The Memorial Day tornado of 1942

This picture of the Memorial Day tornado was taken by Paul Lawrence. Paul was east of his farm home and a mile north of the tornado. The photo shows the funnel just before it hit the Vern Schwarzenbach farm, the grove faintly showing (to the left of the tornado). Lake Park News - June 11, 1942The following articles appeared in the June 4 or June 11, 1942, edition of the Lake Park News. They have been reproduced here exactly as they were published then.

June 4, 1942 Lake Park News

Heavy Loss in Memorial Day Tornado

FIFTEEN FARMS SUFFER DAMAGE

A tornado of varying Intensity swept into this section from the southwest at about 7 o'clock Saturday evening, May 30, and laid waste to buildings in several farms in this community. The twister never fully settled to the ground, several observers state, and consequently its path of destruction on some farms was only a few rods wide, while at other places directly in its path damage was confined solely to trees.

Initial damage in this vicinity was at the Lee McClain farm just east of Harris. The twister continued north eastward about eleven miles, with fifteen farms suffering losses to buildings, trees, livestock and poultry No human lives were lost, as most of the farmers saw the black mass approaching and gathered their families into the family car and fled.

This is the first tornado to hit this section since April 1936 when great losses were sustained in an area south of town, to Westport township and northeastward.

The least damage was at the Lee McClain farm just east of Harris where the barn was moved on its foundation. Then it went to the Floyd McClain farm where trees were uprooted, fences torn out, the barn moved, and a hay rack left in the field was destroyed.

The cloud raised and dropped again a mile east, at the R. S. Herbert farm on old number nine where the brooder house was turned over, a corn plow was forced into the ground and a hen pinned under the wheel.

Heavy Damage

At the Fred Lundbeck farm a half mile east, the wind uprooted many large cottonwood trees along the banks of the dredge ditch and took out a wooden bridge across the ditch, and scattered the turkey roosts. A half mile north the cloud dipped and (unreadable) on the Glen Dieterich farm.

The next damage was at the Vern Schwarzenbach farm where the new hog house, silo and machine shed, barn, chicken house and older machine shed, and windmill were blown down and scattered for a quarter of a mile to the northeast with boards in fan shape driven four feet into the earth. The corn crib had the roof taken off and a combination corn crib and garage was turned side ways and one side taken away. The west back porch roof was taken off and some of the siding. All the windows on the south and the west were shattered. The chimney was blown down and the south roof on the main part of the house was torn off. Trees were broken off and electric and phone wires were snapped and scattered. They lost 17 hogs that they know about. One heifer was killed when a two by four was driven in its side. Machinery was twisted wreckage and the threshing machine was carried two rods (33 feet) and turned over. The tractor stood unhurt after the machine shed was gone.

One of the freaks of the storm at the Schwarzenbach place. The 2x4 which killed the cow and pinned it to the ground can be seen sticking out of the animal's side. Lake Park News - June 11, 1942Mr. and Mrs. Schwarzenbach and Norman noticed the storm as they were milking and turned off the electric milker and drove to the west as fast as they could, and when it started to rain they returned home. About 100 sheep pelts stored in the machine shed were lying all over the yard. Mr. and Mrs. Schwarzenbach own their own farm.

Take Refuge in Ditch

The C. L. Teale farm a few rods to the north of the Schwarzenbach farm lost over 75 spring frys that were almost ready for market. Mr. and Mrs. Teale and Bette were near Jackson, Minn., on their way home from Minneapolis when the storm broke.

The Palmer Bush farm a half mile east on the south side of the road had both chimneys taken off the house, the south and east end of the porch blown off and windows broken, windmill blown, barn roof split, ventilator off the corn crib and granary which was moved from the foundation and twisted, and a door taken off. Mr. and Mrs. Bush flattened themselves in the ditch in front of their house, since a truck driven by Glen Bush was stuck in their driveway twenty minutes before and they could not get away in the car. Mr. Bush was cut slightly from flying debris.

Clothes upstairs were blown around, and a shirt was spread on the dresser like a scarf. Mrs. Carl Arnold of Sibley owns the farm.

