Lakeshore Garage Burns
It was located at 700 Lake Shore DriveFire Wipes Out 3 Culver Firms
Headlines and sub-headlines of papers declared:
Volunteer Firemen battle huge blaze at Culver
Damages Reaches $100,000
Culver Fire Damage Set At $100,000
Fire destroyed a building Monday in Culver that housed area businesses and acted
as storage for others:
- Enco Service Station
- Randy's Body Shop
- Alvin R. McKee - tools, equipment, personal items
- Wayne Hittle - building, store fixtures
- Leanord Richard's 2 Race cars and tools
- Don Stubb's - pay loader
- Bob Albert - a race car and tools
- Leon Bennett - a garden tractor
- Pearl Onesti - A Jeep Cherokee
- William Snyder - Ice and chest freezer
The building was owned by Wayne Hittle, mayor of Rochester, Indiana.
The fire was battled by six fire departments:
- Culver -Union Township
- Aubbeenaubbe twp. (Leiters Ford)
- Plymouth (wih their arieal truck
- La Paz
The fire was fanned by the high wind off of Lake Maxinkuckee.
The fire spread rapidly and was triggered by several explosions from paint,
paint thinner and other substances in the building. Thus causing it to spread
rapidly throughout the building.
Damage was estimated at $100,000 by David Burns Culver Fire Chief, saying the
exact cause had not been determined but could of been caused by:
- A heater
- An overhead heater in the rear of the building
- a fire near a furnace in the center of the building spreading to the attic
were listed as being the cause of the fire. Whether it was ever fully determined
what caused it is not known.
News articles appeared in the South Bend Tribune, Plymouth Pilot, Culver Citizen
and the Indianapolis Star. It was broadcasted on WTCA radio Station of Plymouth.
Also probably the TV-stations from South Bend were down.
My aunt Norma Emery came from Plymouth after hearing it on the WTCA news and
she said you could see the hugh black cloud of smoke; enroute from Plymouth.
Power in the northern section of Culver along the lakefront was out for about
two or three hours. Phone service in the area was also out. Lakeshore Drive was
closed off during the blaze.
The fire was discovered about 11:20 a.m. Alvin Mc Kee, operator of the service station,
Larry "Peanuts" Lowry, came in and said that there appeared to be a fire in the top
of the building and that five people were in the building at the time. The phone
was not working in the building and the call for help had to be placed from Bennett's
Plumbing and Heating by Glen Doll.
The five people were:
- Alvin McKee
- Reba McKee
- Randy Walters
- Larry Lowry
and also shortly before making daily deliveries of the vending machines and oil
was owner Wayne Hittle of Rochester ; as well as the Coke-Cola delivery man Max Schuh
Alvin McKee and Randy Walters in the meantime tried to control or get the blaze out
with hand fire extinguishers but their efforts were not successful .
The building is located at Liberty St. and Lakeshore Drive [now Osborn's Mini Mart].
it was just one block from the fire department but the fire had spread throughout the
building by the time the fireman arrived. - who were coming into town for their lunch
hour. After arriving on the fire scene - David Burns sent his men to the station
for equipment and sent a call out from the other surrounding fire departments. They
all stayed on the scene until the fire was brought under control. Being praised by
Culver fire chief for their quick response to Culver 's aide after being called.
The Culver department was able to set up enough water lines in the first few minutes
to keep water on the threatened houses and at the same time spray the burning building
and keep the four vent pipes at the end of the building cooled.
Only sections of the brick walls remained after the blaze.
For a time, the fire threatened the near by houses and residents the Keith Soales and
Terry Shrek families. One housed the base radio station for the town marshall's
office in the rear if the house, the part closest to the fire and radio equipment
was removed and later set up at a different location. Furniture was also moved out
and placed on the sidewalk. Heat, smoke and water damage were suffered by the homes.
The intense heat from the fire cracked the plate glass window of Bennett's Plumbing
and Heating which faced the burning building; as well as damaged incurred by smoke
The Culver Firemen responding that day were:
David B. Burns,
also pitching in were nymerous members of the community, area business men,
and town employees. Of course RIchard "Woody" woodward, police chief directed trafific in the
These were the four vent pipes to the four 2000 gallon underground gasoline tanks. Which had
just been filled and nearly full
west half of the building visible iss first the ladies , then mens estroom doors; the ofifice
window; 1st sales room door, followed by window & 2nd sales room door; and finally
the storage room window where oil products were stored & advertsing signs.
Liberty Street view
in car Alvin Mc Kee; back of unknown; building to left is Bennett's the plate glass window facing the East
towards the garage cracked under the intense heat from the fire.
Richard "Woody" Woodward, Chief of Police
David Burns, Fire Chief, walking; backs of Reba and Alvin Mc Kee;
2 firefighters - unknown
most unknown; Larry "Peanuts" Lowery, with mailbag;
mom's sister said the thick black smoke could be seen as far away as Plymouth and especially from
the West High School corner on State Rd. 17
backs of Homer and Essie Kemple
unknown and Richard "Woody" Woodward, Chief of Police. starting to move the contents of the house
out just in case...
assembly line has been formed and the moving the contents of the house
out just in case...
