As I’m sure you’ve discovered during our journey from Feb. 11 to now, the USBC Open at the River Center is basically a non-stop event that starts every morning at 7 a.m., and the day usually ends — if all is well — some 19 hours later at 2 a.m.
That’s how things were going at the River Center seven years ago on Memorial Day afternoon with the 2:30 p.m. team shift under way. Somewhere around 4 p.m., the tournament was turned on its ear by events outside the building when a Canadian National train derailed as it was passing the River Center.
“I remember the train derailment like it was yesterday,” Lucas Wiseman, public relations manager for USBC, and at that time, in charge of USBC Open publicity at the site. “I was sitting at my desk, which was on the first floor, street level, when I heard an awful sound come from outside. It was enough to make me get up from my desk and head to the doors, where I found the train that was tipped over. I remember there being a lot of discussion about what should be done with the bowlers and whether or not it was safe for anyone to remain in the vicinity of the derailment.”
Eight cars derailed at least partially. Four of the cars were carrying propylene oxide, a volatile, flammable gas with a sweet odor that can cause severe skin irritation and burns. A known carcinogen, propylene oxide is used as a fumigant, and is used in making lubricants, detergents and other chemicals, according to a list of hazardous chemicals published by the state of New Jersey.
That was how The Advocate described the situation the next day.
My first knowledge came in a quick phone call from Wiseman.
“We’re evacuating, train derailment,” he said. “Talk to you later.”
With that, our coverage of a bowling tournament had to change for a while.
“After it was determined everyone had to evacuate,” Wiseman remembered, “our next big problem was how we were going to communicate with the affected bowlers after they left the River Center. The next morning, we got the all-clear around 5 or 6 a.m. I believe. And I remember Brian Lewis calling me to ask how we could get the word out to the bowlers. Of course, local TV was live downtown covering the derailment for their morning shows, and I was able to get Brian in front of the cameras to help get the word out to the bowlers that we were good to go again. In my three years working the tournament full time, the train derailment ranks as the most memorable event.”
Let’s go back to 2005. Brian Lewis, now the managing director of tournaments for USBC, was the tournament director. Here were some of his thoughts from a column I wrote later in that hectic week.
“One thing was very clear,” Lewis said at the time. “The fire department and the hazmat (hazardous materials) teams were taking safety as the top priority and they wanted to get us out of harm’s way. We were pretty amazed with the work they accomplished to get us back in the building as quickly as they did … A four- or six-hour delay you can overcome by just continuing to bowl. This was 17 hours and there was no way to make that up.”
So with three doubles and singles shifts canceled, a 2:30 team shift disrupted and an 8:30 p.m. team shift out in the cold, what did they do? They scheduled the shift for the only time available — 2 a.m. two days later, June 1. For some, that meant doubles and singles at 11:30 p.m. and coming right back to bowl team event. Amazingly, most of the teams were there on cue.
“We had 41 of the 48 teams off the 8:30 shift come back,” said Lewis of a shift that ended shortly after 5 a.m. “We had seven more teams from the 2:30 shift that was under way. All in all, I counted 800 bowlers inconvenienced by the event, and we were able to give refunds to those who couldn’t bowl where appropriate.”
The Baton Rouge volunteer group was also in full force as workers stayed around and worked through the night to make the all-night shift as normal as possible.
Hopefully, this USBC Open gets completed without its own story that people will want to tell in years to come.
Honor roll notes
The best score this past week belongs to Mary Lalumandier with a 279 game that was part of a great 784 series. She’s going to get that 800 soon. Chip Aki led the men with a 746 series that included a 258 game. Christian Vicknair had a 589 with a 217 high game to lead the youth leagues, while Mike Bass’ 675 was the best in the senior leagues.
Rob Livingston and Gordon Shepherd get congratulations for 300 games.
Friday, we’ll see what’s happening on the USBC lanes.
Until then, good luck and good bowling.