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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

The high, black wall of the tornado spun...

Caption: Tornado Comes Through Rich Plains, Illinois by Annmarie Throckmorton 1999.

It was a clear day, but very hot where I was working outside, on-site with a construction crew writing another construction manual in 1999. I felt the weather turn, the sky dimmed, the air pressure dropped, and I sought shelter ASAP. The high, black wall of the tornado spun in, but we escaped with a good story to tell.

At the time, I worked for GSI (Grain Systems) in Assumption, Illinois to write and photo-illustrate several construction manuals. On this project, I was assigned to work on-site for about a week to obtain source material for two of the manuals, Tower Grain Dryer Construction Manual, and Tower Grain Dryer Electrical Installation Manual. The temperature was steady at around 100° sunup to sundown!

On the day of the tornado, I was documenting the first stages of the construction, the unpacking of huge bundles of tower dryer components which are the massive sheets and rings of steel, heavy-duty motors and dryers, augers longer than me, packages of hardware, and the multitude of parts that go into an 18’ tower grain dryer. When complete it would be a work of functioning art in design and operation.

The construction crew was staging the parts they would use to erect this 18’ tower grain dryer. This experienced crew would be one of my primary resources in writing these 300+ page manuals, they would be my "Subject Matter Experts". In fact without their cooperation I would have exactly zero information with which to write my manuals. I had just met this crew and they were not thrilled to have a woman asking questions as they worked and photographing their work as they did it. Nope, they were not at all happy about that. Early on, the crew leader had walked me over to his truck and showed me a huge knife in a hand-tooled scabbard fitted into the driver side door. I said it was “very nice” in a neutral tone, tried to show no fear, and kept right on working with him and the crew. The day before when I had checked in with the grain storage and processing center manager, the manager had quipped that I looked more like I should be bringing in pies instead of writing construction manuals. I quipped right back that I made good pies too! Truth. It looked like I had a way to go to win them over to my side, and get those GSI manuals written.

We worked through the morning until almost one o’clock, and it was hot, hot, hot, sticky hot. The crew was hot, sweaty, physically drained, and so was I trying to keep up with them. We were working full out to finish the task at hand so we could take a break and ride into town for a late lunch at the local diner. Suddenly, the gray sky turned green, the wind picked up significantly, and then just as suddenly everything became unearthly still.

Whoa! I dithered for exactly three seconds, then when the crew didn’t even look up, I said, “Hey, this is tornado weather, let’s take shelter!” I looked around to see where I might shelter, and all I saw was sharp, gigantic food processor-type parts, 6’ sheets of steel and torpedo shaped augers. The crew didn’t even look up, they scoffed and kept trying to finish their tasks. I said, “Hey, we got ‘a go NOW!” They sneered, but looked around with some trepidation. I said, “Hey, I’m out of here. You should go too!” and I ran to my truck just as the front edge of a huge black tornado appeared behind the grain elevators to the west. I was slamming my truck door, turning the key, and stomping on the gas, when everything went black and swirling with debris. Panicked, I couldn’t see a road anywhere. All I saw was debris scudding over the hood of my truck. Then I saw dim brake lights ahead of me. It was the grain elevator manager and he knew where the exit was! I crowded up on his bumper to follow him to safety. I saw the headlights of the crew behind me as we caravanned out. Wow! This once in a lifetime experience was more than enough adventure for me. The crew and I got along quite nicely after that, and my construction manuals were well-received by GSI. My manager, who was vice president of the tower dryer division, had my tornado photograph framed, and he gave out copies of it as Christmas gifts later that year.

Caption: Installing Roof Ring by Annmarie Throckmorton 1999.

Caption: Sheave by Annmarie Throckmorton 1999.

Caption: Setting Screw On DriveShaft by Annmarie Throckmorton 1999.

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