The next place hit by the wind was the Henry Ihnen farm to the north about 40 rods (660 feet) where it took the basement barn which had been built with mortise and pinions by Fred Wiechman Sr., who claimed it would never be destroyed because it was built so strong. It also took the machine shed, cattle shed, corncrib and garage, pump house and windmill, cob house, brooder house, chicken house, uprooted eight of the 12 large evergreen trees and broke four off, and broke many large trees to the north of the house. Fences were torn out and stock roamed at large as they did at the Schwarzenbach and Bush farms.

Mrs. Ihnen was getting supper and Mr. Ihnen and Gilbert were milking. Cecil Zahren was helping with the separating and saw the cloud and gave the warning. They drove south in their car to get away from the storm.

Dr. Marks, on the road a half mile east, saw the damage being done and drove to town and blew the fire whistle to give the alarm. The fire truck went to the Ihnen farm in the driving rain, and were there along with scores of others long before the family returned. The west porch was torn off, and the house interior strewn everywhere with household effects and debris. Furniture was disarranged and windows blown out. The galvanized water pipe from the windmill to the trough was bent in U shape. The hog house, corncrib and garage and a round slat corn crib and the house were left standing. The cows were standing in the stanchions, and milk in the pails had not been spilled.

Electric Service Off

The front page of the June 4, 1942, edition of the Lake Park News.Electric lights and telephone service was off at once, as the wires were snapped and twisted and poles broken off.

A half mile to the east the slat silo at the Dr. Marks farm was blown to the northeast and a few trees were blown down or broken.

The Everett Schwarzenbach farm a few rods to the north of the Marks farm and a mile and a half straight north of Lake Park, had trees blown down and broken off. Large evergreen trees were uprooted across their driveway. Two small sheds and the windmill were blown down. Shingles were blowed (sic) off, a tree down and a cellar door blown off at the Earl Rowe farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Schwarzenbach saw the storm and drove north and west away from it.

The wind next jumped to the Herman Wunder farm about three fourths of a mile northeast where it flattened the 24x80 hog house and crippled several hogs, took part of the roof off the big barn, blew down the silo and windmill, broke a few window lights out in the house and blew down a large part of the grove. Electricity was cut off and also their water supply which was pumped by electricity.

Herman had finished chores and was calling the children to supper when he saw a tree blow down, and felt the suction of the wind as he stood at the door. He saw the hog house reduced to wreckage.

Narrow Escape

The Dale Byers farm across the road to the north about twenty rods (330 feet), had the shingles taken off the house and the house raised off the foundation so the family taking refuge in the basement could see daylight and then it settled back five inches off the foundation; the brooder house was moved sixty feet to the north. The hog house, hen house, machine shed, steel corn bin, and pump house were blown away. A fourth of the corn crib roof was taken. Fences were blown out. The garage was twisted and the shingles on the east side and a door taken. Both chimneys were taken off the house. The high line poles were broken.

Mrs. Arlo Piper and daughter and Mrs. Dale Piper and month old daughter of Spencer were eating supper with Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Byers and children when they heard the wind and saw the high line go to the south of their house.

About thirty five relatives helped with dinner at the Herman Wunder home Sunday, for the Wunder and Byers families. Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Wudner, 81 and 84 years, did their share in helping with the dinner and cleaning up the debris.

To Swanson Place

The cloud raised again and dropped over the Elmer Swanson and Iver Piscator farms in Sioux Valley three miles northeast of the Byers farm. The fences were blown out and the posts leaned to the south. At the Piscator farm the barn, brooder house, garage, two hen houses, cob house and pump house were blown away. The hog house, small shed and corn crib were left standing. The house had all windows broken, mud blowed (sic) into the furniture and wall paper, and the house moved so that the doors would not shut. The eavespouts were torn off and the east side of the house had siding broken when part of the cob house hit it. Mrs. Piscator lost 305 of her 400 chickens that were nine weeks old. They had rain and large hail stones.

One horse was killed and a horse and colt were injured and had to be killed. One heifer and four pigs were also killed. A hog house, a small shed and the corn crib are left standing. Mr. and Mrs. Piscator own their farm, and moved there this spring from Worthington, Minn.

