Cars with Supplies for Nation Burned


Publication: The New York Times

New York, NY, United States



Flames of Suspicious Origin Destroy Lehigh Valley Transfer at Port Newark.


Building Where Government Work Is Being Done, Believed to Have Been Set on Fire.


The Newark Police and Fire Department officials are investigating a fire which wiped out the Oak Island Transfer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Port Newark yesterday, and another blaze a few hours later, in the plant of the Klaxon Company, 194 Wright Street, Newark, where work on Government contracts was being done. The Police say they are certain the fire in the Klaxon Company plant was of incendiary origin. Clarance A, Hodes of 210 Astor Street, watchmen, who discovered the fire, and he saw a man running away and fired five shots at him, none which took effect. The fire was confined to a small building where it started, and the damage will not exceed $3,500.

An unofficial estimate placed the damage at the railroad transfer at $200,000. Twenty freight cars, most of them loaded with material for the Government, were destroyed completely, and seventeen other cars and their contents were partly burned. The transfer building, a frame structure with loading platforms of heavy timber, nearly 1,000 feet long, is a total loss, as is another building housing the offices of the transfer.


Starts in Office Building


This fire, according to railroad watchmen, started in the office building under a stairway, where a quantity of old waybills and records was stored. Two of the watchmen attempted to fight the fire while a third ran to a tower nearby to send an alarm to the Jersey City offices of the company and summon the Newark Fire Department.

Before the Newark apparatus arrived the flames had enveloped the entire office building and spread to the transfer building, where the freight is handled. A car of oil for a transformer station was standing on a track on the south side of the transfer, and burst when the heat became intense. The oil poured over the platforms and along the tracks, spreading the fire to the railroad ties and freight cars. A strong wind fanned the flames through the transfer along the string of cars.

Railroad crews worked hard to draw out the cars, and succeeded in saving at least sixty cars on the second and third tracks near the burning building. Before they could pull out the cars on the fourth track the flames had communicated to them, and they soon were ablaze. On this track were four flat cars loaded with gigantic steel keels for the steel shipyard of the Submarine Boat Corporation at Port Newark.


Water Pressure Hampers.


The fireman were hampered by low water pressure. Because of the work of drill engines attempting to save cars, no hose could be stretched across the tracks, and this added to the difficulties of the firemen. It is believed much of the burned material belonged to the Quartermaster Corps, which has a depot at Port Newark Terminal, where a $500,000 fire occurred two weeks ago.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad gave out the following statement on the fire:

"The loss was not so serious as at first indicated. While a two-story frame office building and one covered platform were destroyed, work of rebuilding already had been started. There was no delay to traffic as a result of the blaze. The loss was fully covered by insurance. The fire started in the cooperating room on the first floor of the office building. Five cars loaded with merchandise also were destroyed, as were thirteen empty cars. A number of other cars were slightly damaged before they could be drawn to safety. Investigation has failed to reveal the origin of the fire."

The fire in the Klaxon Company, which makes automobile horns, was discovered at 5:45, a few hours after the other blaze. The watchmen said he was coming out of the shipping room and warehouse, and noticed a reflection around the corner of the main building. He ran across the yard toward a driveway but slipped and fell, dropping his lantern and clock. As he was getting up he saw a man running ten feet from him. He called to him to halt, but when he continued his pace he fired a shot before he got up. The watchman, after getting up, fired four more shots, but the fleeing man escaped by climbing over a coal box and vaulting a fence. The watchman said the fire started in the hardening building. No material or valuable machinery were destroyed.

Researcher notes:According to the August 1990 Crown Jewels Article "disaster struck the Brookfield plant in Old Bridge on February 10, 1918 when 28 freight cars were destroyed. The disaster is best told in William Brookfield's words, 'One of the worst things that happened during WWI was that Father (Henry M. Brookfield) had an enormous order of insulators finished, waiting for the engines to take them to the wharf. Saboteurs set the sidings and packing room as well as the warehouse on fire and burned the whole shipment.'" This article does not specifically mention Brookfield, but the subject and date match.
Supplemental information:Article: 10257
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:November 8, 2009 by: Bob Berry;