As I grew up on the High Plains Desert Northeast of Denver, on the Nebraska/Colorado border we didn't have too much violent weather. There were times, of course, when my folks would send us to the basement when a threatening green and black cloud would come up out of the Southwest and we'd all fear for our lives, but it just wasn't that often. Every year or two we'd have, a "toad strangler" of a rain storm and some hail, but for the most part, we didn't have too much violent weather.
In 1949, the year I was born, Northeastern Colorado did experience one of the worst winters on record and had a horrible blizzard in January. That was talked about by the old timers all my years living in that small town. Then, in the spring of the same year, we had a tornado that took our little town off the map. But, the hearty people just got busy and rebuilt. I am 62 years old now.
During many winters we'd get blizzard like conditions, while I was growing up, closing schools and roads and we all loved being snowed in for days at a time. But, we were always warm, well fed and could always go sledding and playing in the snow.
Other than a few rare times, not much really severe weather was part of our lives back then.
It seems that now we are getting more frequent and more severe storms than I can ever remember or than I can recall hearing about. Every year we have several tornado watches, tornado warnings and severe weather warnings. Gosh, some of the photos of tornados that I've seen from right here in our county seem so ominous, so bad. And those tornados taking out Greensburg, Kansas, Joplin, Missouri, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and so many towns each year are so alarming. There just really seems to be worse weather every year, more severe, and more of it.
Knowing that the only real safe way to live through a tornado with an F3 or greater wind velocity is underground, and not being able to afford to dig a basement under my house, which sits on a cement slab, I wondered what in the world I'd do if we ever had a direct hit. I guess I'd die.
Most of the folks in my neighborhood don't have basements and all of us are vulnerable. We live on slabs of concrete with a wood framed house built on it. I looked into "safe rooms" and they are so high priced and impractical. Just out of reach for us lower middle class types.
I had an idea. I'd seen that the local junkyard had an old school bus for sale, for parts, for a couple of years or so. I was able to get him to sell what was left of it, the shell, to me for $200. I didn't care that the engine and transmission had been robbed off it. It was quite the old bus. All the windows were intact, the doors closed tight and there was room enough for 32 students on it. I towed it to my house. My neighbors complained about this ugly yellow behemoth sitting out back. They thought it to be an eyesore. I never shared my ideas, just decided what I would do and began to gather what I'd need.
So, I live on 3 acre sloped lot. Toward the back end of my lot it steepens quite a lot and so I decided to start digging. I dug a hole in the side of that hill. I dug it by hand and I worked on it after I got off work and into the night. I'd dig on the weekends and on holidays and finally, after 27 weeks of back breaking digging and hauling, I had a hole in the side of that hill that was 9 feet wide and went into the hill 60 feet. In the farthest, deepest place, at the end of this tunnel, or ditch, it was 20 feet from the floor to the ground above. I'd had to pile a lot of that dirt up around the edge of the gash that I was digging, so I was working my butt off trying to dig, haul dirt out with a wheelbarrow, and up the hill and back to digging.
My neighbors howled at me. They thought I'd lost my mind. Sometimes, I wasn't too sure I hadn't. But, I had a goal.
Finally, after over 6 months of the neighborhood's hoots and hollers', my back breaking labor I felt like I was done with this part of my project. I took my Chevy pickup and put an old tire between it and the back of the bus, locked the steering wheel of the bus into place and began to push that old bus into the side of the hill, into the gash that I had dug. I pushed it all the way to the place where it bumped up against mother earth.
I used a cutting torch and cut 4- 6 inch holes in the top of the bus a few feet apart. I welded 6 inch steel pipe to each hole and it stood up like a smokestack out of each hole. They stood 18 feet at front and tapered down to 13 feet at the back hole. They each had screens across the top end and then a coned chimney welded in place with metal straps, leaving room for the movement of air, but keeping out rainwater and varmints.
Then, I cut a 24inch hole in the center of the top of the passenger compartment of the bus and welded a 24 inch wide steel pipe to it. It stood about 15 feet high. I had put a hinged lid on the top of this pipe before I welded it in place.