Lance Overmyer, in middle; background all unknown; at back edge of fire truck partial hidden David
Burns, Fire Chief
gathering up equipment fire is out, just smoldering...
On Monday, 31 Jan. 1972 the building burnt .
It was the coldest day of the month also. The building was destroyed in less than 10 minutes after the fire
department arrived on scene at 11:30 a.m. had been discovered shortly before that. It had started in the
Attic and had been under way for quite awhile.
Only one injury occurred during this fire - a brick that hit a fireman standing behind the gas pumps when the front
wall finally collapsed.
In an interview that Jeff Kenney and I was on with
on 9 June 2007 he related how he had cleaned up the aftermath of the fire.
My memory of this memorable day - I was working at the Coffee Shop it was the noon meal and no one was comming in
- no fire sirens had yet went off.
'Peanuts' Larry Lowry
the postman for that
end of town had left about a half hour before - and came saundering back into the Coffee Shop money in hand and
asking for a pack of cigarettes - I knew something was wrong as it was Monday and Wayne Hittle always was there
early to fill the cigarette machine and Larry always most generally bought a pack of cigarettes there - He handed me
the money - I turned to go get his cigarettes and was returning with them to him when he non-chalantly said
"by the way your dad's place is on fire"
I do not even remember putting the moeny in the cash drawer, or opening the wood gate at the end of the counter,
nor the front door or screen door - I just ran - I did not even look as I crossed Lake Shore Dr. and got the lecture of my
life from Max Schu the coke-cola driver - about looking before your crossed a street - then asked what was wrong I told
him and he said calmly thatit was not on fire and asking who told me that and I told him who and he said 'Peanuts' was
pulling my leg or something to that effect. I had not really looked down the street as yet but still told Max the station
was on fire - Max re-aassured me it was not as he had just left it and it there was no fire there - at that point we both
turned to face the station and it was fully engulfed
All the firemen who ate at the Coffee Shop were down there as each as they came into town just stopped their
vechiles where ever they could park them - David finally was arriving in his red international jeep and like all the others
stopped where ever he could park also. Firemen whee on the scene with no equipment to be had - He had to remind
someone to go down to the fire station and bring some equipment down. Also call have someone call in for extra help
from the area fire departments.
Max apologized to me for not believing me - and wnated to know why when 'Peanuts' tokd me I took his word - it was
because of the little old lady who was forever trying to mow down the pumps or take them with her I always figured
whe would succeed one day - funny she never did.
Cold, feet wet I trudged slowly back across the street - there was no need to hurry as there were no customers for the
noon meal they were all fully occupied and for the next 3-4 hours. By the time I got back into the Coffee Shop the lights
were out, and the phone was dead - all that remained was the natural gas. The meal was cooked so that fed whomever -
Pearl found the old stand-by coffepots that were put on the stove to brew coffee and proceeded to make more coffee
than already made - and this was shipped down to the firemen and other men of the communinty who were lending a
hand and food that could be ate by hand and on the run.
Sometime during this period a salesman from where ever came in fully critizing the fire department and the people helping
down at the station - claiming the building could be saved - I looked at him and told him "to hell with the building" asked
him what the problem was and he stated there were 4-6 firemen or more with 4-5 hoses trained on a set of pipes at the
end of the building - My only remark was "good for them" and he proceeded to try and argue and critize the fireman and
I just turned and went to the kitchen - Irene Wilson was in the window where the food came out and he asked her what
my problem was - she explained that it was my dad'd station he promptly told her to tell me he was sorry and apologize for
him but still could not see why I was upset - I came back out and when I got the full information out of him they were the
4 main vent pipes to the underground tanks each containing 2000 gallons of gasoline or near. I just plainly asked him if he
would prefer to be standing where he was then I explained to him what those pipes were - and the risk they presented
to everyone down there and probably even to where we stood if they happened to get to hot etc. etc. Lucky the
efforts of the firemen and the townsmen who were kind enough to offer a helping hand won out the pipes remained cool,
then tanks did not explode and their was not greater loss than then building itself - even the gas pumps remained intact
after it was all over with! Plus there was no injury other than a brick hitting one of the firemen in the head. The only result
was some very tired, cold and water soaked firemen and townsmen but they all survived. Bennett's suffered a cracked
window on the east side facing Liberty because of the intense heat
What I did not know until much later that in the meantime dad had went back into the station and retrived the cash
drawer, then made another attempt and got the top desk drawer with the checkbook and all the bills he owed people
for supplies; and his third attempt was to try and get the bottom drawer I was told but the building was fully engulfed but yet
he was determined to go in and no one including my mother - his wife could stop him... that was about the time I was told
that David had arrived on the scene and was able to stop him from entering the building the bottom drawer contained the
IOU's for gas, oil changes, tire repair's etc. The majority of the people who owed dad money were honest enough to come
to the house and pay him but there were others who knew the bottom drawer was not salavaged and there was no proof
that they owed the money so they refused to pay him. Dad just let it go.
But dad the next morning set out about town paying the people he owed - and those that had to be mailed out... he did not
want to owe anyone; there were a few that prostested but he paid them anyway, it was just his way, his nature. -
Judith E. (McKee) Burns