Tornado survival a vivid event [UPDATED]Published 9:40am Wednesday, June 5, 2013 Updated 11:45am Wednesday, June 5, 2013
“We watched your barn go over our heads,” said the carpet guy to me a while ago, while we were covering the basement floor. I forget how we got on the subject of tornadoes, but we were on it.
“Really?” I asked him, waiting for the rest of the story to come out, knowing there was a “rest” to come, knowing he had grown up just a mile or so north of this farm on which I’ve lived for forty winters now.
“And when would this have been?” I wondered.
I have always wondered, knowing this had been a dairy farm at one time, and any dairy farm must have had a conventional barn.
Over the years, I had been told now and then that a tornado had taken the barn, but no one really knew much about it. Added was the fact that I had grown up in Iowa, and was no stranger to tornadoes myself.
Summers growing up on the farm in Iowa had left me with many memories, and some of those memories involved Ma trying to herd us boys into the basement during storms. Basement, smasement, if there was a tornado coming, we of course wanted to see it. There were a couple of close calls, but nothing to see.
In fact, during the fifties and sixties, close calls were all we had. I was in Vietnam involved in my own kind of tornado when one hit Charles City, Iowa, in 1968, leaving twenty-some people dead, and dad’s fields twenty miles north of there sprinkled with debris from that town.
So. Missed that one, too.
Then, after getting out of the army, camping around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, trying to finish a college correspondence course (hiding out from friends who wanted to help me distract myself), I got tangled up in one around Coralville.
Luckily, I had pitched my tent down toward the water, protected by a twenty-foot bluff behind me, on top of which was the actual campground. It was full of aluminum houses on wheels, but, since it was during the week, it was pretty much abandoned by people who were at their jobs in town.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by rain, wind, and oddly enough, the sound of a railroad train. Railroad train? I thought to myself? There are no railroad tracks around here. I could hear the metal wheels of the train clacking on the welded joints of the track, as plain as could be.
I arose, stuck my head out the tent door, and watched most of the campground fly over my head, into the water of the Coralville Reservoir.
That was quite a sight. Camper trailers, their shiny selves lit by reflected, almost non-stop lightning, flew like birds through the air, and bobbed like boats out on the water. Around them, as they soared overhead in the night air, was a veritable stirred-up soup of folding chairs, plastic coolers, tarps, and all the other stuff found in a campground. Quite a sight, I thought to myself.
And then, my ears ringing, it was over. I went to my car to finish the night, and was awakened by the emergency rescue folks looking for survivors.
All of a sudden, there I was in the car in my underwear, people shining flashlights in at me. Obviously, I was alive. Mostly, you mention tornadoes, I remember being caught in my underwear.
“So you saw the barn go over your head, huh?” He raised up from cutting a piece of carpet, and said: “Uh, huh.”
“When would this have been,” It turned out that he had been about seven or eight, which put it at about 1963, or thereabouts. “It got part of our sauna,” he said. But nothing else, it turned out.
Tornadoes are getting a lot more respect these days, what with their frequency seeming to increase.
When the wind blows now, I don’t sleep.
I wait to hear the railroad train, and hope I don’t.
Alan Linda, The Prairie Spy, is the author of “Who Shot the Dryer and Other Stories from the Home Front,” which is available at www.trellispublishing.com