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Monday, February 27, 2012

I Heard the Train Coming

Welcome to the work week all who toil onward. I do not miss those days of aggravation at the hands of people who were miserable and sought to share that with me. This gives even more credence to the advice that I so frequently give to teenagers upon graduation. Find a job that you like so much that you would do it for free. Where every day upon waking you are excited to get to work. If you can do this you will have a marvelous life. The reduction in stress from what the common worker faces will make your life seem a great joy to you and everything will just go better because of it.

Fallon weather is forecast to be a bit damp, with a high of 45F, 30 cents on the dollar chance of rain, mostly towards afternoon and a soggy breeze out of the NW at 10 to 15 mph. It might throw a few flakes down in the PM but I wouldn't rent that snow blower just yet.

We have to take Mr S. to a medical appointment and Anna is supposed to tutor at the same time. Something will have to be shifted and I think that it will be the math session. It is hard to keep up with the schedule entries when they come from so many different directions. Tomorrow we have to go to Reno so we can't slide anything local to that day. Where is that retirement thing where you have nothing to do all day?

I have quite a few stories already written that cover the years from the 1950's up to the 2000's, in other words, my lifetime. I hesitate to use those too frequently or this blog will be shortened in duration as I would run out of material. Checking the list of 14 blog entries prior to this one, I find that 4 of them were previously written items. My only other choice is to write fresh material daily, making it a good thing that I have been described as a prolific writer.

I Heard the Train Coming

My introduction to tornadoes (without hurricanes) happened near Ft Rucker, AL in the little town of Daleville. I had married my first wife while I was finishing Army Air Traffic Control school there and we had rented a 12' x 60' mobile home in a small trailer park just outside of the gate. It was the weekend and friends that I went to school with were at the house drinking beer and playing cards as that was about all that any of us could afford to do. Soldiers made very little money in 1972 and if you had any bills at all, like rent or a car payment, you were still broke after you got your check on payday.

The weather was rainy and blowing so cooking burgers on the grill was out, instead we went together for a pizza and just kept the card games going. The storm was getting more violent as we played but we didn't care, we had beer, candles and youth on our side. If, or should I say when the power went out we would be ready for it.

Our trailer was tied down in compliance with state regulations and we were happy enough for that as it didn't shake in the wind. It appeared as we looked around the neighborhood, that compliance was an "Iffy" thing. I believe the key to our particular trailer being secured was that it was owned by the person who lived in it before us and he sold it to the park for a rental when he transferred out. Our trailer had steel cables over it in four places which were then anchored to eyebolts in buried concrete. I did yank on one once to see if it would just lift up, but it was the real thing and didn't move at all.

Other versions of "tied down" were less impressive. The unit directly across the gravel "street" from us had tires suspended from yellow poly rope which went over the trailer, my guess, to more of the same on the side that we couldn't see. Next door had a free standing wooden deck with 2 x 4 uprights next to the trailer that I watched the occupant nail his trailer to from the inside the house one afternoon. Yep, just drove those nails right through the wall into the 2 x 4's and called it good. Did I mention that we were in Alabama?

We didn't own a television, but the radio was on and the local news was issuing warnings about the possibility of tornadoes. A special alert said that any soldiers out on the town should report to the barracks for safety. We knew that meant lock down and mopping floors in the administration building which always leaked.

A quick vote and we decided that none of us were "out on the town", but rather in a private residence. And besides, we had no desire to mop floors for a grumpy Sergeant. To go outside into the storm seemed more fool hardy than staying put. We were winning the battle with ourselves over the piddly amount of duty and guilt we felt, and I credit alcohol with giving us the edge in that competition.

As the storm raged on, so did the beer and the card games. We were warm, dry and happy and didn't care about the weather outside, which showed our youth and inexperience. That area of Alabama was known as "Tornado Alley" due to the frequency and severity of storms that hit it every year. We had discussed the power and abilities of tornadoes and hurricanes early in the evening, offering up what we knew from school and the news items we had heard. None of the five of us there that night were residents of tornado country. I came closest having grown up in hurricane country where small tornadoes often spun off of the massive storms, but seldom did much.

