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Tornado! (The 1955 F-5 Walcott tornado)





James W. Nelson



Copyright 2013 by James W. Nelson

Published by James W. Nelson at Smashwords




To my late parents, Russell and Lois Nelson,

They never gave up on me




The following paragraph was discovered and taken from the internet:


A tornado struck near Walcott, North Dakota, on this date, July 2, in 1955. Although rated an F4 on the Fujita scale, the National Weather Service claims that the tornado probably reached the wind speed and size of an F5 several times before it dissipated. If true, it would be one of only three F5 tornadoes to hit the state. Two people lost their lives in the storm and many rural families lost their homes and farms. Those who lived through the storm still remember the tornado’s fury.


My memory of this storm, though with me nearly daily, escalates a bit as the anniversary date approaches (60 years in 2015) and escalates even more upon hearing of such devastations as the recent storm in Moore, Oklahoma. I think especially of the children, and the fear I know they felt—and will continue to feel—because I have been there.



Table of Contents


Chapter Books by James W. Nelson

Chapter Descriptions of Books

Chapter Biography

Chapter Contact





This is a chapter taken from my memoirs “Dying to Live.” Before this chapter I was talking about my naval career and said, “Before I go on with my naval career I will touch on one of the other most important things that ever happened to me. You remember that loud Bang! the very first word in my story, well, you’re soon going to hear it again, only it’s louder, much louder…and it was terrifying.”


It was July 2, 1955. I was ten. Cool that morning but the afternoon turned sweltering. My nephew, Curtis, five, my very best friend at that time and who I considered almost my brother, and I, had been cleaning out the south side of the tar paper-covered garage. The plan is to set up a table or two for our farms and toy soldiers. It was a good plan.

By five-thirty we had finished sweeping the dirt floor. Mother calls supper. We head in. Huge thunderheads are rising over tall spruce trees in the southwest yard. Rain sprinkles. Sunrays make brittle contrast against the white house and dark clouds. Nothing about the changing weather seems really serious but we hurry faster anyway. We’ll be safe inside.

But my dog, Pal, very small, somewhat Collie-like, stops, whines softly, then turns and lopes in the opposite direction, toward her refuge under the hoghouse, where she has raised several litters, and, as a puppy herself, hid on the day of her arrival to the farm.

But it has rained before and Pal has not gone to the hoghouse. (Did she already detect the changing barometric pressure? Or was it the sixth sense that some animals, and some people, have?) To Curtis and me, nothing seems serious. Nothing at all.

We slip through the east porch door and are greeted by the squeal of 13-month-old Celi, my niece and a jabbering bundle of smiles. She sees us and, propelling herself with crossed legs and feet, comes scooting over the floor on her bottom.

From the corner of the porch floor, with crayons and paper, three-year-old Becky, another niece, a beautiful and intelligent child with reddish-brown hair and bright blue eyes, asks my mother, Lois, “I’m so hot, Grandma, can I take my dress off?” Without waiting for an answer she snatches the hemline and peels it over her head. She does look more refreshed in just panties, so Curtis and I remove our shirts.

Later, all of us, including my dad, Russell, and sister, Gerry, 16, sit to eat. A special affair tonight for Mother has just returned from a Ladies’ aid bake sale.

Supper is mostly finished by twenty to seven. Anxious to counsel Pal, probably still cowering under the hoghouse, and also to move my toys into the garage, I am first to leave the table. But upon reaching the porch I see a yellow glow outside. Unexplainable dread stops me.

The barn is about thirty feet high and sixty feet long. Beyond its peaked roof the sky is pale blue. The barn is bright red against the blue; its silver cupola is gleaming. The yellow glow fades. Outside begins to darken, fast, yet the sky beyond the barn remains friendly-looking mid-summer blue. Fears stabs at me as I hurry back to the kitchen.

Everybody is already up, standing silently at the double kitchen windows facing north, toward where darkness is spreading, covering the farthest treetops quickly, as if a sky monster is swallowing the sun. It is so quiet. Nobody is talking, and outside not even the sound of a bird. Nothing. The quiet is so intense it’s becoming a pressure beginning to hurt my ears.

A roar is becoming apparent from the west, like a distant freight train, usually a pleasant sound but now insidious, rumbling, approaching nearer and nearer, faster.

From where there is no railroad.

“Boy, we’re going to get an awful hailstorm,” Mother announces, “Hear that roar?”

“I think so too,” Dad agrees.

But it’s more than a roar. It’s a sound I’ve never heard, nor imagined, and it’s beginning to terrify me.