Before I began throwing the dirt onto the bus, I put a 24 foot extension ladder, not extended, in the bus through the back door and stocked it with supplies; water, dry food and candles. I also took out all the seats but 4 and put blankets and folded up cots along the sides. I built a table and moved the seats around a square so that people could sit and eat or visit at the table or move to the cot and sleep. It was primitive, but it would keep me safe in a storm. Unfortunately, my neighbors never did cotton much to what I was up to and they all just wrote me off as a loon.
I started refilling the hole by filling the area under the bus first. I wanted to get the weight off the tires and suspension, so I jacked it up and filled that area underneath with dirt and took the jacks off and let the bus rest on the dirt itself. There was no gas tank; somebody had bought it from the junk dealer. I had just the shell and it would work fine.
I started pushing the dirt around the top of the hole into the area around the bus, tamping the dirt down as I went and compacting it as much as I could. Finally had the hill looking kind of like it did before, with some pipes sticking up out of it, which I painted green so they'd blend in to the hillside. I had put the extension ladder up to the top of the 24 inch pipe. I tested it and air was flowing into and out of the bus. I had to trim a couple of the pipes as they were too long, but that was easy enough.
My project had lasted from spring to fall and I planted grass and watered it as the last thing to be done for the year on this part of the effort.
With the new spring the hillside looked pretty much as it had, only with green pipes sticking out of it and some new grass growing. People pretty much forgot about what I had done and life went on. But, I had a storm shelter.
The weather was tolerable for the next 4 years. There were a few threats and some heavy rains and such, but no direct threats of storms. The neighborhood changed a bit, as all do. Some moved out or died and new ones moved in.
2 years after I had built the storm shelter, the most antagonistic of my neighbors, Art Burg, died. He lived 2 lots over and left his 3 acre lot with his house and tons of crap on it to his daughter and her husband. My antagonistic neighbor had been kind of a junk dealer and his lot was pretty well saturated with old piles of scrap lumber and metal that he would sell some of periodically to raise money. He continually added to it or sold off from it.
In the spring of the second year that Art's daughter and husband were living there, 4 years after I'd built my storm shelter, I was sitting out in the lovely evening and heard my neighbors fighting. I could hear breaking glass and banging like pans being thrown. I heard a woman's scream, blood curdling. Then, silence.
I watched as the young husband, Ray, ran from the house, looking around seemingly to see if anyone was aware of him, and got in his car and raced off, spraying gravel all over my lawn, fully 200 feet away from him.
I decided I needed to go check on the girl. We hadn't spoken since they lived there. She was her father's daughter and he and I never got along, so the feud seemed to jump the generations to her, as well, though she and I never exchanged any words. But, I did hear a terrible scream and he did leave very hastily. I couldn't help but see if she was ok.
I knocked on her door and there was no answer. I peered inside the window and saw the bottom half of a person, lying still, with the top half of the body inside another room. I could not see her face, but she wasn't moving.
"Oh, shit!" I said under my breath and I tried the door handle. It was unlocked and I announced myself and went in. She never moved. I did not know her name, so I did not know what to call her, but it didn't matter, she was out. Blood was pooling rapidly around her and I saw that she had a bad gash on the side of her neck. It was at that moment I realized she was bleeding to death right in front of me. I put pressure on her neck and stopped the bleeding for the moment. With my free hand I reached into my shirt pocket and dialed 911. I gave the operator the address and what I was doing, what had happened and she said, "I have an ambulance on the way, and do not let off pressure on that wound".
I had never seen her up close and while I waited, I noticed that this young unconscious victim was quite pretty; she had on short-shorts and a t-shirt that came to just above her belly button and with no bra. Her shorts came to just above her pubic area so there was a lot of skin between the shirt and shorts. Her legs were splayed and I could see her yellow and sheer panties and a hint of silky blonde pubic hair jutting out the side where her leg was askew. She had blond hair and eyelashes and was quite trim and attractive, albeit somewhat ashen and messy at the moment. She was breathing and so I just waited. The bleeding had stopped but I knew I dare not take my hand away lest it resume.
Eventually, I heard the wailing of sirens and soon the ambulance people were there and the sheriff was right behind them. The ambulance crew took over and worked on her for a while, the deputy started asking me all sorts of questions, what with all the blood I had on me. I think I was just a breath away from being wrestled to the ground and arrested. But, I managed to convince him I was a neighbor and that I'd heard her and her husband were fighting, what I'd heard and how he'd left in such a hurry after her bloodcurdling scream.
