Alumni/Public Recollections

Alumni/Public Recollections of the Train Explosion


I am a 1963 graduate of Carroll from the nursing program.

We had two daughters at Carroll and both were RA’s at the time - Maisie and Jann Bauer. They wanted us to come over to Helena and get them to come home to Whitefish. We also had two boys at home. The weather was so cold and bad roads and their Dad said that they were safe with the people that had come to get them and they knew the people well as they had baby sat for them a lot.

We sent some money so they could get some clothing since all they had was their sleeping clothes and boots.

One of the pictures that was in the paper was a black picture with a bright lite in the corner and Maisie told us that was her flashlight checking the girls off as they left the dorm. Jann was also safe.

A friend and coworker of mine at Flathead Outpatient Surgery Center was Julie Johnson. Julie was also an RA at the time of the blast and every year we worked together we would visit about that awful day. Diane and Rich Dolven was another co-worker in Kalispell and they had gone immediately and gotten some of the girls and brought them to their home in Helena and visited about the fun times with them.

What a small world. They all survived and we were thankful that they were well taken care of at this time. We had our 50th anniversary from nursing last summer in Butte and it was so much fun seeing the girls again and catching up on stories about our lives.

I was a senior that year, and that night was one of the weirdest nights and mornings that ever existed so far that I can remember. Earlier that day I was at Four Georgians School doing my student teaching and my car wouldn’t start at the end of the day. Oh my goodness what was I going to do. My head teacher took me back to campus, and I had called my older sister to find out if her father-in-law could do anything. He tried to no avail, so there it sat at the school. Next day, boom, early in the morning and I was thinking about my car and if anything had happened to that, not knowing what actually happened a block away or even thinking if anyone got hurt. My car. As I think now, how selfish. Fortunately the pickup that we had in the Guadalupe parking lot had no damage and would start.

My twin sister and I lived in the basement of Guadalupe on the East side of the building. It was so cold that night of Feb. 1 and the heat in the rooms would go up the windows and behind the curtain. So, my sister had the thought of taping the curtains to the wall so the heat would go into the room instead of behind the curtain. Early in the morning we heard a strange noise but didn’t think much of it, until a little bit later the window broke. The glass could have gone all over the floor in our room, but the tape job held it into the window sill and prevented the glass from going all over the floor.

Our floor mates gathered in the hall, confused and not really knowing what to do or what happened. Our RA, kept us calm and took us into some of the rooms on the West side as they didn’t have broken windows and were a little warmer. We hung out in the hall until the fire department started gathering us up floor by floor and getting us on buses. I remember getting bussed to the Civic Center, and my sister was taken to the Armory. We were right next to each other in line, but the count for the buses split us up. We had no idea where each of us was for a while. We ended up going to stay with our sister after our brother-in-law figured out where we all were. Things were a blur for me at the civic center. I don’t remember too much, but sitting on the floor wondering what was going to happen for sure.

When we were able to go back into the building and collect some of our belongings, I remember looking at the sinks in the bathrooms that were full of ice from the janitors trying to prevent the pipes and building from freezing up. I remember my contacts being frozen in their case. The eye Dr. told us they would be fine if we thawed them slowly. It was eerie going back into the building with broken windows and frozen water in the sinks when you had spent four fun years there. Normalcy for the last few months of our senior year would not exist.

My sister and I lived with a gal and her husband that we knew from our hometown for the remainder of our senior year. Their house was on the golf course and close to campus and my student teaching. February to May was a long period of time to not be near your friends that you had spent time with for four years.

I think the Class of 1989 probably has some of the strangest memories to share about going to Carroll College. I do thank God everyday that no one was killed and since then the campus has returned to a great looking campus. I enjoy looking at the campus when I am in town, which is not very often.

Do I think about the tape job, you bet! Do I think about all those other students who were displaced, you bet! Do I still think of Carroll College, you bet! Every Ground Hogs Day Carroll College will be thought about.

My biggest secret I have kept for 25 years is that I have a piece of that train in my garage today. My boyfriend, husband now, carried that piece across the west side of Guadalupe and placed it in his pickup and brought it back home for me so I could remember the day Carroll College Blew Up. Unless I end up with Alzheimer's disease, that day will be in my memory forever. I have the missing puzzle piece. Was I proud when I asked my boyfriend to do that, no. He almost threw his back out picking it up. But I have a piece of Carroll College memory with me from here on out.

