Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Day in the Life of a WWII Night Fighter

In a letter dated Sept. 9, 1943, my great-uncle Ray Christensen gives a description of his work schedule in the 417th Night Fighter Squadron, at the time stationed in Algeria, north Africa.

Bristol Beaufighters in flight

"At present I'm on the alert.  We spend 24 hours all dressed and ready to go play with the boys if they get nosey.  [note: they had German planes attempting to fly over] Then we have 24 hours off and then 24 hours on call for big action.  It's lovely country to fly in, especially at night.  It gets so dark you can't even see the wing tips, even though the stars do shine.  Imagine little "Jerry" up there not being able to see and expecting to get a pantfull of hot lead any minute.  No wonder flyers haven't got any nerves left  after a war.  It's good fun though I wouldn't trade for any other branch of the service.  What's worse than Germans is trying to come back over the mountains and land with clouds and fog clear down to the ground.  That's when I've really got work to do.  [note: Ray was a radar operator in a two-man crew] Between the two of us we usually make it.  It's a nice feeling to feel those wheels bump on the ground and hang there."

     Yes, I'll bet it was!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Dust Storm of November, 1933

As a child, I recall my grandparents talking about the dust storms of the "Dirty Thirties," the air being so dark with blowing dirt that Grandpa could not see the house from the barn.  My grandma would tell of stuffing  rags, or anything else she could find, around the bottoms of the doors to minimize the amount of silt blowing in.  One of these terrible dust storms blew into eastern South Dakota in November of 1933, dominating the news coverage in the area for days afterward.

The following photo was taken November 12 in Huron, at 11:50 a.m.  It looks more like midnight than noon...

Excerpts from the local newspaper tell of the difficulties this storm caused:

1933, Nov. 15
The Evening Huronite

Last Sunday's dust storm brought with it a real problem for wool growers.
The wool of sheep which were out in the storm is packed solid with dirt, according to A. D. Randall, president of the Beadle County Wool Growers association.
How to get the dirt out of the wool is a problem which has not yet been solved, Mr. Randall said.

The storm pushed eastward from Beadle County into Kingsbury County -

1933, Nov. 15
The Evening Huronite, Pg. 2

De Smet, Nov. 15 (Special)  De Smet was digging out of the dust today, with a roof torn from the Sanitary market building as its worst damage and a pyramid of thistles almost to the top of the display windows of the J. C. Penney company store the most freakish effects of the wind.
The roof that was lifted from the market building cleared the front wall and crashed in the street beyond the sidewalk, damaging neither the light post nor windows of buildings.  The thistles were piled as if by hand converging to the center of the fifty foot front of the building, blocking both doorways.
Over Kingsbury county the dust storm raged severely, with many bare fields to feed it.

And it continued into Brookings County -

1933, November 16
The Evening Huronite, Pg. 2

The wind Sunday attained a velocity of 56 miles an hour in Brookings and carried the enormous amount of 125,000 tons of dirt per cubic mile, according to J. G. Hutton, State college agronomist.
The outstanding feature of the storm was the amount of dust which accompanied it.  From the barren fields and plowed lands the wind picked up the soil and while there were no clouds in the sky, when the wind was at its height it was impossible to see a house across the street and the lights were needed within hours.  This was in town where the buildings partially obstructed the wind while in the open spaces the condition was even worse.
One assistant of the college agronomy department went to the top of the Coughlin campanile and collected samples there, which were fairly large, indicating that a great amount of land was moved, if fairly large particles attained the height of the campanile, 165 feet.

The cost of this particular storm, just in terms of cleanup of homes and businesses, would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars if wages were paid, according to the previous article.  But, during the Great Depression, few could afford to hire help.  It was disheartening, my grandmother told me; she would just get the house clean and the wind would pick up again.  I can only imagine how relieved everyone was when the dust storms of the '30s became a thing of the past.