The ambulance loaded her up and off they went screaming and speeding away. I was told to go home and clean up and that my statement would be taken in a little while. They still didn't know if this was a murder scene or just what they had on their hands as of yet.
When I got out of the shower, two deputies were standing in my living room waiting. This alarmed me, but I realized they were just being cops and didn't want me to have a chance to produce any weapons or to run and so they opted to "keep me in sight".
I asked if they had heard how the girl is doing and they said that Brooke was going to make it. She had had a nasty cut on her neck and it tore into carotid artery, but that I'd saved her life, Brooke was in surgery and would probably be ok. As we were talking their walkie-talkie radios crackled and another deputy was screaming into the radio that he was in a high speed chase after a green 1979 El Camino, headed south on Highway 71 at mile marker 65. I said to the 2 deputies with me, "hey, that is what the guy was driving when he left here after Brooke's screams. An old green El Camino".
Just then, the radio crackled again and the deputy who was chasing the guy reported that, "He rolled it". "We are at mile marker 66. Send me an ambulance and backup." Then, in about 45 seconds, "he is dead; I need a supervisor and the coroner".
One of the deputies that were with me in my house radioed to someone, "The witness at this crime scene reports that the perp left in an old green el Camino". They radioed back and forth and I heard their supervisor tell them to bring me in for thorough questioning and for them to have me to make a statement on tape.
The deputies agreed to let me drive in on my own and I said I'd meet them in 20 minutes at their office. I waited for 4 hours. They were still doing a crime scene investigation and finally they showed up. Later I realized they had gone through my house, too.
When the 2 hours of questioning was over, I decided to stop by the hospital and see how my neighbor was doing. I went to the nurse's desk and asked for Brooke Burg, not knowing her married name. The nurse said she was "in recovery and who are you?" I was the first visitor and nobody knew much about her, no id, nobody around to tell them anything except what the ambulance guys had on their report. I just said I was the neighbor who had reported the incident and stopped the bleeding until the ambulance got there.
"Oh, you are all she has, then. You saved her life. I am sure she'd want you to be here for her, come this way."
"Man, this is weird" I thought. But, I followed. The nurse ushered me into the ICU room, behind the curtain and there lay this wan little creature tubes and wires and ICU things all around whirring and clicking. Brooke opened her eyes with fright. She was heavily bandaged where they'd repaired her artery and a tube sticking out of that, for drainage, I guess. The nurse did not like that Brooke was alarmed and pushed something on her IV and out Brooke went. I was asked to leave, which I did.
I went on home and wondered what in the world has happened.
After 4 days, still no sign of any activity over there, so I decided to make another trip to the hospital and see if Brooke was doing ok. I went into her room quietly and she was looking out the window. She looked much better and turned her head to see me. When she did see me, she smiled and said she had heard I saved her life. I realized I was going to be welcome so I sat down and told her what had happened from my perspective. She cried and told me that it was just as well that he had died because he was abusing her nearly every day. I visited her every day until she was released. She had nobody else.
Ray had been so jealous of her and she never got to make any friends; and with her dad being dead she was all alone. She indicated, hinted kind of, that there was a little inheritance left from her dad and that she could sell some more of his junk and get by for a couple of years, so she wasn't in any distress over money for the moment, which I was most pleased to hear because I didn't have any extra money to be giving or lending.
After 10 days, they released her from the hospital and she asked if I would take her home. I, of course, said "I would be glad to", but she had nothing to wear and wondered, out loud, if there was some way to get some clothes to wear home. I just did not know how to respond, so I said, "hmmm".
Brooke said, "Mr. Bill, I know we haven't really gotten to know one another, but I really don't have anyone and since you were in my house and saved my life, would you mind going back and bringing me a change of clothes?"
"Brooke", I said, "I will do whatever I can to help. Of course I will get something for you to wear home."
So, I went back over to my neighbor's house and found her bedroom and her dresser and closet. I brought her a nice button down sleeveless, pink blouse, a pair of jeans and ankle socks with tennis shoes. I wrestled for 30 minutes over her panty drawer, trying to decide which pair she would most like. I settled on a rose colored pair with green flowers, sheer, and I found a matching bra. It was also sheer. Damn, I had to stop in the bathroom and shake off the dew. I put it all in a plastic sack and brought it to the hospital. She was delighted and put them all on, while I waited outside her curtain. The doctor came in before she was released and gave me a sheet of instructions which included medications and therapy for her full recovery. I guess I was becoming this 25 year old young woman's care giver. He discussed her care with me, telling me about diet, exercise, restrictions and when he wanted to follow up with her.
