A Tornado Aftermath
Chapman Travel Blog› entry 5 of 94 › view all entries
After the weekend in O'Fallon, I crossed the mighty Mississippi once again into Saint Louis and picked up Interstate 70 West toward Kansas City. It was a fine sunny day until just past Topeka, Kansas, when stormy weather hit. As a large weather system swept in from the west, strong winds bucked the Volkswagen and a downpour of heavy rain hammered against its windshield. After about thirty miles the rains finally stopped and I made my way to Chapman, Kansas.
Chapman looked eerily different than on my last visit some five years ago. Its streets looked somehow wider and not as shaded as I had remembered. City blocks appeared deserted. Then it dawned on me that a tornado must have hit the small town since that last visit. .
Chapman is home to retired Astronaut Joe Engle who was a test pilot on the X-15 Program then went on to fly two Space Shuttle missions. The small town is also home to Dan T, an old friend of mine since the second grade when, with red hair and freckles, he had a short career as a child actor. He appeared on numerous westerns. His one speaking role was on an episode of 'Wagon Train' when he got hit by a runaway buck-board racing through a western town. His picture once graced billboards nationwide in a Frito's advertisement. Now a retired firefighter, he and his wife, Estelle, live in Chapman but they weren't home.
I went to the Lumberyard bar where Arthur, the bartender, confirmed my assumption about the small town. A half-mile wide tornado had ripped through Chapman on June 11 destroying more than 60 homes and businesses, injuring scores of people, and killing two. Many of the buildings were currently being rebuilt, others marked uninhabitable by a large 'X' painted on them, and others still reduced to concrete foundations on now-vacant lots. It was mind-boggling to see how a tornado can sweep through a town and eliminate entire buildings and leave others, right next door, unscathed. This was as close to a twister that I would care to be. I repositioned across the tracks and after a couple more beers at the American Legion, slept in the VW.