It was on a pleasant day in 1974 that I visited Fairmount Park Race Track to cover the story of a strike by horse owners seeking a larger share of the wagers.
These kinds of disputes flared occasionally at the Collinsville track. I departed, figuring the massive grandstand would be full of fans again soon.
But in not much more than an hour, that grandstand wouldn’t even exist. I rushed back upon hearing a fire call, arriving to find sweeping flames that did not stop until the place was on the ground.
Nobody was hurt. Fairmount temporarily moved in with the now-long-defunct Cahokia Downs, in Alorton, and then rebuilt the grandstand used today.
Fire investigators told me that wiring to a computer probably was already sizzling while I was there. It felt peculiar to cover a multi-million-dollar fire after being inside the place while it was burning unnoticed.
I was overtaken with the same strange feeling Tuesday night after receiving a text message from my son’s wife, Jennifer Stephenson. She lives in Minnesota but her connection to Metro East roots is so keen that I am as likely to learn about a fire on my block from her as from sirens.
In this case, she was alerting me to a big fire a little farther off, at Country Classic Cars.
After passing the place along Interstate 55 near Staunton about a million times over 20 years, I got curious enough last month to invite myself for a tour. I wrote about it here just two weeks ago.
Nobody was hurt in the blaze, I was relieved to learn. I had made friends with owners Russell and Anita Noel and some of their employees. The flames broke out several hours after Tuesday’s 5 p.m. closing time, and raged through the main building for several hours.
About a dozen fire departments responded to the isolated site along old U.S. 66, about 40 miles northeast of St. Louis. The area…