Tornado in Dawson

OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

Different people react differently to violent storms. My mother taught me that storms were fascinating and to be respected, not feared. Grace relates this story about her and her mother watching a dramatic storm on the prairie. I have my tornado stories. They’re pretty benign by comparison, and they illustrate my feelings about storms.

My favorite storm story happened when Judy and I lived in the apartments along highway 52 in Rochester. One warm Saturday afternoon some storms rolled through from the southwest and our neighbors joined us on the balcony to watch what became a small tornado. We had great fun watching while the sirens were howling and the radio kept us updated on where to hide. We stood on the balcony and watched.

The second tornado related event was when our kids were little and Elsie was watching them at our house. Elsie was one of the people who fear tornadoes. It was late evening, Judy and I were driving home from some outing with friends when the tornado warning sounded. By the time we got home Elsie had dragged the kids into the basement and done her best to instill her fear into them. Everyone was wide-eyed and the kids were howling as loud as the emergency sirens. Judy and I got the kids calmed down and I drove Elsie home. Her fear did not stay with the kids.

I still enjoy a good storm, summer or winter. There’s nothing like a long walk during or immediately after a harsh blizzard. There aren’t many natural phenomena that compare to the sky just before a summer storm. One item on my bucket list is to sit through a hurricane. That probably won’t happen. I’ve mentioned storms before, from the time I spent in Mott, ND.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Grace writes:

One summer in the 40’s there was a tornado that touched down in Dawson about 17 miles to the south + west from the farm. Mom + I were at one of the neighbors to the south so we were close enough to get a good view of it without being in danger.

When it hit the coal dock where they filled the train engines with coal we could see the funnel cloud turn pitch black. It killed one man in his car, put a board right through the windshield and through him.

About half the school house was gone. It took the brick wall + left some desks and things sitting untouched.

People got that coal dust into their skin so they looked like negroes. It was bad on a small scale but not much in comparison to this hurricane Andrew that went through Florida and Louisiana in August of 1992. This looks nearly as bad or maybe worse than war torn countries.


Tornado in Dawson

Tornado in Dawson


Plague of the Prairie

Wouldn’t it be nice if Grandma was still around to ask questions of? This is a great story about the Saturday bath tradition that happened everywhere on the prairie. These one page letters just didn’t allow enough room to talk about the details that give the story depth.

Did the “plague” get washed at the same time as the kids? Was the hair really first? How long did the process take? Are we talking woolen long johns or cotton? I can hear Lucy telling the story, and I want to hear more. Thankfully we have these snippets of life on the North Dakota plains in the twenties.

Lucy writes:

Being a little girl was not easy if you lived in the country. One of the worst things ever was long underwear. It had legs to the ankles and long sleeves.

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The Draft Lottery – Sometimes you win

During the cold war, from the late forties through the eighties, the USA fought a number of proxy wars with the Soviet Union. The biggest by far was Vietnam. There are a number of movies about the war if you want to learn more about it. Apocalypse Now is the one that sticks in my mind. There were jungles, illicit drugs, killing, bugs, death, guns, humidity … all things that this North Dakota boy wanted nothing to do with. Needless to say I did not want to go.

The government needed cannon fodder and not enough young men volunteered to go to the killing fields. So they restarted the draft. To make it a little more fair, there was a lottery system. Each year they would draw numbers and assign that random number to a day of the year. The day to watch for was your birthday. That gave you your number. When you were eligible for the draft, your number went into the pool. First they took boys whose number was 1, then 2, then 3, and kept taking them until the infantry was full. You knew exactly where you stood.

The system wasn’t exactly fair, as there were a couple of ways to avoid the draft. My out was college. My number was 96. That was a relatively low number, but I had a deferment. Life was good. I went to school, got married, and generally enjoyed the student life while the other boys went to ‘Nam. That plan only worked for four years, then I went into the pool.  I graduated from college in 1972, so immediately lost the deferment.

There was a chance they wouldn’t take me, as they were drafting fewer people every year, so I didn’t do anything serious. Then I got the letter, sent to everybody with a number below 100, to have their pre-induction physical. The letter said to report to the courthouse in Jamestown for the screening physical. So I drove from Fargo, where we were living in married student housing, to the post office in Jamestown. It was a nice drive. From there they tried to herd us all onto the bus for a trip to the induction center. In Fargo!

It took a little fast talking, but I did manage to convince them to allow me to drive back to Fargo and meet them at the induction center. They probably thought I was trying to chicken out at the last-minute. It was an experience being lined up with all these strange farm boys in their underwear. They did all those things that you saw in the movies.

