Storm narrowly misses massive collection of historical trucks

| 5/28/2008

The history of the American trucking industry narrowly avoided becoming a dent and scratch sale this past weekend.

A massive storm system threatened the city of Hutchinson, KS, the site of the Kansas State Fairgrounds, where the American Truck Historical Society was conducting its annual Antique Truck Show and National Convention.

The Fairgrounds were crowded with several hundred antique and historic trucks, ranging from the earliest trucks ever made all the way up to the late 1970s. Outside of a few of the oldest vehicles, which were inside the Meadowlark Building, most were on display outdoors.

The massive storm developed in Pratt County, about an hour’s drive southwest of Hutchinson, and then moved northeast toward the city, almost paralleling Kansas Highway 61.

Local weather forecasters said the storm contained strong rotation – a sign of possible tornadic activity. Storm spotters reported several wall clouds, funnel clouds and at least two brief tornado touchdowns. In addition, radar showed up to baseball-size hail contained within the storm.

As the system approached the city of Hutchinson late Friday, May 23, the rotation ceased, the hail moved to the west, and the storm entered Hutchinson with only rain and wind.

However, the danger wasn’t over – the straight-line winds recorded at the Hutchinson Airport exceeded 85 mph.

Truckers staying at the convention’s headquarters hotel, the Grand Prairie Lodge, were escorted to a central room to wait out the storm.

“Our guests from the East and West Coasts that aren’t used to tornadoes were kind of nervous at the hotel when the tornado alarms were going off,” Bill Johnson, executive director of the historical truck group, said.

The next day, it was evident that the storm had little effect at the Fairgrounds.

“There was minimal damage,” Johnson said. “We did have a couple of tents go down.”

Johnson said officers from the Reno County Sheriffs’ Department escorted truckers who were staying at the Fairgrounds’ RV campsite into a secure building nearby for shelter. He had high praise for the officers’ help during the storm.

Many of those truckers – especially those from other regions of the country who were unfamiliar with Kansas weather – were very nervous, concerned about their own welfare, and the welfare of their trucks. And the next day, many talked as if they had dodged a bullet.

However, Johnson took a more philosophical approach.

“Well, this is Kansas, and it’s tornado alley; we know how those storms can happen,” he said. “But it’s kind of one of those Midwest storms that blew a little bit, and then it rained some, and that was it.”

“We didn’t have any hail, which is fortunate for the trucks that are restored here, but all in all, it was good night, and it’s going to be a great day.”

– By Mark H. Reddig, host, “Land Line Now”