The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950, Part 4 of 4

Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 26, 1950

Bobby’s maternal grandmother lived conveniently a short distance from his house, giving him ample occasion to visit her after his dad’s death. As her 1st grandchild she worried about him more now and paid extra attention to his wants & needs. Her oldest daughter needed more support as well, so her #1 grandson began staying overnight more often. During the summer vacations he often stayed the whole weekend and played outside with his uncle T, who was a little younger than he; he came inside from time-to-time to tease his  pretty aunts. He always enjoyed himself at grandma’s.

Saturday night baths were still a ritual for boys and girls in the early 1950s, and before going to bed Bobby & Tommy took their bath, put on their pajamas, and asked grandma/mother to tell them a nighttime story. She always obliged them by telling chilling ghost stories experienced by her, her parents, or by other family members; true adventures about her family moving by covered wagon from Kentucky to Illinois; fascinating stories about great men of the Bible like David & Samson; and our favorite one we called, the Mad Dog Story. When alone with Bobby, she always finished with his birth story. “They rolled you out of the delivery room and stopped so I could take a look; you were so cute and special. The very first thing you did was to yawn g-r-e-a-t big. You were my first grand baby and I immediately fell in love with you.” She told the birth story with such pleasure & sincerity that Bobby never grew tired of hearing her tell it. At grandma’s house Bobby always felt loved & wanted. No matter how trivial his problem, she always took time to stop & listen, the hardest thing in life to master.

Bobby cannot remember the first time he experienced the Texas Eastern phenomenon, as he named it, but he only heard it at his grandma’s house. It happened something like the following. One night before falling asleep at grandma’s house, the window next to his bed began vibrating in a dull, hypnotic rattle. At first he didn’t know what caused it, but he soon learned. The window next to his bed began rattling each time the huge motors at Texas Eastern came alive to keep its natural gas product moving on down the pipeline. From that night forward, whenever the window began to rattle, Texas Eastern became a conduit to remember his dad, the sacred place his daddy worked when he met his untimely death. When the night winds were still, Bobby heard the monstrous motors start-up, followed almost immediately by the drumming of the window, as if to say, remember me, remember me. No-one ever suggested window putty.

Bobby enjoyed the noise of the rapid, dull rattle as it masked the night noises that sometime kept him awake. The rattling windows never annoyed him at all; quite the contrary, it felt good to remember his late father, plus the hypnotic sound of the vibrating window melted away all his fears of the night. From that time on Texas Eastern became an important symbol to Bobby.

Whenever Bobby and his mother traveled to the county seat of White County to shop, see a movie, or eat at a restaurant, they passed the Texas Eastern Pump Station. Each time and every time, just before making a left onto the two-lane highway heading north on Route 1, he looked silently & solemnly toward the pump station and remembered his dad. Hearing & seeing became conduits for assisting Bobby to keep his dad alive in his memory.

Recently, from across the ocean, Bobby looked at the pump station through the eyes of Google Earth, then traveled to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Other objects reminded him of his dad as well. His mother, Gerry, displayed for some time a beautiful nude statue carved for her by Dale. Bobby heard some people say the full body figure was carved in his mother’s likeness. Bobby saw it often for a number of years until on day he found it broken in half around the knees. He saw it after that for a while; then, one day, some way, some how, it disappeared.

Uncle Richard, who adored his older brother Dale, talked to Bobby sometimes about his father. When his Uncle Richard talked about his brother’s carvings he listened intensely & soaked up everything he said.

“Dale told me,” said Uncle Richard, “that one of the hardest & most difficult parts of the human anatomy to reproduce accurately are the hands.” Bobby found that bit of information difficult to understand at the time, but he accepted it as the gospel.

One of Bobby’s favorite carvings, a partially completed one, showcased a man on his knees, his hands tied behind him, looking up into the heavens in a prayerful pose. His hands, bound behind his back & nearly finished, were magnificently carved in fine detail. The rope wrapped tightly around the condemned man’s wrists was carved by a master’s hand to the smallest detail. The overall appearance reminded Bobby, now a teenager, of a captured soldier knowing his execution is imminent. The legs and chest were partially completed with the head unfinished, except for some initial cuts. Bobby felt the partially finished carving reflected his dad’s life, both unfinished but very promising if only … .