I was living on the 3rd floor of Guad on the parking lot side during the time of the blast. I truly thought it was the end of the world when I heard that explosion and was shook from my bed. After spending the first few days with Patty Opitz (campus ministry) and her family at their home, on the day we could go back into our rooms to gather some essentials, I remember opening the door and just standing in the middle of my room in shock, not knowing what to do.

Fr. Butko came to my rescue and told me I only had a few minutes to gather whatever I could. He picked up a garbage bag and started shoving whatever he could find into that bag. I stood motionless. The bag was frozen and broke at the bottom and all my toiletries and feminine products came rolling out. He didn't miss a beat and just grabbed another bag and picked up all that had fallen. I don't think I was much help, but I have never forgotten his kindness to me on that day. He was my hero!

25 years ago Feb. 2nd - a day I'll never forget! Was it all my fault?!?

I was in my last year of the dental hygiene program and living off campus about 3/4’s of a mile. I can remember the zing of the cold nipping at your nose, cheeks, and anything else exposed to its elements! So I was very thankful to hear that school was being cancelled due to the cold temperatures (something I NEVER thought would happen in Montana!) and especially thrilled since my car wouldn’t start.

Well lo and behold, I get a call from my dental hygiene advisor informing me that even though school had been cancelled, we were still accountable to our patients that were on our schedule. They had called all of them, giving them the option to reschedule and all except for mine took them up on that offer! This was the only day that she could get it that meant I still had to show up!! I was a nervous wreck trying to figure out how on earth I was going to get there w/out freezing to death in the journey! After much thought and lots of prayer, I devised a plan that included long johns, scarves, woolen socks, and stopping points (apartment complexes, gas stations, etc.) for warming up! Thus early the next morning I was awoken by what I thought was the furnace in the basement of our apartment building exploding! I remember the lamp next to my bed wobbling, the electricity giving out, and then peeking out the window at a unique “glow” coming from the direction of the campus. I fortunately had a neighbor that worked for Carroll and updated me that he really didn’t think I’d need to make the trek there that day! Needless to say, my advisor called all the hygiene students later that day to see how they were doing (gotta love Carroll College!!) and I told her how I had been praying the night before for God to help me out in my situation and never in a million years would’ve dreamed up this event to get me out of walking to school in the freezing temperatures! I was just hoping for something like my patient’s car not starting that morning! My advisor said if this was how God answered my prayers, she really hoped she was on my good side! (I think I got an “A” that semester in her class ;O)

I do remember being allowed 30 minutes to grab our stuff out of the dental hygiene dept after it was decided that Guad was going to be in dire repair for the remainder of the semester and seeing shards of glass stuck in my chair which had a window view...if it would’ve happened 4 hours later, I shudder to think what would’ve happened!!

We finished off that year taking classes out of basement rooms we never knew existed and an orthodontist office building for our clinics...if we tried complaining at all at how frustrating it was, our teachers politely told us that this would help teach us to be flexible w/our upcoming career!!

Thanks for the memories...

Thursday February 2, 1989

Helena Montana. Carroll College. Guadalupe - Hall 3rd new

I woke up and took stock of my surroundings. Light was filtering in around the closed curtain from the parking lot indicating that the power was still on. I turned back and saw the clock 4:48 am... minus the 12 minutes I had set it ahead to get to class on time made it 4:36 in the morning. I sleep like the living dead, and to be awake at this early was highly unusual. With one last look around I curled back into my covers and closed my eyes content that I was protected from temps approaching 35 below, with wind-chill the forecasters were predicting near 75 below.

A blast of light and sound suddenly filled my room. I sat up and turned toward my window. As I did, a second explosive blast occurred shattering the window sending a powerful wind through my room slamming the curtains against the ceiling. I screamed and dove under the covers. My thoughts first centered on covering up and protecting myself from flying glass. The second was of a nuclear explosion which quickly was erased as the center of the explosion was much too close for survival of a nuclear disaster.

