Tell It Like It Was – Roy Jentzsch - The Day the Tornado Struck Our Farm in 1949
Gentle readers, on a few occasions, some of you have suggested…make that complained…that my stories lack any interpretation…or analysis…or conclusion. (Dang...I started chuckling just now.) Well, interpretation is not my job and it’s not my jam. But I’ll play along with you this one time. You see, I have already reached some conclusions about my ongoing Roy Jentzsch stories.
Conclusion #1: Our end of St. Charles County once was home to some giant and colorful personalities. As the Augusta area becomes more gentrified and homogenized, Roy Jentzsch stands out for being his own unique self. He has his own gentle version of rugged individualism with a touch of whimsy. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
However, if you disagree, please submit some names and phone numbers to me, and I’ll gladly interview them. If they don’t have a phone, draw me a map.
Conclusion #2: Roy is the proverbial storyteller. Some of you have told me that with the advent and omnipresence of electronic entertainment, the old storytellers all died. Not quite.
Today, I’m bringing you a story written by Roy and published in the Boone Country Connection in April of 2005. Now, I’m pretty certain Roy didn’t present this story for the first time in 2005. I’ll bet you anything he has told this story since he was a teenager. Within the last 6 weeks, I’ve heard him orally deliver this story to a few folks. The details don’t change. He has it crafted to exactly how he wants you to hear it. The only thing missing in this TILIW is his giggle, with which he punctuates the narrative.
A special thank you to Dianne Sudbrock (former owner/editor of BCC) for allowing me to reprint the story. She also sent me some slightly clearer photos…clearer than the copy of a copy of a copy I possessed. Enjoy.
BTW it was Dianne who urged me last spring to get my rear in gear and interview Roy while I still could.
The Day the Tornado Struck Our Farm
By: Roy Jentzsch
This is an eye-witness account of the events of the tornado of May 21, 1949, as recalled by Roy Jentzsch, who still lives on the family farm near Schluersburg.
The day started out rather cool with rain showers off and on. I can remember walking around the water puddles in the tracks leading up to the end of the machine shed where Dad kept the 1936 Pontiac, our family car. In those days we didn't have television and there were no tornado warnings like now. Tornadoes weren't recognized much back then by the Weather Bureau unless they could see the tornado and the damage themselves. Dad and I talked with a reporter from the St. Charles paper after it happened. It was reported in the paper as a being a storm that hit Schluersburg, but there was no doubt in our minds that it was a tornado.
The sky got black around four o'clock. Dad and I were working in the tool shed, which was part of a I00 ft. long building we called the machine shed. We were making window screens for the house, the same house where my wife, Geraldine, and I now live. For a long time, Dad and I sat in back of the shed watching and listening to the steady roar that the storm made. It was like a train roaring. But it just hung there in the West, not moving, for over an hour. The air was real still. Not a leaf was moving, but it wasn't a hot day. It was a cool day. Finally, we got tired of watching and went back to work on the screens. We hung one up on a roof rafter so we could paint it. Before long, we heard Mom calling from the house, "You's better come in. It sure looks bad."
The big barn (left) and machine shed (far right) were both destroyed by the tornado.
As we left the shed, black and green clouds rolled across the western sky at low altitude, but toward the south the clouds were broken with light shining through. I grabbed my bicycle to put it away in a shed near the house. As I was on my way, a lightening streak came down and struck the ground about 60 feet away from me! We barely got the door closed behind us when it hit.
I remember looking out a window facing the storm and seeing the wind make an "S" swipe through the plants in the garden. Then came what I hope never to see or hear again. The noise was so loud you couldn't hear the person talking beside you. We ran back, closing the door to that room, which was on the western end of the original log portion of the house. Then Dad tried to go back in, but he couldn't get the door open because of the pressure. We huddled together, Dad, Mom, sister and I, in the middle of the log part of the house. We should have gone to the storm cellar, but it came so fast, we didn't have time.
ln the twilight, I remember seeing the limbs of a big maple tree fly straight off like weeds. The tree had been trimmed a few years before and had lots of limbs about 6 inches in diameter. One came endways through the screened-in porch and out the other end. Though it seemed like a long time, the storm lasted but a few minutes.
The first thing after it started to let up, I remember Dad going to the kitchen window and saying, "What's my tractor doing out of the shed?” On a closer look, he realized the 100 ft. long building where we had spent the afternoon working was no longer there! And neither was the big barn!
What was left of the barn after the storm.
At that point, all our concern went to the two horses and about 25 sheep that had been in that barn. Dad and I started towards it, but about halfway there had to tum back to the house because hail stones started to fall. A few minutes later, we set out again, wading through water in every little low place that sloped downhill. The two horses had taken shelter from the wind, standing behind what was left of a large straw pile in their lot, about 40 feet from where the barn had been. The fences were torn down, but the horses never moved from that place.
After the storm, this is all that was left of what had been a huge straw pile. Over half of it was blown away. The horses were found standing beside the pile. Even though the fences were gone, the horses stayed right there.
The barn, which had been built in 1912, was completely destroyed. It was a tall, narrow structure, 24 feet wide, 60 feet long x 35 feet tall. Part of it contained two grain bins built atop a concrete foundation. The sheep usually took shelter from a storm under the floor of those bins. The floor beams were made from 2" x 8" oak. Now, here's a peculiar thing. For some reason, when the barn was built, there was open space about 8-10” deep left at one place in the concrete foundation. Somehow, as the wind was pushing the barn off the foundation, the ends of those 2" x 8" floor beams dropped down into that gap in the foundation, and the end of each board sheared off. Dad and I later found the ends laying in a pile on the ground where they had broken off. As the ends of those beams sheared off, the floor of the grain bin collapsed, trapping the sheep underneath! As we pulled them free, each one shook themselves off, then ran away bleating loudly! I can still hear the way they hollered!
