“Home Teachers Move into Action as Train Explodes,” Ensign, July 1973, 133–34
ROSEVILLE, CALIFORNIA—It was April 28, a normal Saturday morning. A boys’ ball game was in progress at the local baseball field. Sister Michael Brennan was caring for her new baby. President Stephen L. Van Wagenen, of the Sacramento North Stake, and his wife were going to the stake center for a dance festival rehearsal. Sister Anna Johnson and her daughter LaRue, of the North Highland Ward, were driving past the Roseville railroad yard, where a train of 100 freight cars headed for the San Francisco Bay area was slowly passing through. Twenty-one of the freight cars carried large incendiary bombs. One of them ignited.
The next 36 hours were far from normal, as more than two million pounds of bombs exploded like a giant chain of firecrackers. The small community of Antelope, consisting of several homes, some stores, and a fire station, was completely leveled by the initial blasts.
Overall, hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged, the Sacramento North Stake Center rocked under the impact of the explosions one and one-half miles away, and cracks appeared in the dome of the California State Capitol building, 15 miles away. However, despite the destruction of property, only 70 persons received minor injuries, and none of them were Church members.
As the explosions continued, sending mushroom-shaped clouds into the air, local residents within a one and one-half mile radius were evacuated to safety. Included was the membership of four wards of the Sacramento North Stake, the Citrus Heights Second Ward, Foothills Ward, North Highlands Ward, and North Highlands Second Ward.
When evacuation orders came, there was little time to gather together food or clothing. Along with his neighbors, Bishop James Warner of the Citrus Heights Second Ward was ordered to “leave the area immediately. Anyone found in the area in fifteen minutes will be shot as a prowler!”
The Michael Brennan family had no time to pack necessities for their new baby, but later they were able to get what they needed as relief organizations were set up. In the Lynn Allen home, the force of the initial explosion blasted young Billy Allen several feet from the kitchen doorway into the living room.
That first explosion also caused the roof and the doors to cave in on Sister Johnson’s car. The windshield shattered, but even though particles of glass and debris showered into the car, neither Sister Johnson nor her daughter was injured.
As the seriousness of the situation became known through bulletins over local radio stations, a vast array of professional and volunteer help gathered together at a command post one-half mile from the detonating bombs. Among the volunteers was President Van Wagenen, a physician. Another LDS physician who arrived early to offer assistance was Dr. Norman Challburg.
In reviewing the events of that weekend, President Van Wagenen reports: “Bishop Warner was cut off from communication with his ward members, although he was able to make contact with some of the men to make sure that families had transportation to the ward meetinghouse. His first counselor, James Barnes, made several contacts with priesthood leaders, while his ward executive secretary, Maynard Swisher, made numerous calls to home teachers, who subsequently contacted their families. Where telephones were out of order, personal visits were made to homes wherever possible. Many families called their home teachers, and contacts were made to provide shelter for displaced families. Later, when most of the Citrus Heights Second Ward was evacuated, many of the members went to the safety of the ward meetinghouse. Ninety-one people were fed chili processed at our own cannery.
“Most of the families in the ward had been evacuated, and all but one family had been accounted for within a few hours of the first bomb blast. Subsequently, it was discovered that the unaccounted-for family was on a visit out of town.
“It was thrilling that so many families were accounted for by their home teachers and friends. However, some families left the area without notifying anyone, and we would like to recommend to members everywhere that they should try to make contact with their home teachers or priesthood leaders should such a disaster strike. It would help the ward leaders to know who was really missing; and it would prevent any undue concern and heartache.
“As we found, the need for evacuation from the area came very fast, and in most cases families were unable to transport food or other supplies. Most people had to leave with just what they were wearing, and some of the younger children didn’t have their shoes on because they had been playing at the time of the explosion and the evacuation. From our experience we would like to recommend that members have a ready supply of money available to take care of immediate needs in such an emergency.
“Sometimes as priesthood leaders we tend to stress percentages in our home teaching efforts. In times such as these, it is comforting to reflect on the true service of faithful home teachers, priesthood leaders, and members of the Church.”