Heaviest Damage

The Elmer “Denny” Swanson farm, two miles and a quarter from the Byers farm, had the most damage since the house is almost a complete wreck. The window frames were blown out, two one by fours 12 feet long were driven into the living room on the south side above the window, with the ends rested on the floor. The combination radio and phonograph was ruined, a pedestal with a large plant was blown away, the roof is gone, plaster off, mud and water over all the furniture and rugs, the piano is ruined, the barn, chicken house, hog house and garage blown around and the brooder house has not been found. The new brooder house has not been found. The new brooder house which housed the baby chicks were moved 30 feet and 200 of the 1,000 chickens and sixty old hens were killed. Swansons lost five head of hogs and some pigs. The roof was taken off the corn crib. A new garage which held stored corn, the granary, the pump house and the shell of the house is all that is standing. The lumber is strewn over the fields to the north and east for a long distance, and much help is needed in cleaning the debris from the grain fields. They have their cows at the Fred Atzen farm.

Bedding was blown out of the bedrooms and a halter was blown in. Pictures were blown off the walls and have not been found. Mr. and Mrs. Swanson and daughters drove west and north in their car to escape the storm. They were feeding chickens when they saw the cloud. They own their farm.

Final Spasm

The above map shows (to the best of our knowledge) where the farm sites mentioned in this article were on May 30, 1942. Aside from this newspaper article, plat maps from the 1930s and 1940s, aerial photography from the 1930s, and articles in the Spirit Lake Beacon were all used to find the location of these farm sites - some of which are no longer present today. Clicking on the tornado icons on this map will show the damage that occurred at each site, as published in the Lake Park News.

At the George Heuer farm a mile north of the Swanson farm, the wind came from the northwest and the large grove of trees which had been there for over fifty years was a tangled mess (unreadable) the long lane to the house was blocked and Mr. and Mrs. Heuer and daughter who were eating supper did not know of the wind storm because of the heavy hail and rain before it. When they got the windows closed they looked out to see their basement barn was blown away. They were through with chores and no stock was in the barn. They lost one ewe, one cow had a rock through it and they had not determined how many pigs were missing since all of the fences were blown away. The water tank was twisted into a mess and blown a quarter mile northeast. The wreckage from the barn was blowed (sic) clear off the foundation so the work of cleaning to start rebuilding will not be as bad as at other farms. Only ten of their 450 two months old chicks are left. Two brooder houses were blown to bits. Mr. and Mrs. Heuer live eight miles northeast of town and have lived on the same farm 41 years.

Mrs. Heuer had setting hens shut in a wagon box, planning to sell them on Monday. They went with the wind and she has not found them or the wagon box. She had salt and pepper shakers on a glass shelf in the south dining room window. She found them a few rods northeast after the storm.

Neighborly Help

Neighbors and friends helped at the Ihnen farm Sunday and twenty-eight men and 18 women served dinner at the Methodist church basement at noon.

The Legionairres helped at the Schwarzenbach farm Sunday afternoon and again on Monday when the Auxiliary ladies brought hot dishes and helped serve dinner.

Neighbors helped at the Byers farm Tuesday.

Plans were made for the county Farm Bureau members to help Wednesday at all four places where the damage was worst and the Practical Pleasure Club members helped at each place making coffee furnished by the county Farm Bureau, and served it at noon.

Estimated Damage

Damage in dollars and cents caused by Saturday evening’s tornado is hard to estimate as yet. However, some place it at between $50,000 and $75,000 in actual losses known to date ($750,000 to $1.1 million in 2017 dollars). In some cases of apparent minor damage, reconditioning may reveal greater cost than anticipated. In such cases, repairing is getting under way without preliminary estimates, the insurance companies pay the loss when the work is completed.

THANK YOU

We are extremely thankful to all the people,in this community who gave such valuable assistance in cleaning up our farm after the tornado. We also thank the Methodist folks for the Sunday dinner at the church, and the Farm Bureau members who helped on Wednesday. Your kindness will ever be remembered.
Mrs Hannah Wiechman and Richard
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ihnen
Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Moe

High & Low Temperatures (from the June 4 Spirit Lake Beacon)

May 28 90 56
May 29 76 71
May 30 90 61
June 1 76 59
June 2 89 60
June 3 96 78
Note the 14-degree difference in high temperature between the 30th when the tornado occurred and the first of June.


