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Back in the Day – February 7th, 1978

Untitled-2You Think It’s Been Windy Lately? That’s Nothin’.

On Tuesday, February 7th 1978, a rare Valley tornado barrelled it’s way through 3 miles of southeastern Rio Linda, ultimately scoring a direct hit on Vineland Elementary School.

Here’s a reprint of the story from the Sacramento Bee from February 8th, 1978.

Special thanks to Kathy Miller Smith at A-1 Storage for providing the original article.


Bee Staff Writers

Louise Bade stood in a quagmire of mud and what was left.of everything she owned.

She was crying, tears streaking down her face, and her pants and shoes were covered with mud. What she saw was the destructive impact of a tornado that ripped a 3-mile-long path through Rio Linda Tuesday afternoon.

The trailer where she had lived with her mother and father was gone. Its remains were on rooftops, hanging from power lines, buried like blown spears in the walls of nearby houses.

“Has anybody seen my stereo?”‘ she asked no one in particular, a vacant sound to her voice, as if by some miracle the stereo could have made it through the destruction.

The tornado’s path was narrow, no more than 60 feet wide, and it touched down for the first time at 1:26 p.m. a few yards from the Rose Street home of Clarence and Mildred Serr.

It also tore through the Vineland Elementary School just after the 260 pupils, alerted by their principal, dove under their desks for safety. Tons of swirling debris — boards, rocks, sheet metal, roofing and panes of glass — were driven through the walls and windows of some of the classrooms and into the seats where the children would have been sitting.

But nowhere was the ferocity of the tornado more apparent than at the Bade trailer, which used to be located at 5913 16th St.

It was a 65-foot Commander and Tuesday afternoon, in the bright sunshine that followed the storm, Harry and Lou Bade, along with daughter Louise and their neighbors, were sifting through the mud trying to recover what was left of their belongings.

They had watched the storm hit, had felt their trailer roll one way then another before they were sucked through a window. Harry Bade said being pulled from the trailer by the wind may have saved their lives. Bade said he felt lucky. He said if he and his wife had gone out the door, the two of them would probably have been crushed under the weight of the trailer.

The trailer was lifted off its foundations and exploded, scattering the Bade possessions over hundreds of yards… And Mrs. Bade recalled those moments of terror.

“I was laying on the ground and I looked up and saw that eight-foot couch coming right. down on me. I thought I was going to be crushed by the furniture. I don’t know what happened. I must have blacked out, but that’s the couch over there.”

The object she pointed to was 50 yards away.

And then the storm moved on to Wheatley’s Poultry Ranch across the street.

Will Wheatley wasn’t hit as hard as the Bades. As far as he knew, he didn’t lose one of his 35,000 chickens. His two children, who were inside the home when Me tornado struck, were unhurt.

But a tree did topple, tearing out the windows of the home. An old brooding coop was flattened. An enclosed patio was no longer enclosed. Wheatley remembered an uprooted shed corning directly at him, his wife and two customers: But at the last second, it veered to the right and stopped.

“You couldn’t even see, the air was so full of debris,” Wheatley said. “I found cancelled checks and everything from those people in the trailer.”

Wheatley walked over and plucked a dress from a barbed wire fence. It belonged to one of the Bades and the tag from the store was still on it.

What happened to the Bades and the Wheatleys happened to a lot of people in Rio Linda Tuesday afternoon.

At the Serr home, where the tornado struck first, a two-room shed and part of roof was gone, part of a chainlink fence was destroyed, as Was a portion of a trailer.

To the northeast, on the four-and-a -half acres owned by Betty and Russell Mason, the tornado touched down, obliterating the Mason’s 120-foot by 80-foot barn, scattering the wire cages holding the family’s pet chickens and rabbits.

“We had to tear the cages apart to get them out,” Mason said.

They didn’t lose an animal.

“I’m from Colorado,” he said, “and when I came here, they told me you only had earthquakes in California. What happened?”

Untitled-3At the Weber Egg Co., two chicken houses were completely destroyed and several others lost roofs. One of the buildings housed 18,000 birds and Tuesday, Aliece Franklin, one of the owners, said she didn’t know how Many birds were lost.

Lois Capps, who lives nearby, was standing in her home of 18 years when she saw the twister coming. The roof of her house is now almost completely gone. She and her three dogs were unhurt.

“One day I’ve got a home, the next day, I don’t,” she said.

Her Plymouth Fury stood in the driveway, the windshield shattered.

One man who got a clear view of the tornado was Jack Stephens, who does plumbing maintenance for the school district.

He was standing in front of Vineland School Tuesday afternoon.

“I looked, up. I heard all the noise and it sounded like thunder. It was the tin and everything flying through the air. It was like a whirlwind, the kind that picks up papers, except it was picking up everything.”

Stephens said he jumped into his plumbing truck but it tilted up on the wheels, and he headed for the road when he saw the power lines fall across the street.

Bill Kenyon, Who lives across the street from the school, said debris was  blown under his car, that his shop was destroyed and a metal shed next to the shop was blown to pieces.

A camper top lay in a heap across the street.

“In my life I have never experienced, anything like this” he said. “Even World War II. I’ll take hot lead any time.”

“It just raised hell, that’s all I need to tell you. We just bought this property in November and were just getting it the way we wanted it. Looks like we’ll have to start all over again.”

“Thank God for insurance.” he said.

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