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Tornado Alley

Heber Springs, Arkansas (May 5, 2008) - We've been steadily picking off five to seven counties a day for the past three days. In fact, it's put me a bit behind in sorting out the photos and formatting up the memorial display pages.

The ride out of Tennessee was pretty uneventful. US-70 and TN-100 for most of the trip. TN-100 is a super road, but a bit boring. It's miles and miles of nice hills, but straight as an arrow till in connects with US-70 outside of Memphis. If you want to make time in southwest Tennessee and don't want to put up with the traffic on the Interstate then 100 is a great alternative.

 Sunday morning we got a good early start and when Heber Springs came into view our daily quota was met and we snagged a great campsite in a Corps of Engineers campground at Greer Ferry Dam. I don't know if it's just early in the season, or because it's early in the week, but there are only about 20 campers in this entire park - and it's set up to take 400 or more. Peace and quiet!

 

Sam Massey's Story

After setting up our camp we wandered over to Damascus to view some of the tornado damage there. It's always a shock to see what nature can do, and this was no exception. We ended up giving an hour of help to the family of Sam Massey, a member of the Arkasas National Guard. His wife and three grandchildren survived the storm, but his neighbors died.

Nobody knows where the deep freeze went, but most of the contents emptied along its’ pathway as soon as the unit left the floor and went through what had been the roof of the house. A favorite couch followed the freezer, along with most of the house. Books, photographs, over three decades of memories and accumulated items disappeared in moments. Laid safely in the bathroom tub were three children; a 15 day old infant and two other siblings, ages two and four. Over them their grandmother gathered pillows as the storm ripped the house to rubble. She tried to shield the children with the pillows, her own body, and her prayers.

Within seconds it was over. Two walls collapsed around the tub, trapping Sheila Massey but protecting her in the process. Her husband described the walls as ‘Angels Arms.’ He may be right. His family survived unscathed except for some terrifying memories.

Sam Massey says God protects him and his family. This isn’t the first time his home outside of Damascus, Arkansas has been threatened with calamity. Several years ago a Titan missile silo (Launch Complex 374-7) located just 600 yards from the house exploded. The nuclear warhead landed within sight of the front door, in a ditch aside Arkansas Route 65. Sam remembers that day too. &qout;If the warhead had exploded there would have been a 60 foot deep hole where the house is, and this area would have been renamed ‘Glass Mountain’."

Thursday afternoon the destruction wasn't a what if, it was real. A massive tornado spawned by a broad storm front touched the ground and stayed for miles, and miles. Trees and power poles are splintered, cars and trucks are rolled into nearly unrecognizable lumps, clothing is scattered for miles - often seen in treetops, and pieces of metals roofs are wrapped around everything that withstood the wind. There’s a John Deere yard tractor in Sam’s backyard. He has no idea where it came from.

Sam’s son walks up from a distant field carrying a sturdy black personal contents shipping container. "Wow,", says Sam, "I found the top of that container 200 yards in the other direction! Look at the stencil - I was supposed to be in Iraq now, my unit is there without me. God kept me here for a reason."

Sam is a retired Major in the Army Reserve that is now serving in the Arkansas National Guard as an enlisted man. He was scheduled to deploy not long ago, but a medical issue kept him home. He was also due to report for a Guard weekend Friday, but he thinks the unit commander will forgive his missing this particular drill weekend.

Art and I rode back to our campsite a little more humble, and much more wary about the weather around us.

Today we made about 175 miles in a loop of northern Arkansas that put us on AR-25, US-412, AR-9, AR-14, AR-87. Each successive road was a bit more exciting that the previous, but for different reasons. Some sections are just great scenery, others are roads where the twists and hills lead even the most sedate rider to temporary insanity.

I admit, I lapsed for a bit and did some serious grinding on my squared up rear tire. As I look over at it now I see little evidence that I've been on several hundred miles of straight roads at highway speeds. Had we been stopped for speeding I would gladly have paid the fine. Walt Disney couldn't design a ride better than these Ozark mountain roads.

Mosquitos are getting aggressive, so it's time to give up for the night. I'll try to find a hot spot and upload this tomorrow morning. Expect more by Thursday evening.

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