Along about 1 or 2 am the wind abruptly stopped, and I mean like a switch had been thrown and the power cut off. It was so drastic and freakish that we all got up and went outside to look and stretch our legs. Trash cans were blown over and newspaper and other litter stuck to everything stationary. The odd thing was how dead quiet it was. The sky also had a yellow cast to it, like the glow from a big factory or car lot sometimes makes, but all over it. We spoke in very hushed tones like the whole world could hear us and would yell if we made noise. Right before we went back inside I heard a freight train a ways off in the distance and remarked how well the sound carried in the quiet of the night. The others heard it too and nodded their heads at my comment.

My wife gave up immediately upon re-entering the house and went to bed. The card games continued until we were all just too worn out to function. One by one the players folded, until there was just two of us sitting at the kitchen table holding on by abject stubbornness and we could barely see the cards to play them. I called a halt to the proceedings, declaring my opponent the winner and champion and stating that I was going to bed. My worthy adversary replied by laying his head down on the table where he was and began to snore. I checked for any lighted candles and finding none, moved the open beer bottle away from my friend sleeping at the table to prevent spillage, and wandered off down the hall to bed.

The youthfulness of our bodies allowed a quick recovery, the likes of which I truly could not replicate at my present age, and by 7 am we were awake again, refreshed by four hours rest. Deciding to step outside and smell the clean smell that always follows rainy nights, I exited the trailer and was greeted by sunshine and fresh air.

It really did take me a few moments to shake the fog of complacency out of my brain. I am slightly embarrassed to say that what I first noted was how clean the trailer park was. All of the newspapers and litter we remarked on earlier was gone. I thought, how odd that people who never cared before would be up so early on a Saturday cleaning the park. While I was perusing and thinking I had walked out into the gravel street and a short ways away from our house.

It wasn't until I turned around to walk back, and indeed until I started to call out to the occupants of our trailer and stopped mid speech, that it hit me. The trailer next door with the raised wooden free-standing deck; the one with the nails from inside the house, was not there. The deck was there and the nails were still in the posts. The blocks that the trailer sat on were there, undisturbed, which is not possible if you pull a trailer out of a space. Their truck was also gone.

As I was freaking out about that I rounded the corner of our trailer and just past the VW squareback we owned, was another set of blocks and no trailer. The 12' x 60' house trailers on either side of the one we lived in were gone. No wreckage, no pieces, no signs of being pulled out by trucks. Their old beater Oldsmobile was also gone. There was a bedspread on their clothesline soaking wet and hanging low, but there.

I thought that I surely must be under the influence of bad pizza and strange beer, or dreaming that I was awake and not really out of bed yet. I didn't tell the others what I had seen but insisted that everyone, all five of them, come outside whether they wanted to or not. They were all afraid of making me mad so they did it. It took a couple of seconds until the missing unit directly out the front door was noticed to be gone. I then asked them to look on the back side of our house and tell me what they saw there. It was also gone, I wasn't wigged out or hallucinating.

Two of us walked up to the park office to see if there was any word on what happened, but found no one there. On the way back an old man came out of his trailer on a corner lot and said, "good thing they left last night." and nodded his head towards our missing neighbors lots. "Nearly everybody evacuated last night and I thought you did too. I'm too old to run around in the middle of the night and was ready for whatever God had for me." the old guy said.

The tires with the yellow poly rope tied between them were about 40 feet up in a tree wrapped all around the branches. The convertible top was stripped off of the car in front of that trailer but nothing else was wrong.

We thought that the neighbor's trailers would be found a short distance away, but they never did find the trailers that were sucked out of our trailer park. I don't know what happened with the people who lived there because we barely knew them and they weren't military so we had no connection through the base. In about a month we were transferred to Ft Benning, GA and saw more tornadoes but nothing like that night.

I now know what the freight train sound was, I had heard the tornado coming and didn't have a clue. When I told this story to older locals in Georgia they all remarked that we had been extremely lucky. I told them "naw, it just wasn't in the cards."

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