The concussive wind that blew through my room seemed to last an eternity. The instant that it stopped and my curtains returned to the gaping hole that was once my window, I tossed the covers aside and flew out of my room barely touching the floor, slamming the door behind me. I was the last to exit my room and the force of the door closing scared my dorm mates as well as our supervisor who lived diagonally across the hall from me. Each of us stood in our respective doorways frozen in fright and confusion.

At this point the dorm supervisor, Francie, turned to go down the stairs to check on other Guadalupe residents. Without the foresight of Julie Greenheck, she may have badly cut her feet checking on the others as she had started to leave without shoes. She returned to get her boots ordering us to get dressed and prepare for an emergency evacuation.

I reluctantly and quickly reached into my room with one foot still in the hallway as if it would protect me from disaster and grabbed my clothes from the chair I kept by the door. By this time the power was well and truly out, but rather than be in what had once been my room, I preferred the sanctuary of a blacked out bathroom to change. I was not alone in this preference as many of us were either fueled by fear or by the frigid winds that were permeating the building. I walked fully through my doorway only to gather a few items that were necessary to tide me over until new arrangements could be made. Money, toiletries, medicine, my boots and heavy coat were the only thoughts I had. At that point I wanted out of the building and replacing items would be a preference over sorting through and packing a full bag.

Shortly after we were dressed, a mass exodus was made to O’Connell Hall across the road from our dorm. Trying to carefully step over or around glass was nearly impossible as the stairwells were covered leaving many spots that you had no choice but to step on glass and hope it did not slip while underfoot. Once in O’Connell we found rooms with emergency lighting to sit in until transportation came. The time we sat in O’Connell did not seem long at all, and in light of how long the day would become, it was short. If memory serves my peers and I waited maybe 30 minutes before buses with National Guard personnel pulled up. We filed from the building onto buses and were driven to the Armory which was on the other side of the train tracks from our campus.

The Armory was a great example of organized chaos. From pots of coffee or cocoa set up, to blankets, and in our case, lighted hallways to sit along – our little haven was found. Photographers, Guard personnel, and other displaced souls wondered while we sat and shared our individual experiences. My little troop, among many others were chosen to grace the cover of the Independent Record as the events of the day were photographed and news was shared with surrounding communities. From what we could piece together there was an accident around the train tracks, and as far as we knew, no one at school had been severely hurt.

Near 8:00… 8:30 I was given an opportunity to leave the armory and go to the home of Patti White who was one of Carroll’s counselors. At least 30 other students had made their way to her home in one manner or another and we set about finding a place to relax while we waited turns to use her phone. By my memory it was shortly after 10:30 that I was able to have a turn at the phone and call my folks. They had heard about the incident but had only been trying to find me for about 45 minutes of the 6 hours I had been at loose ends. We made plans for them to come to town the next day to help replace what I needed and to move my belongings. At this point we were not sure if the school would remain open or if we would end our semester early.

By evening homes all over the city had opened their doors to students. I spent the night with a friend’s aunt who lived a few blocks from the Civic Center.

Friday, February 3, 1989

Helena, Montana: Homes all around the city and outlying area

Friday was spent catching a ride to the mall where I picked up clothing, a few other odds and ends and my new jacket from Carroll that had been ordered. In all honesty, from the time that I left the Armory to settling into Borromeo Hall, everything was a blur. Especially time. My perception of how long events happened how, much time I spent either at the Armory or at Patti’s house is an estimation. In talking to my folks, they remember my call coming closer to noon, relieving them of the worries. I remember worrying that school would be shut down.

I remember my folks and sister skating through the ice and glass encrusted stairwells of Guadalupe with me to retrieve by belongings (3rd New second to the last room on the east side), seeing glass lying across my extra bed beneath the window making a path toward where my head had been, and I remember Ed assigning me a room on the second floor of Borromeo for the remainder of the semester.

The hours, let alone the days blurred as we tried to make sense of our new arrangements and find new routines.

This is still a recollection in the making as I have been piecing this together for nearly 20 years. A few significant points I would like to make – thank goodness it happened as it did and that no one was hurt. Thank goodness a home temporary or otherwise was found for everyone – we know that is how Helena works – Montana as a whole for that matter. The help and reaction time of the National Guard has also been one of my most prominent memories all the way through. I know more were involved but I need to touch base with others who were there before I can complete my account of my displaced days. Thank you all for making a difference!

