The ‘Banana Truck’ Crash: 50 Years Later

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SCRANTON -- It was a horrific wreck many people still remember, one that inspired a Harry Chapin song.

On March 18, 1965 Gene Sesky of Scranton lost control of the truck he was driving, hauling 30,000 pounds of bananas, barreling down Moosic Street toward central Scranton, unable to stop.

Family members said the clutch failed.

"He chose not to jump out of that truck. And he was on the fuel tank of the truck with the door open, blowing the air horn, steering the truck with the other hand, yelling for people to get out of the way," said Gene's son, Gene Sesky.

Bill Shoemaker was on Moosic Street that day with his wife, one-month-old daughter, brother, and sister-in-law in his car.

He drove onto the curb when he saw the truck coming, got clipped and woke up in the hospital with almost a hundred stitches in his head.

His family was safe.

"I say how lucky I was that I was 22 years old and able to grab that wheel and turn it and jump the curb and get up part way on the sidewalk or I definitely wouldn't be here," said Shoemaker.

Witnesses said Sesky hit speeds of more than 100 miles per hour before he crashed at the corner of South Irving Avenue and Moosic Street. He was killed instantly.

"I remember him behind that wheel. It was a horrible sight and he was the true hero. Sesky did everything he could to avoid everyone and it was just wonderful that he was able to," said Shoemaker.

Sesky was 33 years old when he died, leaving behind a wife, his 10-year-old son, and two young daughters.

Gene Sesky grew up to become a truck driver like his dad. He keeps the watch his father was wearing when he died.

He said it stopped the moment his dad died, frozen in time.

"Nobody got killed that day except my dad, so when he got that truck and maneuvered it around while it was still on fire, he saved over a hundred people's lives that day. He's a hero," said Sesky.

Sesky said he has been approached by movie producers wanting to make a feature film out of his father's story.

He said ultimately his family decided against it, saying it would be too painful to relive.

26 comments

  • Animal Lover

    That man is a hero plain and simple. If he hadn’t stayed with the truck many lives would have been lost that day. Just as an aside. The house in that picture is that the one that is always decorated for Christmas?

  • Chuck S

    That is my father, mother and oldest sister hit by the truck ( my father in the interview ) …. an accident that could of been much much worse.

    • Kevin Stewart

      That man was my father in law my wife is mr seskys younger daughter she would very much like to talk to your dad. Pleas contact us. Thank you
      Kevin stewart

    • Fletcher

      Because, especially with an old truck, brakes are not enough to hold it on a hill like that. So you depend on lower gears to do so, which relies on the clutch. That is why we have low truck speed limits on steep hills.

    • nickedemos

      with no clutch the engine was just at an idle. drivers use the compression from the engine to help hold the truck back. on that hill with the gross weight of the truck it didn’t take long for the brakes to burn up with no help from compression and in those days there were no spring brakes (emergency brakes) on the tractor/trailers.i’ve been on the road 45 years now and to me mr. sesky was and still is a hero. not many would have rode that runaway to the bottom. he saved many many lives. god bless mr. sesky!

  • Bob243

    Am quite familiar with the hill and the road down as far as Harrison Ave. Hard to picture what it was like in 1965 in regards to traffic. Today this is a busy area, I cannot imagine the same thing happening again today without a substantial loss of lives.

  • donn gilbride

    Why there wasn’t any concern when the city of Scranton tore Mr Sesky’s childhood home down two weeks ago? I didn’t see a story on that!

  • fissels

    I remember going to a Harry Chapin concert in Wilkes barre and when he played this song, 2 people dressed up as bananas jumped up on stage with him and danced around.

  • Swampdonkey

    Harry was crushed to death by 2 tractor trailers in his VW rabbit .When i was in New York
    listening to 30 thousand lbs…a news broadcast came up on tv. I had been on that “hill”
    traveling to there the day before Harry died.Sometimes coincidences can be quite erie.
    Gene was actually carrying frozen banana split ice cream i believe.

    • Jennifer

      The first paragraph says “Harry Chapin”, and the video and the news broadcast both played part of the song (and printed the words, too).

  • David DeCosmo

    The truck was owned by a relative of former wnep reporter Marie Carpentier. I believe he may have been her Grandfather.

  • Michele kudrich

    My father used to say he was supposed to be on that truck working with Gene but I was never sure if that was true. I worked with his sister. It was a terrible tradgedy.

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