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Blaw Knox tower | 1938 Hurricane | 75th Anniversary | Recollections | Music Surveys

On September 21, 1938, a hurricane blew down WFEA's secondary wooden antenna. This narrative of the events of that day was written by WFEA transmitter engineer Irving "Speed" Mower and was made available by his son, Chuck.

One hundred and ninety nine feet of tubular steel...riggers climbing with practical ease...aviation beacon lights installed by the electricians. In three days our new reflector tower has been completely erected. Very trim and newly painted in the alternating lengths of white and orange-yellow as prescribed by the Department of Commerce, it seems almost to dwarf our main three hundred and fifty foot tower.

The wooden mast which it replaces was destroyed in the hurricane of September twenty-first. That is, the top sixty feet snapped off like a toothpick. We felled the remaining hundred odd feet as one would a tree (we never felled a tree) by sawing and chopping partially through and then cutting loose the remaining guys on one side. It dropped beautifully just where we wanted it which shows that people can still be lucky.

It represented a good sized tree since the butt consisted of four ten by ten timbers bolted together.

 

Irving "Speed" Mower
Irving "Speed" Mower

As I relive the night of the hurricane I find it hard to appreciate the force of the wind. Even as it was blowing down trees and tearing off roofs all about us, it really seemed like something which couldn't be happening. Trees blown across the highway cut off our power supply, telephone, and program lines about five p.m. From then on we watched with increasing tension the oncoming wind.

When the wooden mast broke off I decided that we would get at least 350 feet away from the base of our big tower which is structural steel. Edna was with me at the time for which I am very thankful since it spared her a natural anxiety for my safety and no doubt indirectly saved her life.

We got in our car and I drove to a nearby farmhouse to see if their telephone circuit might possibly yet be intact. The Merrimack operator answered indicating a clear line south but she had been unable to raise the Manchester operator. I emerged and dodging a rain of shingles from the barn roof reached the car.

Telegram to FCC  

I later discovered a shingle forced half through one of the engine hood louvres. We started to drive towards Manchester - a few minutes after we left a huge elm crashed where the car had been parked.

I had driven no more than a mile when we were blocked by another large elm with a three foot butt directly across the highway. There was nothing to do but return if possible to the transmitter field and stay in the clear. I turned around and started back. Some telephone poles were snapped and were swaying dangerously out over the road. I had driven a few hundred feet only when the canvas top of the convertible coupe ripped wide open leaving me staring up at the sky which was an odd brownish gray. Another half mile and yet another tree across the road; this one had come down behind us. It had split near the base and the portion not already down was swaying ominously over the road.

I drove into a yard and facing the storm watched the fate of the tree. It would apparently hold for a time and I decided to drive through the small top branches which just reached the opposite edge of the concrete. I wasted no time going by and the branches slapped us defiantly.

A few more sagging poles and we were away from the road in the transmitter field. Here I again faced the storm judging that in that position there was less likelihood of overturning. I then turned to the business of trying to be relatively calm and deprecating the effect and strength of the wind for Edna's benefit. Despite my misgivings at the time I discovered in the aftermath that I had done a creditable piece of acting. A hurricane is no place for a woman carrying a seven months' pregnancy.

After a time, with the wind increasing, I decided to pin our faith in human structure on the garage. It quartered into the wind thus presenting a corner rather than a flat side to the full force. The cement floor level at this corner was three feet below ground which also gave me an additional hope. The bottom timbers for the walls were bolted to a concrete sidewall foundation. This fact alone probably saved our lives. I certainly was not any too confident in my own mind at the time. Henhouses and barns near us were leveled to the ground; large stones blew off a nearby stone wall; billboards went over; one in our sight crashed, dragging over Clark Gable and Myrna Loy in "Too Hot To Handle." I kept repeating in a voice which tried to hold in one register that it didn't seem to be as bad as it was a few minutes ago. Then, nullifying my propaganda a broken branch would go flying past or another of the big pines at the edge of the field would go crashing down.

After about two hours and chopping crews were out on the main highway and by devious routing we were able to reach Manchester and report conditions to the management.

The Manchester Union - Friday, September 23, 1938, p.9  

Two days later we were back on the air with an emergency power supply - a Farmall-Deering tractor belt driving a 30 KVA 3 phase AC generator. We used this for several days until the Public Service Company restored normal power lines.

I was greatly worried about Edna but she survived the experience remarkably well. It was due, she says, to the fact that I appeared so matter of fact about it all. This allayed her very natural misgivings about the intensity of the wind and our danger. And my heart was in my throat all the time! I hope never to go through such an experience again.

There is no describing of the havoc wrought. Ten years of normal timber cutting, down in two hours!

It is a very real wrench at my love for woods and trees to see whole groves of stately pines twisted and torn out by the roots. Some fifty and seventy five years old and between two and three feet at the butt were either snapped off a few feet above the ground or were completely down.

1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000+
Blaw Knox tower | 1938 Hurricane | 75th Anniversary | Recollections | Music Surveys
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