It’s terrifying all of us. We keep staring at the silence and calm right outside, at the green of our farmyard, at the blue sky where ragged fingers of black cloud are finally edging into view, looming over our thought secure, tree-surrounded farmstead.

From the floor, Celi, sensing terror from the rest of us, begins to whimper. Gerry immediately kneels and gathers the usually happy baby into her arms.

“What’s a hailstorm, Grandpa?” Curtis asks.


The crash is the east porch door, flung open. But there is no wind. Outside is still absolute silence, stillness except for the intensifying roar. Everybody gapes. Nobody knows what to do. Time is passing too quickly to be able to do anything. Dad heads for the porch door. Everybody watches him. Eyes wide, Curtis follows, “Grandpa, look at your car!”

We press against the kitchen windows. Outside the house yard fence the car is bouncing up and down. But it’s so calm outside.

We couldn’t know that fluctuating pressure preceding the storm is making strange things happen seemingly without substance. Dad didn’t know. Mother didn’t. Much too early in the century. The media blitz has not yet hit, consumer weather forecasting is still in infancy. Our communications is a radio not listened to during meals, a hand-powered telephone not ringing.

But nobody in the community yet knew either, for the storm had first formed several miles west in uninhabited pasture, then the tornado that came from it had hopped and skipped causing little damage, to escalate a mile west of our farm. There would be no warning. No time to get to the cellar. One entrance outside, another under linoleum in the kitchen. And still we have no realization we even need better shelter.

Like a balloon filled, the pressurized car pushes its weakest point, a poorly latched door, and pops it open.

“Mother, you didn’t get the car door shut,” Dad exclaims, “Now it’ll blow open and break!”

Dad does not leave the house to close the car door, for the unknown fear grips us all, but he does step out slightly, grips the porch door, pulls it shut.


It explodes right open again, harder, seeming to shake the house. The roar now seems right on top of us. The trees north and west of the barn begin straining, leaning east as if a mighty magnet pulls them, yet the house itself still feels no wind. Little Becky stands among us, as in nonthinking awe we watch the trees bending so far as to touch the ground.

Then the barn and other outlying buildings begin leaning east, again as if a magnet pulling in slow-motion, not wind pushing. Everything close is still so quiet. Farther away everything is happening so fast, and it’s so hard to believe, and accept. We still have no full realization of a dangerous wind. No realization we should do anything but stand, watch, in shock believing that nothing so bad as what’s happening could really be happening.

Suddenly the unseen magnet is winning. Everything beyond the house yard gate begins breaking apart, sending boards, shingles, branches flying around and around. The terrible roar now sounds like ten freight trains about to crash into the house. The pressure in my ears feels like I’m going under water.

The car door blows open, then wrenches and twists itself around to the front windshield, then it’s moving on its own across the yard. The 60-foot windmill, like a matchstick, topples east. The barn and granary roofs lift, and are gone, disappeared. The barn, like a stand of dominoes, collapses to the east, its siding and insides erupting like a hail of arrows. Like a cardboard box, the wooden granary rolls across the yard, west, opposite everything else.

An animal, small and dark, hurries across the yard, toward the disintegrating barn, looking for a place to hide. Pal! I know it’s Pal! But my mind cannot concentrate, cannot conceive anything but recognition of my beloved pet. The image of her, small and frightened, ingrains in my mind.

Pal disappears as dirt and other flying objects fill the air. Mindlessly I run for her. Dad grabs me, returns me to where everyone has moved away from the window. We’re now clustered in the center of the room. And still we continue witnessing, dumb-like, the unimaginable disaster occurring outside.

Suddenly the house is shaking, furiously. Dishes are falling from cupboards, clattering, crashing, breaking.

“Everybody into the west bedroom!” Dad shouts, then begins guiding us there. But I glance back. The east porch is breaking away from the house. Wide-eyed Curtis is still there, engraining more memory, then disappears into a curtain of dust and debris.


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Tornado! (The 1955 F-5 Walcott tornado)

A tornado struck near Walcott, North Dakota, on this date, July 2, in 1955. Although rated an F4 on the Fujita scale, the National Weather Service claims that the tornado probably reached the wind speed and size of an F5 several times before it dissipated. If true, it would be one of only three F5 tornadoes to hit the state. Two people lost their lives in the storm and many rural families lost their homes and farms. Those who lived through the storm still remember the tornado’s fury.

  • ISBN: 9781310385490
  • Author: James W. Nelson
  • Published: 2015-09-23 16:20:06
  • Words: 7972
Tornado! (The 1955 F-5 Walcott tornado) Tornado! (The 1955 F-5 Walcott tornado)