As both a Carroll alumna as well as at that time, a Helena resident, I and my husband lived on Custer Avenue, just north of the explosion. As the run away train proceeded to come to it's abrupt ending, the night sky exploded into a huge ball of white.

As the white light settled into a cold, black, crystal infused night sky, an eerie silence feel over the area. Knowing how cold it was but not being sure of what had happened, we threw on ski clothing as we climbed our stairs, feeling and hearing the crunching of glass below our feet with each step. Looking outside our window, we could see the slow movement of emergency lights appearing, but still, eerily no sound, no sirens, no sound of vehicles, just total silence. It was like sound had disappeared into the light. Glass and hanging light fixtures in our apt had exploded in mid air, projecting shards of glass through the house, embedding in walls and cabinets. Glass flying low below the cupboards, I found pieces of the dining room fixture in the pantry for months. We decided it was just too quiet and eerie to stay in the glass filled house, so chose to attempt to seek out answers. With no electricity, we had to break into our garage in order to free up a working vehicle. We traveled toward the emergency lights and saw a great deal of devastation. The ghostly silence continued as we noted the same cream colored drapes that I once had in my room on the third floor of guad floating silently out the windows. Upon driving home, daylight had just started to appear. Driving through our neighborhood were emergency officials informing us via bullhorns that our homes needed to be immediately evacuated. In true Montana fashion, we were welcomed into the National Guard armory with heat and comfort. Many displaced families were there for, who knew how long, but, the most comical of instances happened when a national news syndication interviewed a few male students who had thoughtfully grabbed their twinkies and case of beer. They were settled in for the time, and, comically helped us all realize, this could have been much worse. In fact, the only casualty of the day was the fire chief's new pickup that lay buried in layers of ice for "months"... and, many very sorry looking plants in the sandwich shop at Euclid plaza.

It has been 25 years? Are you kidding me?

When I think about the night of the blast, I recall the same thing that always comes to mind when I think of my time at Carroll –the people.

The day before the blast the decision had been made to close the campus the following day due to weather. Naturally, we, the students took full advantage and celebrated the good fortune of having a random Tuesday off from classes. The sale price of beer across the street helped the celebration.

I was in my room on third main in Charlie’s when the blast happened. My 4.0 biology major roommate rolled over and said the noise was some snow falling off the roof and that we should go back to bed. I figured I should do a little more investigating. In the hall we were given some clearer direction from friends: Grab your cash and your checkbook and head to O’Connell to evacuate. However, the best advice had to be “make sure you put on some clean underwear “… we weren’t sure how soon we would be back.

The mayor of Helena was our shuttle driver who drove us to the Armory. Carroll professors came within the hour and collected as many students’ as they could to house for the week. I went with about twenty other kids to Professor John Downs’s house. Throughout the week professors set up tours of the Capitol, bowling tournaments and movie nights to keep everyone connected.

Once we returned the student body had a lot of reorganizing to do. Since single rooms were no longer available everyone had a roommate. No one seemed to mind. It was a community effort to get all the girls in Guad packed up to relocate. Everyone helped… Everyone.

It was an amazing time. The students were flexible and we didn’t mind having classes relocated. My PE class was moved to the chapel. On the other hand the school was dealing with much larger issues: insurance issues, operating the school with two entire buildings out of commission, how to recruit students for the following year to a campus that had suffered a disaster and other issues I’m sure I was not aware of. Professors had to create a new syllabus for each of their classes. I don’t recall once hearing anyone complain.

This event is one I look back on with a smile. It was a time where everyone pulled together and the theme was one of “we will get through this”. It was the people of Carroll that made the blast such for lack of a better word … a blast!

Brenda Albaugh I was in first grade. I shared a room with my sister and she had to sleep with the room pitch black, with the power off. I had to go into my brothers room and wear his clothes. So traumatizing for a girly girl like me. We were evacuated so we went to a friends house who lived two blocks from the railway. But they had a wood stove so we were warm. My mom later told me (as an adult) that the house was up wind from the wreck. Wow what memories.