None of the sheep under the floor were killed, but a few that didn't make it under the floor were crushed by the barn's wreckage outside. One place, way back in the wreckage, we could see a big stomach puffed up and sticking out from the debris. We thought sure ii was the milk cow but were soon relieved to see the milk cow come wandering in from up on the hill. The stomach we saw turned out to be one of three sheep that were killed.
About that time, my Grandpa, August Jentzsch, who lived in his own house about 150 feet away from the barn, came up to where we were by the wreckage. He was 77 years old at the time. The first thing, he looked at my dad and said, "That was some storm! Did it do any damage?" I remember Dad saying, "Yes, Dad, the barn and machine shed are gone!" Grandpa hadn't noticed, even though he was standing only ten feet from the barn's foundation! Once it sunk in, he got really nervous and upset.
Piles of debris from the machine shed after the storm.
As far as I know, the storm damage started ln the town of Schluersburg. Across from the Church, a barn was blown down. In the middle of town, a porch was blown off the back of a house and some trees were blown down at another nearby farm. But I think that damage may have been from straight-line winds. When it hit our place, it seemed to be coming out of the south/southwest. For a long time, I could never understand that because as we headed for the house, the sky to the south was broken and didn't look that bad. Nowadays, you hear a lot about a hook on the south side of a storm cell, and I think that must have been how it was that day, and why there was a little break in the clouds.
As it hit our farm, the storm twisted off the top of a sycamore tree, then took the barn and most of the machine shed. The machine shed was made of pine, and it broke up more than the oak barn. A full 35-foot section of the barn's foundation was broken away and uprooted. Two concrete pillars from the machine shed, weighing more than a person could lift and attached to a 6 foot long, 4 x 4 beam, were carried back 50 feet, uphill and against the storm's path.
From the machine shed, there was a path of splintered up lumber (from what had been 2" x 6" x 16' rafters) in a row not much more than 8 feet wide and roughly 6 inches deep for a distance of more than 200 feet. Everything was busted up into real small pieces like it exploded. We found a few longer pieces in a deep wash about 30 feet from another building we called the sheep barn.
The sheep barn was a 40’ x 40’ oak building, built in 1917. The center of the tornado passed by only about 30 feet away. It blew all the doors open and blew the back wall out, which is probably what saved it from going down altogether. There were hogs in the barn. After the storm, they were running loose but we didn’t lose any of them.
About 75 feet east of the machine shed was another 100 foot long building we called the chicken house. Part of it was full of ear corn at the time. The storm lifted up the roof on that building enough to tear loose the center posts but set it back down without taking it off.
Nearby was another building setting on skids so it could be pulled around from place to place with a tractor. It was full of oats. The wall facing the wind couldn't have been more than about 10 ft square, but it shoved the building sideways and pushed it. Dirt rolled up on the back side like a dozer blade. It pushed the building and dirt through a hog wire fence, breaking off some of the posts and pushing the fence about 4 foot out of line. A similar building nearby, setting up on rock pillars, was untouched.
There was some damage to the house. There were two big rooms across the south end made of logs where we huddled during the storm. That part of the house moved a couple of Inches on the foundation.
There was a lot of tree damage. One huge oak tree had its limbs twisted off all around. There were two trees beside it - a walnut tree on the north and a hickory on the south - both were uprooted. About 500 yards southeast of us, there was a strip of trees uprooted along a hillside.
From there, it skipped to the hills across Femme Osage Creek and did some damage in the woods. One farmer living in Schluersburg Valley claimed he saw the tornado pass over his farm. Another farmer about three miles to the northwest, near Hwy. F and Femme Osage Creek Road, said he sat out in his yard while the storm was going on. He claimed it made a loud roaring noise, but he thought it was farther away than Schluersburg.
That's all I know about the damage locally, but later we heard that on the same day, over in Wood River, Illinois, my Great Uncle's brother was killed. The family warned him not to go out and get the wash off the line, but he did. He was picked up and wrapped around an apple tree in the yard.
About a week later, two bantam hens that had been missing since the storm, returned. They had always roosted in the big barn that was destroyed. We don't know if they were blown away and came back or were under the wreckage somewhere.
The two horses that survived were moved to the sheep barn. They would stay indoors during a normal rain shower, but at the first clap of thunder, they would go out and run around and around in the lot, with their tails up, no matter how hard it stormed. I believe they must have been in the big barn when it started to collapse. If only they could have talked of what they had seen!
Roy with his dad, Frank Jentzsch, a year or two before the tornado. Roy remembers his dad was going threshing that day. Roy wanted to go along but was told he had to stay home.
The window screen that Dad had hung on the roof rafter just minutes before the storm hit was found below the hill more than 500 feet away. Several of the big lift-off-hinge doors from the machine shed were found intact further yet than where the window screen was laying. We found pine wood shingles from the big barn sticking in cracks of the sheep barn and out in the field. My Grandpa pulled nails all summer, salvaging what lumber he could, which Dad used to rebuild the barn and machine shed the next year.
Grave of Roy’s grandparents at Bethany United Church of Christ Cemetery