June 11, 1942 Lake Park News

REBUILDING BEGINS ON DAMAGED FARMS

Folks who have never seen the damage done by a tornado fail to realize the extra work it makes as well as the material loss it inflicts. The farmer neighbors and friends in this stricken community realized the need for action and went to the rescue in a big way.

The Dickinson County Farm Bureau members brought their dinner with them last Wednesday and divided forces between the four farms in Silver Lake township: Vern Schwarzenbach, Henry Ihnen, Dale Byers and Herman Wunder. About 135 men in all helped clean up the yards and fields. A committee of three Practical Pleasure Club members was at each place to make and serve the coffee which was donated by the county Farm Bureau. Rain at noon sent the men indoors to eat but did not stop them from making fence, shingling roofs, hauling lumber from the fields or trimming trees.

Three farms in the Sioux Valley township: Elmer Swanson, Iver Piscator and George Heuer, had even more damage done and on the same day, Wednesday, one-hundred farmer neighbors with some men from Spirit Lake and Lake Park cleaned up the wreckage so that the yards would be ready to start rebuilding. The women of the community including the Spade and Trowel club – 44 in all – served pot luck dinner to the men at the Sioux Valley school. Lester Baumgarn of the Sioux Valley store furnished the ice cream for dessert.

Rebuilding has started on all of the farms. A new roof and chimney was put on the Vern Schwarzenbach house on Sunday after the storm. A new hog house is finished, which is being used for a barn.

The large shade tree at the west of the house which shaded the kitchen at the Ihnen farm was blown down, and the new tree which Roy Smith brought over and planted in the same spot, is very much appreciated. The foundation for the new barn was started this week, and a new corn crib, chicken house, enclosed porch and other buildings will be replaced as soon as possible. Henry Peterson has the job. (Text missing) 34x60 foot. Practically all the buildings are being built in new and more convenient locations.

Repair work that includes putting some of the buildings back on the foundations, is progressing at the Palmer Bush farm. Andy Snow and several helpers are doing the work.

Repairing is under way at the Herman Wunder farm, and some rebuilding is under way at the Dale Byers place.

The Elmer Swanson house, badly damaged by the tornado, has been torn down completely. Harry Rodenberg and carpenter crew are busy rebuilding the house, barn, hog and chicken houses.

At Piscators, new structures will be the barn, chicken house and cob shed, for the present.

At Bill Heuer’s, the barn and hog house are the first buildings to be erected.

This large amount of repairing and rebuilding work has caused a scarcity of carpenters, and some who have buildings scheduled are postponing them until the tornado damage is replaced.

THANK YOU

We extend our sincere thanks our neighbors and friends who helped clean up our farms after the tornado. We will always remember your kindness.
Herman Wunder
Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Wunder
Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Byers

THANK YOU

We cannot fully express our sincere gratitude to all the people in this community who so kindly helped clean up the debris left by the tornado, in rebuilding several sheds and fences. Your kind deeds will always be remembered.
Mr. and Mrs. Geo Heuer and Ruth

THANK YOU

We sincerely thank our neighbors and friends and the Farm Bureau for their kind assistance in helping clean up and fixing fences at our place, following the tornado.
Mr. and Mrs. Palmer Bush

THANK YOU

We wish to thank all the men who helped so willingly to clear up the debris on our farms left after the tornado. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you all, and also the ladies who served the fine dinner at the school house on Wednesday when the Sioux Valley neighbors worked at our farms. These friendly acts will never be forgotten.
Mr. and Mrs. Denny Swanson
Mr. and Mrs. Iver Piscator

Editor's Note: In 1942 (and until 1971), Memorial Day was observed on May 30 regardless of the day of the week it fell on.

Michael Ehret
  DICKINSON COUNTY
  EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT COORDINATOR
Dickinson County Courthouse
1802 Hill Ave, Ste B103
  Spirit Lake, IA 51360
43.422°, -95.103°
712-336-3987
712-336-1850
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