Taking a turn for better

Flooding: When it rains, it pours junk in the town of Detour. Relief might be ahead, though.

August 29, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

During downpours, residents of Detour have been known to run for cover -- not only from the rain, but also from tires, oil, antifreeze, fuel and sometimes entire vehicles that float down the tiny village's streets.

Tucked away in a hollow where Little and Big Pipe creeks join to form Double Pipe Creek, the low-lying village in far western Carroll County has come to accept flooding as a way of life.

But the problem has long been made worse by a junkyard -- the source of all manner of debris that flows downstream to the Monocacy River or into the two-block-long village.

"During one flood, 1,000 to 1,500 tires went all the way to the Monocacy River," recalled Donald Dayhoff, 70, a lifelong resident who says he is Detour's oldest citizen.

Now, after years of asking for help, Detour might get some relief. Calling the junkyard "the worst environmental problem in Carroll County," the county com-mis-sion-ers recently asked the state for support to buy the 3 acres -- which are for sale -- and put the land to another use.

County officials are in the middle of negotiations with the junkyard's owner and hope to work out an agreement within the next few weeks.

"The question is, `Where is the money coming from?' " said Michael Evans, county director of public works.

The negotiations are welcome news for Detour, which once boasted its own bank and post office -- even a brass band -- but has struggled in recent years.

Detour earned its name in 1905, when the Western Maryland Railroad Co. complained that "Double Pipe Creek" wouldn't fit on its train timetables and asked residents to choose something shorter.

A local minister suggested "Detour," a term he had seen while traveling in the Midwest.

Few are reported to have known what the word meant, but they liked the sound of it and it stuck.

No one predicted the confusion it would cause for travelers, who often mistake the village for a bypass.

Residents have found the name fitting.

The county government, they say, seems to steer clear of their town's recurring problems with flooding.

"We're too far from Westminster," said Michael Smith, who owns several rental properties in Detour and functions as the village's unofficial mayor.

"They want our taxes. They don't know us the rest of the year."

The commissioners agree that Carroll's unincorporated towns such as Detour are often overlooked because they lack political organization.

"It's certainly not intentional. We rarely hear from these small towns," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who has been a strong proponent of buying the junkyard.

The county, which is exploring using open space preservation money to acquire the site, will need to move quickly.

The property became available in April, when the operator of Ray's Auto Parts died.

Unless the county buys the parcel, the owners plan to sell it on the open market -- most likely to another junkyard operator.

Despite the environmental concerns, the junkyard can continue operating because it existed before county zoning laws that would prohibit it were approved.

Residents would rather see it returned to farmland, open space or maybe a town park.

On a recent morning, Dayhoff walked along the pebble path behind the junkyard and pointed out debris.

A sofa, car doors, sawed-in-half cars, two school buses and a mound of several hundred tires littered the grassy field behind Ray's Auto Parts.

Dayhoff recalled a time -- more than 50 years ago -- when the property was a baseball diamond.

"Home plate was about where that stove sits," he said, pointing to a rusted metal range obscured by tall grass.

Next time flooding hits Detour, most of the debris will wash into the creek, Dayhoff said.

In 1996, the year of the tide of tires, Detour was evacuated after 30 inches of snow followed by 2 inches of rain pushed the creek over its banks.

The water pulled car parts and vehicles downstream, clogging the water flow like a drain stopper at the Route 77 bridge.

Gasoline and oil leaked out of the automobiles, polluting the stream and filling the air with fumes.

Much of the debris from that flood is still visible from the bridge.

A rusted car seat, sheet metal and tire rims sit partly submerged on the side of the creek.

At a bend in the creek, a tree branch reaches over the water. It once held a rope swing, Dayhoff said.

Not many children swim there anymore because of the broken glass and metal that have settled on the river bottom, he said. "You could if you don't mind getting your feet cut up."

Smith moved to the village in 1971 and began buying its Victorian and Pennsylvania-German homes for restoration.

At one point, he owned 10 properties, including the village store.

Smith's fortunes have been determined by hurricanes Agnes and Eloise, which destroyed much of the town in the 1970s, and smaller floods since. He has always returned to rebuild.

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