Roger Ringer

I am not sure of the year but my good friend’s son was five years old, the week of the Hesston Tornado. The family lived east of Buhler on a farm. The week before the tornado’s hit was a bizarre set of actions that tornadoes are not supposed to do. There were storms with tornado activity that followed the same path. Little J was at home with a baby sitter when a storm came in from the west and he watched the neighbors house get blown away just a half mile south of him. A couple days later a storm came from the same direction and the neighbors house one half mile north was blown away. A couple days later a storm was coming from the same direction. The family had a rented pasture near Medora and they drove towards it to check on cattle. On the way on virtually the same storm path a tornado came down in front of them and they had to avoid it. By this time little J was convinced that the tornadoes were coming for him. It was the last tornado or another one that continued east that week and hit Hesston. It took several years of therapy to get little J to not panic every time there was a tornado watch or a thunderstorm coming through.

You will remember that the Hesston tornado was actually two tornadoes that came together at Hesston. The north tornado followed the same basic storm track starting north of Hutchinson going almost due east to Hesston. The south tornado started near Castleton south of Hutchinson near the North Fork Ninnescah River. A friend of mine was driving north on K-17 (now K-14) highway going to a dental appointment in Hutchinson. Now S was a fan of Coors beer and had a can sitting on his dash as he was crossing the river bridge. As he was up out of the river valley and curved back straight north a State Trooper topped the hill with his lights and siren. Quickly grabbing his Coors can he watched the Trooper in his rear mirror and watched him do a power turn and come back towards him. He was sure the officer had not seen his beer can. At that moment KFDI announced on the radio that there was a tornado on the ground near Castleton. S looked again at the Trooper in his mirror just as the tornado crossed the highway right behind him. Needless to say nobody cared about a beer can at that point.

The tornado proceeded to the northeast and crossed a friend of mine mother’s ranch. An old tractor was so full of grass the radiator had to be pulled off to get the grass out of the fins. A grain drill had the seed boxes packed full of grass as tight as if they had been baled. At Yoder road and the road that goes to Haven a house that was just on the southwest side of the intersection was hit. From that intersection you can look northeast and still see the track that the tornado took as it went straight to Hesston.

The two tornadoes came together at Hesston and devastated the town.

S is now gone and little J has a family of his own now. Time has a way of dimming memories but the tornado memories are vivid.

One more note. I still like to watch the movie Twister. Friends of mine in the construction business were hired by the production company to do the dirt work for the scene where the actors in the Jeep pickup are driving down a drainage ditch until they are stopped by a bridge with an old tractor parked on it. The tornado hits as they take cover under the bridge. The tractor is plucked off and then the pickup is lifted away. My friends Steve and Steve made that ditch so they could drive down it and shoot one of the hokier scenes of the movie. I don’t know if the little Twister Museum is still open at Wakita but it had one of the ‘Dorthy’s’ on display there.

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