A self-powered crane took an unexpected bath in Benewah Lake recently when the trestle on which it was traveling collapsed.
Two fishermen were perched on a wooden railroad trestle that crossed a small inlet on the lake near St. Maries. They heard a whistle and promptly heeded the warning to clear the track, heading toward the nearest wooden platform. When they looked back, the crane had disappeared.
“I heard the whistle in time to move off and all of a sudden, the train was gone,” one of the fishermen reported. “My first thought was ‘did the wind blow that sucker off?’ "
Crane operator John Taco Martinez and fellow worker Mark Harpole were not injured when the tracks dropped into the water.
“After I realized what was going on, it was a smooth ride down,” Martinez told a reporter for the St. Maries Gazette Record. “We didn’t have much of a choice; we had to ride it down.”
The crane landed on its side in relatively shallow water, with the exit door remaining above the surface. Both workers climbed out of the crane and onto the trestle. The incident occurred about 10 miles west of St. Maries at 12:48 on April 24.
Potlatch owns and operates the short rail line that runs 71 miles between Plummer and Clarkia. Potlatch uses the line to transport lumber and plywood from its mill in St. Maries to a Union Pacific spur in Plummer, explains company spokesman Mike Sullivan.
He said the crane’s 120-gallon fuel tank contained about 30 gallons of diesel, but there was no report that any escaped the tank and contaminated the lake, said a representative of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
The partially submerged crane was removed from the lake by barge-mounted cranes. Repairs to the trestle could take several months, Sullivan estimated. In the interim, trucks will transport the lumber between the company’s two sites.