Saturday morning, I woke up and went downstairs to start making breakfast. Sleepily, I turned on the radio to listen to the news. My head was in the refrigerator when I thought I heard the announcer say that Greensburg, Kansas, had been destroyed by a tornado.
I popped my head out of the fridge and listened some more. Yep, a gigantic tornado had indeed practically wiped the town from the map.
I live in the Midwest, and I'm used to stories about a small town here and there being heavily damaged by wind or tornados. A few years back, heavy winds took apart St. Peter, Minnesota. The grim joke around here is that God hates trailer parks because they seem to get hit so often.
Greensburg was different because I've only been to Kansas once, and Greensburg is the only town in the state (besides Dodge City) that I actually visited.
In June 1989, I had just graduated from college and bought my first car. I was at loose ends, trapped in professional limbo. The five-month Armor Officer Basic Course didn't start until November, and I still held out hope of landing an active duty slot, so there didn't seem to be any point in starting a civilian career just yet.
In July I headed out on a road trip to celebrate graduation: West through South Dakota to Mount Rushmore, then down through Wyoming and Colorado to Rocky Mountain State Park, then to Oklahoma to visit relatives, and back up through Missouri and Illinois to see my parents in Wisconsin before returning to the Twin Cities. I brought a tent and camped the whole way to keep costs down.
I had to cut through Kansas to get from Colorado to Oklahoma. My initial impression of the state was that it was hot, dry, and flat - an impression reinforced by the severe drought that hit the region that year. Kansas has a whole series of manmade fishing lakes, and my plan was to use them as campsites. I stuck to that plan, even though most of the lakes I found were entirely dried up.
Then I hit Greensburg.
At this point, I'll switch to quoting from my diary entry of that day, edited to leave out juvenile musings and at least some tedious detail.
Sunday, July 30, 1989:
“I intended to take 183 South just outside of Greensburg, but decided at the last moment to go on into town to see The World's Largest Hand-Dug Well and the Brenham Pallasite Meteorite. The well and rock were both mildly interesting, although I declined to pay to go down into the well, contenting myself with peering into it from above.