These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Look Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
October 22, 2023
80 years ago this story appeared in the Roseau Times-Region dated November 4, 1943. The story had this header: “Furnace explodes and shakes town; Steam heating plant in Ole Johnson’s Beer Parlor blowed up Thursday Morning.”
A blast which shook the goods off the shelves in the adjoining A. L. Alley Company’s store and was felt in the next block was caused by an explosion of the steam furnace system in the Johnson Beer Parlor Thursday morning. The explosion took place about 10 o’clock.
People on the street noticed the plate window front of the building push out followed by a cloud of steam and smoke. The fire alarm was sounded and the fire laddies lost no time in arriving on the scene. They found no fire on the first floor but water was needed to put out the flames in the furnace room in the basement.
The explosion turned the beer parlor into the shambles. The electric light fixtures were broken, the walls were splattered with dust and grime from the furnace. The plate glass front and the glass in the door were pushed out and broken into small pieces, while most of the rear windows were also broken. The transom window over the front door was intact.
Luckily it happened at a rather quiet hour in the beer parlor. Only a few patrons were standing at the bar and one or two were sitting in the booths. It was also fortunate that no one was passing on the sidewalk in front of the building when the plate front busted out.
Those standing at the bar were yanked upwards off their feet, and those in the booths found themselves flat on the floor. Luckily no one was injured. That was luck, for big castings from the furnace were thrown up from the basement and were lying on the floor. Had the place been filled with patrons, undoubtedly a tragedy would have been written with it.
The explosion was either caused by steam pressure on the boiler or by coal gas. It may have been caused by clogging up steam pipes from scaling of the mineral in the water or it might have been from other cause. The morning was not cold and it was understood that the furnace had not been fired hard at all. E. E. Johnson, owner of the building, believes the cause was the accumulation of coal gas in the upper chamber of the furnace.
W. J. Hites, who happened to be in the building at the time it happened, said it gave him the funniest feeling to be himself jerked up by force of the rushing air and just as suddenly let down again. Another patron found himself on the floor, said he had no business there anyway. He later found his glasses which had been popped off their proper place on the bridge of his nose.
The beer parlor is the property of E. E. Johnson but was being operated by Ole Johnson. The insurance adjuster had not been around to check on the damages as yet. However, it will take considerable work to repair the damage to the furnace and to the interior of the building. The replacement of the plate glass front is another big item.
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