Throughout the years Bobby searched for answers to discover what happened on the day his father froze to death in the New Heaven bottoms. Most of his inquiries went nowhere, or were tainted with contradiction, confusing facts, and worse of all, no information at all. Then one day, questioning his Aunt Connie about it, she mentioned without hesitation the “bitter” cold temperature that night. Several years later and after a final decision to write a few words about this painful part of his life, he remembered his Aunt’s comment and took action. He searched the Internet to find out the temperature on the night his dad died. He found what he was looking for and more.

By typing in 1950 Thanksgiving into the Google search bar, he received information he never expected. Upon first glance he didn’t know if it meant anything at all, but it soon became apparent to Bobby that he had hit the jackpot.  The only thing better would be a written copy of the inquest held to determine the cause of his Dad’s death. Bobby traveled by car to the county in which his father died and requested to see the documents concerning his dad’s death. The county secretary returned with a ledger book and showed him a handwritten note indicating an inquest was held on such-and-such a date with no indication of wrongdoing, but the written record of the inquest wasn’t kept at the courthouse. The secretary said the coroner who conducted the inquest at that time kept all inquest files in his office. Later that same day Bobby learned when the coroner retired, he took all the inquest files with him to his house. The coroner had since died, and no-one who Bobby talked to that day knew anything helpful to his search. “What a revolting development this is,” Bobby thought, and he went home.

The Internet Search:                                              

The National Weather Service in Jackson, Ky reports that 3-feet of snow fell in parts of Ohio, and 57″ of snow fell in parts of West Virginia. On the Epic Disaster Website the Thanksgiving Storm of 1950 resulted in 353 deaths and is listed as #3 in their list of the worst storms of the century. In all the websites Bobby visited, the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 was considered to be near the top of all-time winter storms of the past century. In Norman Phillips Symposium, Robert E. Kistler writes: “At the time of the storm, the manually derived forecasts of the day were unable to anticipate this extreme event.”  The breadth of the storm, the extreme low temperatures, the snows, the windstorms, and the flooding caught everyone by surprise.  Again from the National Weather Service for Jackson, KY: “Perhaps the bigger story with this one was the bitter cold air that poured into Kentucky in its Wake.” By checking the weather history for November 25, 1950, the National Weather Service (Indianapolis, IN) reports these temperatures: Evansville, IN (3), St. Louis (-4), & Paducah, KY (-3). These temperatures should pretty well reflect those in New Haven, IL, with Evansville about 25 miles to the east.

To summarize Bobby’s research is the fact that this mammoth storm quickly deepened into one of the monster storms of the century. The speed in which it moved caught everyone by surprise. Empowered with this new information Bobby can imagine his father & Bob traveling to their destination during decent weather-at least far from extreme, unloading their boat and equipment, and anticipating a successful duck hunt, unaware that a bitter & deadly cold spell is on its way.

How could they know that before the day ended both men would be struggling to stay alive. For Bobby it explained most of the question marks about his dad’s death. From looking at the charts & information presented by the weather service & others on the Internet Websites, Bobby concluded his dad probably died from hypothermia about the time the Nor’easter reached its maximum strength at 1:30 am on November 26, 1950.

Instead of wondering why his dad made such poor decisions during a crisis, Bobby learned mother nature made an unexpected turn beyond the knowledge available to all men at that time. One of the top ten storms of the century caught many men, women, boys, and girls by surprise, resulting in 353 deaths. Bobby knew now his father was caught unaware, out in the open in bitter cold and windy conditions, by a very unusual weather event uncommon to man & beyond prediction at the time. It was like the perfect storm of its day, but with no computers, satellites, or models available to the weatherman of that day to see it coming. It’s a wonder Dale’s friend, Bob, made it to safety.

But one questions remains: Why didn’t anyone in his family ever mention the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950? Maybe, just maybe, no-one in his family ever heard about it. Bobby didn’t until recently.

Celine Dion sings My Heart Will Go ON,, the theme song from the movie Titanic.   

Wayfarin’ Strangergarland dale

This entry was posted in A true story, Biographical, Commentary and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950, Part 4 of 4

  1. Nani says:

    I loved Grandma Johnson’s stories. The Mad Dog, and Where’s My Big Toe. I wish we had a voice recording of her telling us those stories. She was an amazing woman and I always felt loved being with her. I remember spending some time with her at the old house in Norris City. It would be just me, and those were special times. I can also imagine you teasing your pretty aunts and playing with Uncle Tom 🙂 As I’m sure you two had some good times together.

    Thank you for sharing Dad. I just keep thinking about that storm.

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