Alert Track Laborers Prevent Spread of Fire

October 2021 – A pair of alert Watco track laborers recently prevented what could have become a dangerous fire.

It was a Friday morning in July, and Sam Brandt and Nick Vertein of the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad were performing routine track maintenance on railroad property near Merrimac. They were warming up maintenance-of-way equipment, preparing to install ties on the main line, when they saw smoke nearby.

The pair investigated and found that a roughly 10-foot section of deck on an abandoned residence was on fire. They called for support, and after the town administrator and firefighters arrived, they learned the situation was more serious than it first appeared. 

Besides a lot of tall, dry overgrowth, the property had other highly flammable features. The dwelling consisted of five repurposed railcars, one of which was a lounge car with the deck attached. A boxcar served as a workshop for the former resident, who Merrimac Town Administrator Tim McCumber notes, “would scrap things because of his interest in rail.” Some of his scraps turned out to be old flares, a container of diesel, and tanks of compressed oxygen and acetylene that are commonly used in welding and potentially explosive in a fire.

This location is in a wye, or an area of Y-shaped track, situated between the WSOR main line and a spur. Without the quick action by Brandt and Vertein, the fire could have spread to the two active WSOR lines and damaged everything within the wye. A Sauk County board member put the damage estimate at several hundred thousand dollars. 

McCumber made it a point to personally thank Brandt and Vertein, who also received praise from WSOR General Manager Aaron Dean. “We are proud of what they did,” Dean said. “They are a true example of what it means to be a good neighbor to the communities we touch.”


Read about others like Sam and Nick who are making a difference at Watco and beyond. Learn More