Stolen bulldozer goes on rampage at Duluth school, 1981

December 14, 1981

Students from Birchwood Elementary School in Duluth look at a bulldozer that was stolen and used to damage buildings on the school grounds before being abandoned in a mud-filled ditch in December 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Suspects sought in vandalism by bulldozer

By Gail Feichtinger, Duluth Herald

Duluth police are looking for two people who drove a stolen 9-ton bulldozer through a concrete warming shack, cracked two walls and moved a kitchen oven and range several feet at Birchwood Elementary School about midnight Saturday.

The vandals caused between $10,000 and $20,000 damage to the building and grounds at 1504 Swan Lake Road before burying the machine to the top of its treads in a nearby ditch, police said.

Birchwood Principal Henry Pederson said classes were held as usual today despite the damage, which included a 15-foot crack and a small hole in the kitchen wall, other damage to the kitchen and a 10-foot-long crack in the gymnasium wall.

The front wall of the warming shack was demolished, the baseball field backstop was crushed and about 20 railroad ties separating the playground from the parking lot were broken.

“The grassy area behind the building is now reduced to dirt piles. … It looks like a battlefield,” said Pederson.

Students from Birchwood Elementary School in Duluth look at the damage done to a warming shack at the school by a stolen bulldozer in December 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Police said the $40,000, 9-ton bulldozer, a 6-ton bulldozer worth about $35,000 and a 10-ton backhoe worth about $35,000 were stolen about midnight Friday from a lot at North Country Equipment Inc., 3801 Arrowhead Road.

The backhoe was found this morning mired in a swamp behind the store. The 6-ton bulldozer was discovered abandoned near the backhoe after the vehicle apparently ran out of gas, according to police reports.

Al Johnson of North Country Equipment said, “It would appear to me the equipment was taken Friday night into the swamp behind the store. And Saturday night they took a bulldozer over to the school. I can tell by the amount of snow on the tracks they had been missing two nights.”

No damage estimates were available on the 9-ton bulldozer.

Laurel Mokros (left), a building operations supervisor for Duluth schools, and Gail Freeman, an engineer at Birchwood Elementary School, survey the remains of the school’s warming shack after a stolen bulldozer was driven through it in December 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The vandals drove the 9-ton bulldozer about a mile from behind the store to the school, sticking to the woods, according to reports. Police said the suspects apparently went through the woods west along Arrowhead Road, crossed Arrowhead just before Swan Lake Road and continued through the woods on the other side until they reached the school.

Johnson said he believes the vandals are teen-agers who “must have had a key” to start up the heavy machinery.

Pederson said the school is offering a $100 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the vandals.

Dale Anderson, maintenance supervisor for the Duluth School District, surveyed the damage this morning. He said, “The foundations were fine. They pushed in a wall a little, but there’s nothing really that’s dangerous.

“They wiped out the warming house. That will have to be replaced or removed before the kids get into it.”

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A few days later, Duluth police announced they would be charging two 17-year-olds and two 19-year-olds in connection with the incident.

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