creole Jazz Band, and Armstrong made his first recordings with Oliver the following year. In 1924, he moved to New York City and demonstrated his emerging improvisational style in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. In 1925, Armstrong returned to Chicago and formed his own band–the Hot Five–which included Kid Ory, clarinettist Johnny Dodds, and pianist Lil’ Hardin, Armstrong’s second wife.

This band, which later grew into the Hot Seven, recorded some of the seminal pieces in the history of jazz, including “Savoy Blues,” “Potato Head Blues,” and “West End Blues.” In these recordings, Armstrong abandoned the collective improvisation of New Orleans-style jazz and placed the emphasis on individual soloists. He switched from cornet to trumpet during this time and played the latter with unprecedented virtuosity and range. In the 1926 recording “Heebie Jeebies,” he popularized “scat singing,” a style in which jazz vocalists sing musical lines of nonsensical syllables in emulation of instrumental improvisation. His joyous voice, both coarse and exuberant, was one of the most distinctive in popular music.

In 1929, Armstrong returned to New York City and made his first Broadway appearance. His recordings, many of which were jazz interpretations of popular songs, were international hits, and he toured the United States and Europe with his big band. His music had a major effect on the swing and big band sound that dominated popular music in the 1930s and ’40s. A great performer, Armstrong appeared regularly on radio and in American films, including Pennies from Heaven (1936), Cabin in the Sky (1943), and New Orleans (1947). In 1947, he formed a smaller ensemble, the All-Stars, which he led until 1968.

Louis Armstrong had many nicknames, including Satchmo, short for “Satchelmouth”; “Dippermouth”; and “Pops.” Because he spread jazz around the world through his extensive travels and hit songs, many called him “Ambassador Satch.” Although in declining health in his later years, he continued to perform until his death on July 6, 1971.

Louis Armstrong, jazz legend, dies in 1971
Louis Armstrong, jazz legend, dies in 1971 (NY Daily News)

* 1957 John meets Paul for the first time

The front-page headline of the Liverpool Evening Express on July 6, 1957, read “MERSEYSIDE SIZZLES,” in reference to the heat wave then gripping not just northern England, but all of Europe. The same headline could well have been used over a story that received no coverage at all that day: The story of the first encounter between two Liverpool teenagers named John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Like the personal and professional relationship, it would lead to, their historic first meeting was a highly charged combination of excitement, rivalry and mutual respect.

It’s easy to assume that John and Paul would eventually have met on some other day had a mutual friend not chosen that hot and humid Saturday to make the introduction. But as much as they had in common, the two boys lived in different neighbourhoods, went to different schools and were nearly two years apart in age.

Only John was scheduled to perform publicly on July 6, 1957. The occasion was the annual Woolton Parish Church Garden Fete, a parade and outdoor fair at which John and his Quarry Men Skiffle Group had been invited to play. The main attractions were a dog show and a brass band, but a family connection had helped get the Quarry Men added to the bill as a nod to the hundreds of teenagers in attendance. Midway through their first set, 15-year-old Paul McCartney showed up and watched, transfixed, as John, despite his rudimentary guitar skills and his tendency to ad-lib in place of forgotten lyrics, held the crowd with charm and swagger. After the show, it was Paul’s turn to impress John.

A mutual friend made the introduction in the nearby church auditorium, where John and his bandmates slouched on folding chairs and barely acknowledged the younger boy. Then Paul pulled out the guitar he was carrying on his back and began playing Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock,” then Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula,” then a medley of Little Richard numbers. As Jim O’Donnell writes in The Day John Met Paul, his book-length account of this historic moment in music history, “A young man not easily astonished, Lennon is astonished.” Paul’s musicianship far outstripped the older Lennon’s, but more than that, John recognized in Paul the same passion Paul had detected in John during his earlier onstage performance. Soon Paul was teaching a rapt John how to tune his guitar and writing out the chords and lyrics to some of the songs he’d just played.

Later that evening, walking home with one of his bandmates, John announced his intentions toward their new acquaintance. Two weeks later, John Lennon invited Paul McCartney to join the Quarry Men.


Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* This Day In History – What Happened Today              

* Wikipedia                                                                                                           

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

15 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 6th”

  1. A very interesting post, John. The detail around the train crash and fire was most interesting and I have read The Diary of Anne Frank a number of times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many of your immigrants who fear they’ll be deported have been streaming across our border into Canada for the past couple of years – illegally. They are detained and processed as humanely as possible. Trudeau is not without his critics on this policy, but it is fair. The problem is the number of people streaming in on foot. Thanks, James.


  2. The story of the train derailment reads like a thriller. Errors made by everyone. Looks like the engineer tried to do the right thing. Anne Frank should have lived to tell the story of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, her diary has to speak for her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, Mr. John, the title of your next thriller: “Holocaust on the Rails” – how about that? I agree that the disaster was very scary. I’m so pleased we have Anne Frank’s diary at least. She had the makings of a great leader, methinks. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The story of the train derailment was frightening and so sad. Ann Frank taught all of us about goodness, about justice, about love. And, she was just a child. I still listen to Louie Armstrong, love his voice. The photo of the Beetles in 1957 is priceless. Thank you for all the news bits, John. Have a great day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that runaway train derailment was just horrible – the community is still recovering. Last I heard, they are building a new rail line that goes around the town instead of through it. It also gives us pause about the issue of transporting oil products overland by train, truck, or pipeline. There is no guarantee with any option. Better to leave it in the ground! Thanks, Gwen – you enjoy your day too!


  4. I visited Ann Frank’s house. She was a unique voice. What a betrayal and what a loss. We should always be reminded of the terrible things that can happen.
    John meeting Paul changed the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Visiting Anne Frank’s house must have been a moving experience. The world owes her a lot. I agree about the historic meeting of John and Paul. Imagine if John had not bothered to contact Paul two weeks later to invite him to join The Quarrymen. Thanks, Opher.


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