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".
.... There is more of this story ...