Walter Cronkite on the CBS evening news

Walter Cronkite on the CBS evening news

We were more than a little worried now, especially since I had just received an NSF scholarship for the upcoming school year. The scholarship would disappear if I wasn’t in school. We discussed options, including what the job market was like in Toronto. Draft dodging was big business in the seventies. My dad would have been unhappy, but I was ready to ignore that issue.

The draft was big news on the TV. Each month they’d announce how many were being drafted, and which numbers would be taken. I clearly remember being home (53 Bison Court) watching the little B&W 13″ TV set as Walter Cronkite announced that everyone with a number up to and including number 95 would be inducted into the service. Those over number 95 were free to go, thank you.

That was one of the happiest days of my life. How different life would have been had I been drafted and sent to war. Several of my friends were drafted and served in Germany, Washington, DC and other benign places, so there’s a chance I would have survived. Happily, I didn’t have to find out. This life turned out pretty good.Grandpa Guy Havelick


High School Reunion

After graduating from college I discovered just how much I had to learn. Each year I realize that there’s even more things for me to discover. Then I read a letter like this one from Louie and I have to remember how much I do know, and how little everybody else knows about my dad, Louie. When I read his letter, this one or any of the others, there is a wealth of background only a select few people know about. I hope to my little commentary to each letter to help you understand the depth of Louie’s life.



Judy, the kids, and I joined Louie at the reunion he discusses in this letter. We were lucky enough to get there in time to go over to the old house with him and snap this picture. He was a giddy old man when we were at the house. I can see it in his eyes. He not only told the story in this letter, he told it at the reunion several times, and re-lived it several times with the family.

One of the things you probably don’t know is that Louie’s next older brother’s name: Bob. When Louie tells Bob about his new pocket knife, I know it was a really big deal. In a later letter you will read about the awe Louie held Bob in, almost to the point of costing Louie his life.

In person Louie expanded on the story a little, explaining why the initials on the side of the house weren’t his name (Donald), and weren’t exactly his initials (DLH). While he went by the name Louie from high school on, his given and childhood name was Don. That’s what he started carving into the siding. At that point he didn’t know how difficult it was to carve letters into wood. So after a couple of letters (D and O), he changed the plan from his name to his initials. He didn’t have the words to describe it then, but I suspect there was a little ADHD going on that encouraged a shortened signature. Too bad he didn’t make the change soon enough to get the letters right.

As I recall, there was a punishment involved after his dad, Louis, discovered the carving. I smile now when the thought crosses my mind, but the details escape my memory.

Some years after Louie’s funeral we stopped by the house again to get a better picture of the DOH, but the house had been re-sided by then. I guess that’s understandable after sixty years of North Dakota weather.

Reading these stories and thinking about my Dad Louie makes my day.

Grandpa Guy Havelick


Louie writes:

On the Fourth of July weekend of 1991 I was in Jamestown, North Dakota to attend a reunion of our 1946 high school graduation class. It had been 45 years since I graduated and sure looked forward to seeing some of those (kids), now older folks.

I had some time to spare when I got to Jamestown so I went down to the west end of town, my old stomping ground and looked around.

Found the “Tin Can Alley” where my folks’ house still stood. It had been redecorated on the inside but the outside was still like it was 60 years earlier. The one thing I look for or some hand cut initials on the side of the house.

When I was just six years old my dad give me a pocket knife. I knew at the time I was really growing up: “Bob, my own pocket knife!”

One of the first things I did with it, besides almost cutting off a finger, was to carve my initials in the side of the house.

When I was there in 1991, I found them still on the side of the house covered with many coats of paint, but still there.

Funny thing about this one is instead of carving “DON,” I had neatly carved “DOH.” After 57 years they were still there. Kinda had a little tear in my eye when I seen that. Kind of makes your day, eh?

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Jim and his mother c. 1927

Jim and his mother c. 1927

What is clear from this letter is that life on the farm was a challenge for Jim, just like it was for Grace and Lucy. Jim had the extra hurdle of being adopted into the Corser family, something neither Grace nor Lucy had to deal with. In the photo at right, it’s clear that something is amiss in the relationship with his adoptive mother.

The part of the story that hits home for me is the influence of religion while on the farm. My religious beliefs have always been a little out of the ordinary, perhaps unconsciously influenced by Jim? Maybe some of my future posts will go a little deeper into religion, one of my favorite reading topics.

Jim writes:

The year was 1949 … I was 25 years old and it was to be the first time I would meet and speak with my natural or birth mother … but that is a story for another time.

In 1926, at the age of two, I was “put up” (as they called it then) for adoption. In those days it was unthinkable for a young, unwed mother to keep her child. Bias and prejudice compounded by pressure from …

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