A Union Pacific train carrying coal near Fremont derailed early Tuesday morning, spilling its contents out onto the ground near Old Highway 275 and leaving behind a trail of mangled rail cars.
No one was injured in the derailment and the cause is still under investigation, Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza told the Tribune on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, crews were working to clear the area, and there was heavy equipment on site. Old Highway 275 was shut down from Nebraska Highway 36, just south of the derailment, to the Downing Street stoplight in Fremont, Espinoza added.
In a social media post Tuesday afternoon, the Nebraska State Patrol noted that the route would likely be closed until Wednesday.
The eastbound train was transporting coal from Wright, Wyoming to Sioux City, Iowa when 23 of its cars derailed at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Espinoza said.
Lonny Niewohner remembers that bitterly cold January morning. Members of Scribner’s volunteer rescue squad were headed to the fire station to respond to a medical emergency when they saw flames coming from a building on the Dodge County Fairgrounds.
Niewohner, the town’s fire chief, got a call and went to the scene.
The Robert Hunt Family Sports Complex was on fire.
“Fire was already shooting through the roof,” Niewohner said. “It had been burning for quite some time.”
A little more than a year has passed since the fire.
No one was injured that day — Jan. 5, 2018 — but the 9-year-old building was extensively damaged.
Before the fire, the large, two-story structure, made possible by many generous donations, had been used for ball programs and games as a concession stand.
A lower level included restrooms, a kitchen area and storage facility. An upper level also housed a small kitchen.
Firefighters hurried to the scene during the dark early morning hours on the day of the fire.
“It was colder than blazes that morning,” Niewohner said.
Ice and snow made the building’s metal roof too slick for firefighters to walk on safely.
Niewohner remembers calling Hooper and Snyder firefighters to the scene.
Snyder volunteers brought their aerial ladder truck.
“Hooper and Snyder were fantastic help,” Niewohner would say after the fire. “It took a lot of manpower, because of the cold and the weather. It’s great that communities can work together.”
At the time, Niewohner wondered how the fire started. He initially thought the cause may have been electrical in nature, because the building had been unoccupied.
He learned differently a few days later.
In July 2018, Zachary T. Wanamaker, 20, of Fremont was sentenced to a total of four years in prison in relation to arsons involving a car and three buildings – one of which was the sports complex.
Niewohner found the situation frustrating and unfortunate, especially since local women had worked very hard — and had done a good job — on the sports complex project and because most of the funds for it were donated by people from throughout Scribner and surrounding areas.
And there had been significant donations.
The city received a $167,000 insurance settlement for the 77-foot by 52-foot building, said Elmer Armstrong, city administrator.
With the settlement, it would be too cost-prohibitive to have the second story again — so it was removed.
A roof was put on the one-level building.
Fire had melted insulation on both sides of the building’s concrete walls, so the damaged material had to be removed.
Weeks of work have gone into peeling away the damaged material and reapplying insulation which then is being recovered with concrete-tile siding. Finished wall material will be put on the building’s interior.
The process has been labor intensive.
Work on the building began last spring and wasn’t complete by the summer sports season. For instance, wiring for automatic lights and electronically powered soap dispensers in restrooms wasn’t ready.
Thus, the original concession stand was reopened and portable restrooms brought in for athletes and fans.
Grade-school kids’ games were held on the Scribner ball fields. When the Uehling ballfield flooded, the Logan-View/Scribner-Snyder softball team played all their home games here, too.
Contractors did a good job of scheduling work around ball games, Niewohner said.
Armstrong also commended contractors whom he said worked well together. Other contractors in town came out to help with their machinery.
“It was a joint effort with contractors in town,” Niewohner said.
Work on the complex isn’t quite complete, Armstrong said.
Plans are to have the building finished by the end of April in time for the start of the ball season.
“It will be nice to see that fully completed,” Niewohner said.
Owners of farm and utility trailers across Nebraska will now be asked to include the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) when registering or renewing trailers in 2019.
The new policy began on Jan. 1, in which owners of utility or farm trailers will be asked to include the VIN of their utility or farm trailer when registering their trailer for the first time, or when renewing their registration, according to information released by the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.
“This is an important step to bringing the registration of utility and farm trailers into line with other, similar types of trailer,” Rhonda Lahm, director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, said in a released statement.
If the trailer does not have a VIN, or if the VIN is unknown, the county treasurer’s office will provide one. The county treasurer will also provide a decal to display the assigned VIN on the trailer at no additional cost to the owner.
“By including the VIN, or allocating a VIN to a trailer which doesn’t have one, we are able to track ownership of trailers more accurately,” Lahm said. “In the event of theft, a VIN displayed on the trailer and registration document will assist in pairing the trailer with its owner.”
In 2017, there were 184,770 utility and 81,784 farm trailers registered in Nebraska.
According to Administrator of the Driver and Vehicle Record Division Betty Johnson, tracking ownership of trailers can be difficult without recording a VIN.
“The new information will ensure greater consistency in how trailers are registered and result in us providing a more comprehensive service to our customers,” she said in a released statement.
She added that the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles has been working with county treasurer offices and agricultural groups across the state to prepare for the change.
Existing owners of utility and farm trailers are not required to provide a VIN until their registrations are up for renewal.
“At that time, they can renew their trailer as normal and include the trailer VIN to ensure it is properly registered,” Johnson said.
In Dodge County, new trailer registration is completed at the Dodge County Treasurer Office located in the Dodge County Courthouse at 435 N. Park Ave., in Fremont.
According to Dodge County Treasurer Gail Bargstadt, her office has already registered several trailers and provided VIN decals for newly registered trailers.
“We’ve already had a few, even with it still being early in the year,” she said. “It’s not a huge change to the process. Now we just ask for a VIN.”
With the change, Bargstadt reminds local trailer owners to check if their trailers do or do not have a VIN before coming in for registration.
“Hopefully, people will start looking at their trailers to determine if there is a VIN before coming in — if just to save themselves from having to come back in if they are unsure,” she said.
She added that farm and utility trailer owners who do have trailers with a VIN can just take a photo of the VIN and bring that in when they come to the Dodge County Treasurer’s Office for registration.
Renewals can also be completed online at dmv.nebraska.gov and by mail, and Bargstadt said her office can send out VIN decals by mail — but that owners who renew by mail may be contacted to find out if there is already a VIN on the trailer they are renewing.