The weather was warm, it was May. We'd had some rain storms and lightning in the past few days and it was typical for this time of year. I could see in the West a line of thunderstorms were building and it looked like it could be stormy tonight. I never did turn the radio on to hear that they were forecasting bad storms for our area tonight. We were under a storm watch, and I never knew it. And, I was the one who was so anal retentive about things like that.
I pulled my pickup in to Brooke's driveway and helped her to her door. When she opened it, she broke down crying. The mess had not been cleaned up; there was dried and caked blood, her blood, broken dishes and pans on the floor. The house was a mess. She stopped in the door way and I bumped into her, as she bent over and stepped back into my groin, weeping and sobbing.
I touched her back and she turned and put her arms around my neck and sobbed. Slowly I put my hands on her sides and then my arms around her and just held her as she soaked my shirt just above my right breast. We stood there toe to toe and my crotch to her belly button, her breasts grinding into my stomach. Then, she just feinted.
I caught her just as she went down and gently laid her out on the living room floor and shut the door. I was concerned for her neck wound and checked it. It was not bleeding. I found a hand towel in the kitchen and soaked it with cool water and dabbed her face and arms and hands with it. She revived a little and looked at me. "Mr. Bill, I don't think I can stay here alone tonight. Please, may I stay with you? I won't be any problem; I just need a day or two to adjust".
"Sure, Brooke, it's ok. We'll get you over to my house and get you settled in." I offered.
When we got to my house, the clouds were covering the sun and it was a little windy. It smelled like rain and I looked up and noticed some nasty formations brewing in the Southwest. I needed to remember to keep an eye out.
Brooke was hungry, so I fried up a couple of large hamburgers, sliced some celery, green onions, radishes, tomatoes and got a bag of Wavy Lay's out of the cupboard. I didn't have hamburger buns, but had some good 12 grain bread and we had a feast of hamburgers and veggies. I poured her a glass of milk and she giggled and drank it leaving a mustache on her upper lip. She was adorable.
Lightening cracked loud, close. We both jumped off our chairs, back into reality. I went to the door and looked out. "This is bad," I said. "We need to go to the bus."
"The bus?" What are you talking about Mr. Bill?" Brooke asked.
The wind picked up and the rain started pouring down. I could hear little drops of hail hitting the roof and knew that it would be better to get up to the bus and do it quickly.
"Let's go!" I said and grabbed her hand and we took off toward the bus. She couldn't run, because she was so weak and it was uphill. We had just gotten home from the hospital and she was in no shape to be running up hill. She cried in terror at the approaching storm and so I picked her up, and in a fireman's carry over my shoulders I ran toward that 24 inch pipe that protruded out of the ground, which I had so carefully placed there 4 years earlier. It was a downpour of rain, the wind was thrashing about and things from around the yard were swirling in the air already. I made it to the pipe, realizing that Brooke's crotch was bouncing up and down on my right shoulder and that her breasts were being raked up and down over the back of my neck and left shoulder. I also realized she was delicate with a fresh surgery and I needed to check it for bleeding, but we needed to get down in the bus, first.
I opened the hatch on the pipe and saw that the ladder was in place, I told her to go down that ladder and hurry. I was right on top of her; I had to be careful not to step on her hands. I got the latch shut and bolted just as I heard a roaring that sounded like a dozen freight trains all coming at once. Our ears popped and all the air seemed to suck out of the bus. It was miserable for a few moments. Brooke was still crawling down the ladder and I was yelling for her to hurry. Once at the bottom, it was pitch black. We ran into one another and my hand went out and latched onto her breast. She grabbed and caressed my stomach. I said, "I have some candles over here, to the right". Finally, I found them and the lighter and lit one then several more. It was quiet, eerily dark and we were safe.
I held a candle up to Brooke's neck and touched her cheek so I could move her head to one side while I looked at her bandage. Everything seemed ok for the moment, but the bandage was dirty. Still, the surgery site seemed to be ok. Her blue eyes were big as saucers as she took in what was around us.