The Linear Canvas
This journal is about the wrongs and rights of the world, as I see them.

The Linear Canvas

Super Tornado Outbreak April 3rd and 4th, 1974

July 11th, 2010 . by Alexander Fisher

Xenia, Ohio April 3 1974 I was watching a National Geographic Channel special called “Surviving the Super Twisters” about the Super Tornado Outbreak of April 3-4, 1974. I remember the day well. Although nothing of mine or my family’s was hurt or destroyed. I was definitely in the middle of the action that afternoon when it hit my town.

I had just recently gotten a job after-school at the local Otis Elevator foundry in London, Ohio as a janitor. My friend Dennis Brickey had gotten a job and then got me hired as well. Previously, I would hang around at the Gift’s Galore variety store and play pinball until about five PM and then go home, by parental order. The owner had just cleared a back storage room and installed five new machines. He had two of them out by the sales counter previously, but I bet the sight of several teenagers playing pinball didn’t do a lot for his other business. This had the advantage of adding more machines (more money) and getting us out of sight at the same time (more money) for him. I loved pinball and all of the regulars were above average players. As I would walk home at around five o’clock, I would walk right past the courthouse on my way from Gift’s Galore.

That day, Dennis and I went straight to his house after school to watch the cartoon Speed Racer and the game show Match Game ‘74. As usual we arrived at the foundry gates around four o’clock. The skies were becoming cloudy, but no storms were within sight. We were on the second floor cleaning the locker rooms and offices, when at about five o’clock, the power in the foundry began to go on and off. All of us headed for the foundry floor downstairs after the lights finally went out. There was enough light to see down there because of the open doors and windows. After a few minutes one of the foremen in the foundry came and told us there were tornado’s in the area and the safest place for us was back upstairs in the cafeteria in the front of the building. I wasn’t so sure that was the safest place, but if something happened in the foundry and molten iron was being blown around by a tornado, the cafeteria was fine for me.

Otis Elevator was on the edge of town, out in the open, with few neighbors. As a foundry, the site included a railroad spur and a few acres of raw iron, iron pieces, and tools to deal with such large heavy objects. When you went through the double doors at the back of the cafeteria there, from the warehouse area, the first thing you saw were windows that wrapped completely around the room. At that moment it really seemed to not be the place to be during a tornado. But several people, mostly foundry workers, were looking out the open windows at the approaching storm.

I remember initially we stood as far away from the windows as we could. But eventually, curiosity drew us closer to them. Before long the the others had lost interest as the storm seemed to fade. The only ones left looking out the window was Dennis and me. The skies were still very dark, and the winds began to swirl. As we stretched our heads out further to see over to our left, we saw a tornado about two-hundred fifty feet away destroying a block wall on the foundry’s northwest side, right in front of us. It removed at least one-hundred feet of the wall. Almost at the same moment, Dennis and I pulled our heads into the room, looked at each other and we both said “WOW!” at the same time. Neither of us had seen anything like that before. The funnel cloud, the wind, the flying bricks. (Wow) As I looked at Dennis we both were smiling ear to ear, almost out of breath from the excitement, when I noticed something in the window out of the corner of my eye.

At a foundry, everything is done on a big scale. The iron is heavy and many times still hot when you are handling finished pieces. Sometimes they would build a part holder that looked like a saw house out of what looked like railroad ties. I’d say at least 500 pounds of lumber was involved. They kept these “saw horses” all the way in the back lot.

Little did Dennis and I know that the tornado we saw two-hundred fifty feet away was also right behind us and right over top of us too. It managed to pick up a “saw horse” from the back lot, then dragged it across the roof above us, tearing out several skylights. It then dropped it over the edge of the cafeteria wall right where we had just had our heads sticking out of the windows. It crashed against the window ledge and fell to the ground just nearly missing a fire hydrant. We were still so close I saw all of that happening. The only question would have been, if it would killed both of us or not. Where our heads were only a moment before, was where it was a moment later.

One of the foundry employees saw that happen and ran over to us and pulled us away from the window. Everyone was quiet and no one knew what was next. After a few tense moments, the howling, swirling wind stopped as the tornado had finally moved on.

We all walked back to the foundry to examine the damage. I remember walking over to the wall and seeing each block was a solid piece of concrete weighing a few hundred pounds each. The wind had tossed them around like like tiny pebbles. There were other debris and some sheet metal had blown around through the building, but otherwise we and the foundry were intact.

I was told by my supervisor just to go home. As we drove through London, we saw the courthouse in the center of town had been hit and the clock structure had lost some sheet metal. (I’d always thought it was masonry) Some of the retail stores in downtown London had been hit by the tornado. At Gift’s Galore, the roof in the area where the pinball machines were, collapsed.

When I arrived home, heavy winds had hit my neighborhood and had blown small pieces of the courthouse and the downtown buildings into my back yard. Neighbors just milled about on the sidewalk talking about the storm. We had been lucky that day as the tornado caused no real damage on my street. Much luckier than Xenia, Ohio and many other towns along the storm’s path through the Central and Eastern US states that day.

The next day, the first thing I thought of was my brush with death and that regardless of whether I would’ve been at work, playing pinball. or on my way home walking past the courthouse, I would have been in the tornado’s path. Not that I think it was looking for me specifically, but you never know.

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