Campbell never lost his vivid memory of the only time he ever saw his parents
in Jones County on what Campbell called a ranch, but his family did more farming
than ranching. And on that sunny day in May 1920, their leased land had never
looked finer. Almost-ready-to-harvest grain and row after row of corn covered
400 acres around their two-story house.
“The barley, wheat and oats were
all waist high and ready to bundle and shock,” Campbell later wrote in “Spotted
Stripes,” a self-published family history. “The corn was also about waist high
and had been plowed out two or three times. All the crops were extra good for
that time of the year and the pasture grass was equally superior.”
had watched his father and uncle move the broadcast binder from a shed to the
shade of a large live oak. Soon it would be time to harvest their crop, the best
they had ever raised.
But grain and corn weren’t the only things growing
that spring. Campbell’s mother was pregnant, and the country doctor she saw reckoned
she would be having twins.
“It looked as if nature had smiled on everyone
and everything in that part of the state,” Campbell continued.
p.m. tall, dark clouds appeared on the northwest horizon. Back then, long before
commercial radio, television or Doppler radar, the only warning most Texans got
of an impending storm came in seeing its approach.
When it seemed certain
that they would be getting rain, Campbell’s father and uncle rolled up the binder
canvas and put it under a shed so it wouldn’t get wet.
soon gave way to close-in lightning strikes. The supercell thunderstorm towered
so high, a bright afternoon turned nearly into night. Then a barrage of hailstones
larger than hen eggs began coming down, followed shortly by driving wind and high
(Hail falling from 30,000 feet, a typical large storm height, reaches
120 miles an hour before it hits the ground. In addition to achieving velocity
a major league pitcher could only dream of, hail can be up to baseball or grapefruit
size -- the largest recorded stone weighing more than 1.5 pounds.)
and dad, my uncle and another hired hand began putting quilts on all west windows,”
Campbell wrote. “The front porch protected the windows to the south.”
blankets did little good. Hail beat out all the upstairs windows and even came
crashing through their roof. When big chunks of ice started rolling down the stairs
like so many giant marbles, Campbell’s mother grabbed a bucket and began trying
to pick them up.
The bombardment continued for 30 minutes, with wind and
torrential rain going on for another hour.
When the storm abated, the Campbell
family rushed outside to see the damage. They could hardly believe what they saw.
Dead chickens, their coop destroyed, lay buried in snow-like drifts of
hailstones. The sheds and barns looked like they had been bombed. Most of their
roof was gone and all exposed windows of their house broken out.
worse, their fields “lay as flat and barren as desert.” What two hours earlier
had been their best crop ever had floated off and now lay in large drifts against
their fences and in the gullies.
At least no one got hurt. In fact, only
two fatalities have ever been attributed to hail in the United States. One of
those deaths occurred in Texas, where a farmer caught out in the open near Lubbock
died in a severe hailstorm on May 13, 1939.
The Campbell place had been
visited by what meteorologists call a hailshaft, a column of hail falling from
a single thunderstorm cell. The area swept by a hailshaft, again in scientific
speak, is called a hailstreak.
“I saw my parents embrace and cry profusely,”
Campbell wrote. “This made a lasting impression on me and [served as] a constant
reminder that when it pertains to farming and ranching,
one never has it made until the money is in the bank.”
and father both shed tears, but they did not give up. Within three weeks of the
hailstorm, they had re-plowed and re-seeded their fields in cotton,
maize and grass.
Those crops came in bountifully. And that July, as Campbell
put it, the family had “two more cubs in the den.”
Cox - May 15, 2013 column
Topics: Columns | People
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