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Fire at Arch Memorial Theatre

Story ID:10724
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Bly Oregon USA
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Fire at Arch Memorial Theatre
By Chuck Dishno

In 1951 I was running the projectors at tie Arch Theatre in my hometown, Bly, Oregon. I was working 6 nights a week, making $2.00 a night. The owner, George Fullerton, lived in Klamath Falls and paid me and extra $10.00 a month to keep the theatre operating. Not much money but my needs were small and best of all I rarely had to ask my parents for anything.

One of my jobs at the theatre was to get it ready for that evening’s movie. This included lighting the furnace about 4 pm each day. The furnace was a large wood burning behemoth behind the theatre. After each show the sweepers would sweep all the popcorn bags and drink cups into a plastic container and leave it by the back door to be used a fire starter.

During the summer, George and I dug up several truck loads of railroad ties from the old Ewana logging railroad that went up on Quartz Mountain. The line had been abandoned for years. And the rails had been donated to the war scrap metal drive.

We brought these ties back to the theatre and stacked in groups of four to be cut into thirds with a chain saw. The ties made great fuel for the furnace but they were a bit hard to get started since they had been in the ground for a long time and were damp. Once they got going they made a hot fire though. To get them started, we would put all the sweepings from the previous night at the bottom of the fire box, put a supply of kindling on that then several chunks of railroad tie.

It worked OK until we had a snow storm and after a week of snow covered ties, it was hard to get them burning.

George came down the next weekend and set up a 55 gallon barrel with a mixture of crankcase drain oil and a few gallons of gasoline. He had the barrel lying in its side on a 4 foot high stand in order to open a tap and get a quart or two of this mixture. What he hadn’t taken into account was the fact that the oil went to the bottom and the gasoline stayed on top.

This set up worked fine, except all I was getting out of the barrel was drain oil. It didn’t seem to matter though and for the next couple of weeks we had the furnace going in no time.

One balmy afternoon with the temperature about 30 degrees, my friend, Joe, who lived across the street with an uncle, came over to help me. After I got the fire started, Joe and I were up on the side of the stand with our knees against the side of the barrel. I was looking up at the smoke stack and wondering if it might be clogged since smoke was coming out of some of the joints. The next thing I saw as I looked down was Joe taking the bung out of the side of the barrel. He then straightened up and started to light a cigarette. An instant later a huge flame shot out of the hole and hit me in the face. Both ends had blown out of the barrel and fire was everywhere.

A few seconds later I found myself about 15 feet away on my back in the pile of ties. Both ends had blown out of the barrel and fire was everywhere.

Joe was OK and already heading for home. I got up and saw the back of the theatre on fire and flames all around. I was so close to the explosion, I didn’t hear a thing. My face was stinging and my crew cut had burned into a kinky mass.

I got up and started running down the street to pull the switch on the fire siren, not knowing that everyone in Bly had heard the big boom and could see smoke coming from the direction of the theatre.

As I was running toward the siren, I saw lots of people running toward me. What a sight it must have been. My face was black, I had no eyelashes or eyebrows and my hair looked like I had joined the colored race.

About that time I heard the siren and turned around just as the fire truck came by. It only took a few minutes to get the fire out since the theatre was made of brick and everything was already wet. No damage was done to anything or anyone except me. Joe had escaped unscathed and was already home. It took a long time for me to live that one down and for awhile I was known as “Stub, the guy who almost blew up the theatre”.

Joe admitted that what he did was really dumb and asked me not to tell his uncle. He vowed to give up smoking, but I think it was many years before he did.

Keeping with the old axiom that “The show must go on”, we started on schedule with me as the projectionist, albeit somewhat sore.

This is just another incident of all the dumb things I have done in my life and wondering why how I survived all these 81 years..