Kristin Whittenburg Bouchard I lived on 2nd old at the time. It was a crazy morning...-40 (-70 with the wind chill). The flash woke me up...the explosion rocked my window, but it stayed intact. We were huddled in the hall when the guys came down from Charlies to evacuate us. Not thinking clearly, I threw clothes on over my pajamas and grabbed a picture of my brother and me off my desk-the last copy that existed and all I could think was my mom would be mad if it got ruined! I didn't even grab my purse or money! We got back in 2 or 3 days later with a garbage bag to grab what we could before going home for a week. I just remember how horrible things looked when we got back in-glass everywhere and embedded in the walls, window frames bent inward, pieces of the train on the lawn. When we relocated, I ended up in Charlies, 2nd Main. It certainly was something I will never forget!

Nick Bright My dad was the foreman at Elk River Concrete across from Carroll College and they were starting early in the morning but for some reason he told his guys the night before to come in later in the morning and it's a good thing that they did because if they were working in the building right next to the tracks where the explosion took place they would of all been injured or killed! Luckily not one person was working yet.

Cathi Hill Burgoyne Oh, do I remember. Worked in Student Affairs and my daughter was in Guad. Very frightening but amazing no injuries.

Art Compton The flash must have woken me up, I heard the boom that followed. That cold snap killed about every apple tree in town.

Kerri Cronquist We lived on Waukesha, just a few blocks from Carroll. It was freezing cold and my mom made me and my sisters put on three layers of everything, including underwear! The police were driving through the neighborhood telling everyone to evacuate. Crazy!

John Curry I was working for the State as a bank examiner. We were working in Dillon, trying to start cars in -40 degree weather to go home for the weekend when we heard about it.

Tracie Plowman Dagenais I was a senior in high school that year. It was the day before my 18th birthday! We lived up on Monroe and remember feeling the tremors, thought we were having an earthquake! I remember the friged cold temperatures that day. I recall the windows in the Lundy Center being blown out and all the plants in the Staggering Ox froze. We had to hold graduation at the civic center that year because of the damages to the field house at Carroll College.

Mark E. Daspit I was a senior in high school in Spokane. The same storm hit us pretty hard too, but in many respects not as bad. Carroll was on my short-list of schools to attend. I visited that spring when campus life was far from normal, but what I saw was COMMUNITY and working through the adversity together. I already knew that Carroll had a strong academic program, but this campus visit tipped the scales. And of course, everything was fixed up by August of 1989 in time for Class of '93 to start their studies.

Marla Duncan I remember! My son was 2 and I had all his clothes on him. He looked like the little boy from A Christmas Story, lol. I was going to school at Maddio's School of Cosmetology and the wreck blew out the front window there too! It was SOOOOO cold. I was thankful for my gas stove as we had no power for many hours. Oh, and since we had no power, couldn't plug my car in and it NEVER started again.

Jennie Duvernay 25 years - how is that possible? I was there (in Guad 2nd New) - and still have my commemorative t-shirt to prove it. I missed it when we had to move out (I went up to Charlies, 4th Main). Also, we learned the very important life lesson to be careful what clothes you put on when you get evacuated. You may be wearing them for a while ...

Brenda Felber Even though I grew up here I lived in Nebraska and I heard about it on the Paul Harvey morning news I just couldn't believe it but was able to tell friends all about it. And not being able to get a hold of my parents in Helena to see if everything was ok was very scary.

Kathy McCarthy Gilboy I graduated 2 years prior. We lived on 11th ave (just up the street from Walgreens). The explosion woke us from our sleep. We figured it was a transformer. We found out what happened when my Dad called from Casper, WY checking to see if we were okay. He heard about it in the news. My husband was managing Hardee's at the time. They had to shut the restaurant down because law and fire enforcement used it for their command center. It was bitter cold! The governor called a state of emergency and closed schools! Don't see that happening very often!

Phil Guignard I was there! Has it really been 25 years?

Colleen Moran Hallberg I was on my way to work at US WEST. Horrible day and weeks to follow.

Margaret Herriges I lived a block off campus and I remember thinking it was an earthquake as I was shaken out of bed. It was so cold that my goldfish bowl froze solid. I was the work-study secretary for the coaches at the time and I was asked to help inventory the damages. I went into the PE Center and stood where my desk had been and looked straight up into the hole where the train axel had come crashing through the roof. It's a miracle--truly--that none of us were killed. Among the damages in the biology lab were many frozen frogs and other critters who had been awaiting dissection. Not sure if they caught a lucky break or not.

