OWATONNA — What started out with a truck getting its trailer stuck beneath a railroad bridge in Owatonna Wednesday morning ended with that same trailer catching fire less than 90 minutes later.
Shortly before 11 a.m., the tractor-trailer, owned by Schilling Supply Company of La Crosse, Wis., was traveling westbound on Mineral Springs approaching Grove when the vehicle — or most of it — went under a railroad bridge, said Sgt. Deanne von Wald of the Owatonna Police Department.
“The driver stuck his trailer under the railroad bridge and smashed his trailer to smithereens,” said von Wald.
But the truck’s saga did not end there.
What was left of the trailer was towed from the area to the rear of Dean’s Westside Towing. Shortly after noon, the Owatonna Fire Department was informed that the trailer had caught fire.
The trailer still had some paper products inside — rolls of paper towels, toilet paper, that sort of thing — but the damage to the truck was such that the employees of Dean’s couldn’t get into the trailer to retrieve the product and transfer it to another vehicle.
“They couldn’t get the back door open,” said Commander Travis Ahrens of the Owatonna Fire Department.
At that point, one of the employees at Dean’s started using a cut-off saw or chop saw to cut loose some of the sheet metal on the trailer.
But a spark from the saw ignited the paper product, which, in turn, ignited the trailer.
The Owatonna Fire Department responded to fire, though Dean Wordelman, owner and operator of Dean’s Westside Towing, said that all that was really lost was what little bit of paper product was still in the trailer.
“From our point of view, it was a junk trailer,” Wordelman said. “It was totaled when it hit the bridge.”
There was a minimal amount of paper product lost in the fire, according to an eye-witness account by von Wald.
“The trailer didn’t appear to be very full,” she said.
Von Wald said that the bridge on Mineral Springs is a common place for trucks to get their trailers stuck.
“It happens a half-dozen to a dozen times a year,” she said.
When trailers do get stuck beneath a bridge, like the railroad bridge, the Minnesota State Patrol is called in and a thorough vehicle inspection is done from which civil charges could be pending, von Wald said. Occasionally, though not often, criminal charges are pressed, she said. In Wednesday’s case, the driver was not cited.
“They’ve usually had a bad enough day as it is,” von Wald said.