Dear Chris and David;
Here are two more stories for you about growing up on my parent’s farm in Kansas.
THE RUNAWAY HORSES
“Brothers will Argue”
When I was growing up, my my older brother and I had to help our Dad with the work on the farm. That meant sometimes we would have to work together to do something that Dad wanted done. We didn’t always agree however, on how we were going to do it and would argue about it. The story I’m going to tell you now, is about something that happened because we were having one of those arguments.
At that time I was fourteen years old and my brother Omar was sixteen. Because he was the older, he naturally thought that he should be the boss and that I should do what he said. Of course I didn’t go along with that and that sometimes would lead to some pretty heated arguments. I expect that my brother and I were probably like most boys that age and such arguments are probably pretty common among them.
This time however, our arguing got us into a situation that could have ended in tragedy!
Dad sent us to town that day to get a special tool that he had ordered at the local hardware store. Dad didn’t think we were old enough to drive a car on the highway so we took a team of horses and a wagon. We had a modified model T Ford which Dad had converted to a pickup that we called “Jitney.” We drove Jitney around the farm to do jobs but he wouldn’t let us take it out on the highway.
After we got to town and picked up the special tool, we started back home and when we were about half way there, Omar decided that since he drove the team to town, I should drive the horses the rest of the way home.
He shoved the reins at me and told me to drive, that made me mad and I refused to take them. We immediately got into an argument about who should be driving and because we were arguing, we were not paying attention to the horses. Since neither of us had control of the reins, they fell down on to the wagon tongue between the horses.
The horses soon realized that we were no longer in control since we neither stopped or slowed them down, so they soon began to run. Then they started going faster and faster and finally broke into a full gallop going down the road on a dead run!
Well, by this time of course, Omar and I realized we were in deep trouble! Without the reins we couldn’t stop the horses and the reins were down in front on the wagon tongue! We both hung on to the side of the wagon for dear life hoping for a miracle, then Omar decided he would try to climb down on the wagon tongue and get the reins. It might have worked but fate intervened!
Before he could get to the reins, we came to an intersection in the road where it split into different directions. Well, one horse decided to take one road and the other horse took a different road. As a result they ended up straddling a big telephone pole that sat there on the edge of the intersection. And the wagon ran smack into it!. POW!!
Both of us were thrown out of the wagon when it struck the pole!. I landed on the ground in front of the horses and I remember seeing one of the horses going by me as I lay in the ditch. I don’t know where Omar landed!
We could have been killed!!
Fortunately, we weren’t badly hurt but Omar did get the worse of it because he was down on the wagon tongue trying to pick up the reins when we hit the pole. But we both were bruised up and Omar bad enough that he had to spend several days in bed recovering. Which left me with doing, not only my chores, but his.
I did have a pretty close call, though! One of the horses nearly stepped on me as I was lying in the ditch where I had landed. If he had, I might have been seriously hurt because he was a work horse and those horses are big critters! Fortunately he didn’t and my bruises all healed in a few days. The memory of the experience still remains with me to this today.
We learned a good lesson that day about arguments.
Growing up on a farm was different from growing up in the city. In the city, usually your dad’s work took him away from the place where you lived and there was little opportunity to work with him. On the farm, that was different. At least, it was different on our farm. We generally found ourselves helping Dad do many things and as we got older, one of those things was helping put up hay. That’s what I was doing on the fourth of July 1933, the year I was sixteen.
What is so important about that day? Well, that was the day the tornado struck Washington, Kansas our county seat!
My dad and I were loading the hay on the hayrack and hauling it to the barn for storing that day. One of the crops we raised on the farm was alfalfa (hay) which you had to mow two or three times a year. After it was dry you raked it up and either stacked it in stacks or else put it in the barn if there was room for it in there. The alfalfa we had mowed a couple of days before was now dry and ready to be worked so that was what we were doing.
The day started out like most days that summer, fairly cool in the early hours and then hot by noontime. We were hurrying to get the hay up so we could go later that afternoon to Washington for the Fourth of July celebration they were having. Our town band was scheduled to play a concert there that evening and since Dad played the tuba and I played the trumpet in the band, we didn’t want to miss the concert.
And I certainly didn’t want to miss the fun to be had later at the carnival that was also playing there. There would be lots of games to play and many rides to take and good things to eat like ice cream, hot dogs or hamburgers. I really looked forward to having lots of fun.
Shortly after noon that day, the sky began to cloud up and started to look threatening, like a big storm was headed our way. As we worked we could see the storm clouds building up higher and higher. Soon we began to see flashes of lightning and heard the roar of the thunder that follows!
I kept hoping the storm would pass us by because I didn’t want to miss the fun. But that was not to be! As the storm drew nearer and nearer the sky had began to have a greenish color to it and Dad said that it looked to him like it could hail also as well as blow hard. The clouds began to look like they were boiling and he said that meant there was a lot of wind in them also.
The wind had been blowing from the south but now it had swung to the north and was beginning to really blow hard and then drops of rain began to fall. Dad said we had better head for the barn or we would be caught out in it. So we crawled on the hayrack and went in. By the time we reached the barn and got the horses inside and then made our way to the house, the wind was really blowing hard.
The trees in front of our house were bending over so far their tops seemed almost touching the ground. And then some hail began to fall too so we knew it was a good thing that we had come in when we did.
Standing by the windows in the house we could see the hailstones bouncing on the ground and some of them appeared to be bigger than hen eggs and they would have really hurt if they hit you. They did a lot of damage to our corn and wheat too, as we found out later after the storm had passed.
The storm mostly bypassed us, however it was a pretty scary storm though, and we were grateful that we had returned to the house in time. Needless to say, we didn’t get to go to the celebration in Washington. We learned later that a tornado had struck the north side of the city and five people had been killed. There might have been more people killed or hurt but fortunately, most of the people were in the south part of town where the celebration was being held.
We might have been caught in it too, had we gone there earlier than we had planned!
The storm blew down one of the school buildings and the water standpipe was knocked flat. One of my high school classmates got caught in it and it stripped him naked but it didn’t kill him or even hurt him very much. I’ll bet it scared him plenty, though.
The next day people came to see the damage and marvel at the power of the storm. We even saw wheat straws driven into fence posts like nails. Tornadoes are powerful storms and they can do strange things.