Monday, February 23, 2009

Booming For Business: Brownsville Sandstorm "Set" Stage For La Rue

By Taylor Wilson

Writing about B-Western movie star Lash La Rue (Let it, Feb. 20, 2009) certainly shook loose more memories about The Ritz Theater in my hometown of Brownsville, Tenn.

And back in the day (as they say), and on one day in particular, it felt like a whole lot of things might shake loose.

At the time The Ritz was being built (1940s), the cost of WWII was still at hand, and a lot of building materials were hard to find. And this was the case when Mr. Moreau Rice began building his Ritz.

Still, he searched far and wide and managed to acquire some steel and some fine aggregate sand for concrete.

The sand came in on a train, the only problem was it got freezing cold and the sand ended up frozen tightly in the rail car, just south of the square. Frozen tight, the sand could not be unloaded.

The railroad company did not like having their car "locked up" with sold merchandise.

And Mr. Rice, a frugal businessman, did not like it, either.

Soon the railroad began to charge a merge fee for every day their rail car set idle.

And likewise, the demands of the railroad and the growing fee sparked Mr. Rice to come of with a bang-up plan, and then some.

Taking some dynamite (how much he used is debatable), Rice went down and placed it in the car and set it off.

The subsequent blast shook the town square, reportedly blew out some windows and gave Brownsville a scare and its first (and probably last) sand storm — all at the same time.

No one was injured. The sand was "well-thawed.” And evidently, to the surprise of all sandstorm survivors, there was enough aggregate left over to make the concrete foundation and walls that formed The Ritz (where of course, would soon appear such greats as Lash La Rue).

In short, it all came down to this: there is business is booming and then there is booming for business; sometimes, as in the case of the Brownsville Sandstorm, there’s both.

Taylor Wilson is an editor and freelance writer that contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites for nearly 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at

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