The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 rose to a cold Saturday morning, January 26, 1907: five degrees above zero. As far as I can tell from perusing that day’s newspapers, they all woke in their own warm beds. But in Olena township, seven miles south of Norwalk, the Ruble family was not so fortunate.
The smell of smoke woke Mr. Bert Ruble at eleven p.m. the previous night. Leaping from his bed, he called out to his mother and two sisters and rushed downstairs. Together, the four of them searched their house and adjoining store. To their shock, they found a fire blazing around the stove in the storage room, around the burning sawdust filled wooden box Mr. Ruble used as a cuspidor. In an instant, Mr. Ruble realized what had happened; he had thrown a cigar stub in the cuspidor before going to bed.
Quickly, he and his mother and siblings fetched buckets of water, and within a few minutes, had doused the flames. Relieved, but wary, they sat up the rest of then night, constantly checking the area around the stove. By five o’clock they decided the danger had passed, and retired to bed.
Exhausted, Mr. Ruble fell asleep. But he did not slumber long. A half-hour after he had laid down, a loud crash again awakened him. Rushing downstairs, he darted to the storeroom and found a large hole in the floor where the stove had stood, flames roaring up from the cellar below.
He hurried back to the living quarters, the fire hot on his heels, screaming for the others. There was no hope of extinguishing this conflagration. In their nightclothes, the four ran out into the cold, crying for help. Neighbors poured from their homes and the men formed a bucket brigade, but to no avail. Within an hour, their home and store were reduced to a smoldering pile of ash.
So, on that cold January morning, Mr. Ruble and his family were homeless, dependent on the good will of their neighbors. All was not lost, however. Insurance would cover the loss, and most importantly, no lives had been lost.
But, as was reported in the Norwalk Daily Reflector that same day, a family living in Toledo, Ohio, were not so fortunate. We’ll learn about that tragedy in tomorrow’s post.
“Store and Dwelling Burned,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector,” January 26, 1907, page 1, column 6.
“Fire at Olena,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, January 26, 1907, page 1, column 3.