Peggy Kloker Hoy It was sooo cold! I remember Francee O'Reilly getting on the intercom telling us all to close the curtains on our windows to try to keep some of the cold out...luckily we listened. My neighbor was out of town and her shades were not closed and there was glass embedded in her headboard!!! I remember thinking the wind blew the light poles onto the cars in the parking lot and that is what caused the broken glass. Then, all of us sitting in the hallway waiting to hear where we would go next...

Rob Johnson It rattled my windows sufficiently 12 miles east out on Spokane Creek to wake me up.

John Tre' Kennedy Remember it well. Truck wouldn't start so stayed with some friends on campus. Remember not being able to find my contacts, walking around in a daze, and hearing some female students yelling that Great Falls Air Base had been bombed by a nuke.

Myra Kuykendall I moved here from Georgia shortly before this happened. It was my first year of being COLD and there being nothing I could do to warm completely up. I remember having to go to school that winter and thinking what a horrible place this was. I've grown to love Montana.. 25 years later.

Kim Larson My story is similar to Mark E. Daspit's (class of '93) and I remember hearing stories from students during my campus visit that someone had a goldfish in their room and the water froze solid, along with the fish, but when they moved the fish with them and the water thawed the goldfish was alive! Blast legend? Maybe. But a fun story nonetheless. I also remember celebrating the first few anniversaries at some local pubs (red meadow, maybe?)

Trena Minudri I remember all too well....spent the remainder of the year living in the old Shodair Hospital. When it gets really cold (like today) I can still see the frost bite on my leg and cheek.

Jill Myhre I remember. We had our Subaru wagon plugged in parked in the front yard. I thought it had exploded. Too scared to get out of bed so put in headphones for the radio. Finally looked out kitchen window and saw a black plume of smoke! Probably how the people in Casselton,ND felt this past week. I lived there when I was 3!

Matthew Nugent I wasn't alive then, but the reports from the weather service have it that the temp was -30 with wind chills of -75. My grandmother was a student at Carroll and has a sweatshirt that says 'i got rocked at carroll college" or something like that. Here is a YouTube video I made from a video I recorded of a look back at the explosion.

Lee Anne Fullerton O'Neill I was a freshman and the heat didn't get to our room so my roommate and I spent the night in other friends dorms whose windows did not break. Our room was a mess. I remember returning 2 weeks later to get our stuff and the icicles hanging from the ceiling.

Cheryl Olson My daughter and son-in-law were students there at the time. I heard the news at work 350-400 miles away! Instant panic!! Quite a memory for us!!

Greg Pace Remember it well. Lived on Ewing, east of the Cathedral. Cracked our living room window. I rushed down to the TV station to grab a camera and head out to get the story. Goodness it was cold out. Believe we still have footage at KTVH.

Katie Samson I remember! I was 4 years old and terribly scared of the dark... I remember my dad coming into my bedroom with a flashlight to get me because the power had gone out and we had to evacuate (we lived by the tracks across Henderson from Sunhaven...). I couldnt figure out why there were pictures that had gotten knocked off the wall.

Beth Sterling Sawtelle I graduated from Carroll in 1989. I lived off campus with Ann Peterson Buckner in a 2 bedroom apartment. When students were evacuated, we housed her younger brother, Tim Peterson and many of his friends. It seemed like 20 in that small apartment. Everybody was quite scared due to the close call with all the blown out windows. And then we were all pretty well stuck due to the freezing temps. We had to plug the cars in to have any chance of them starting. Not quite the reason you want an extra week with no classes! Truly blessed nobody was up yet with open curtains, or walking to or in the PE Center!!

Debbie Wassmuth I was a student in my senior year of Nursing. Preparing to graduate in May. I remember this very well. As I recall, only 30% of the town was functioning due to the cold weather.

Shelley Wyatt Weiss I lived on Cherry Street. The blast blew open my front door and I remember being scared out of a sound sleep. Some of our pictures on the wall were crooked, just like if we had an earthquake.