The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Sudden Summer Storm 1936

By Joseph S. Goode © 1987

Issue: July, 1987

It was a hot July afternoon in 1936. On our farm in Ritchie County, West Virginia, near the village of Auburn, my Dad, two of our neighbors, and I were storing hay in our barn so we could feed our cattle the following winter. Today farmers bale their hay, but we didn't know what a baler was in those days, so all of our hay was loose. On that particular occasion, we had to store an estimated forty–five tons, which took up a lot more space than baled hay does.

To get the hay into the barn, we used a hay fork that ran on a track secured to the inside roof of the hay mow and protruded out over the front of the barn. As a trip–rope lowered the two–pronged fork to the ground, one man inserted it into a pile of hay loaded on a sled drawn by two horses. Unhitching both horses from the sled, we hooked on to the rope that continuously revolved, transferring the hay from the sled to the hay mow before returning to the fork track for another load of hay.

We had just finished storing the hay and tying the horses to the manger inside the barn when we looked up and discovered that the sky had turned black. Before we knew it, a violent summer electrical storm was upon us and there was nothing for the four of us to do but take shelter in the barn. As we waited for the storm to pass, we saw sharp lightning and heard torrents of rain hit the barn roof and thunder crash all around us.

Clovis Summerville, one of the neighbors helping us, leaned against the wall near the door looking out at the storm. His brother, Hall, was sitting on a bee–hive. Before the day ended we had planned to cut down a bee tree behind the barn, then take the honey, save the bees, and move them to a spot closer our farmhouse, a good country mile from the barn. While I sat on the floor next to Hall, Dad kept busy by climbing the ladder into the hay mow to check for leaks.

Suddenly, an eerie blue light flashed through the barn. At that very moment our horses dropped to the floor, struck dead! Beside me, Hall rolled off the bee–hive, his eyes about to pop out of his head. Even though I heard absolutely no thunder, I knew what had happened: lightning had struck the hay fork track and the flames were shooting all around us.

Instinctively I grabbed Hall and dragged him outside. Laying him on the ground several feet from the burning barn, I raced back to find Dad. Reentering the barn, I climbed the ladder to the hay mow and discovered Dad lying on the ledge unable to move. He was paralyzed. I pulled him over to the opening and got him out the only way I could, by locking my arms around him and rolling out of the barn.

As we fell across the sled, I heard a crack, like the sound of breaking bones. We had bumped into a couple of the sled's standards, the stakes around the side which kept the hay in place. Fortunately, we fell between the standards instead of being impaled on them. After pulling Dad and Hall further away from the burning barn, I went back for Clovis. He was so dazed he didn't know what was going on, but was all right otherwise.

With all four of us safely outside, I forced Hall and Dad to their feet and made them move around. After a few tries, they began to walk and, in time, we made our way home and I called the doctor. He said that I had done exactly the right thing; the men would have died if they hadn't exercised after being stunned by lightning.

Hall Summerville was in his late forties at the time and was suffering from arthritis, especially in his hands. The storm was a turning point in his life because, after that day, he was cured of all his aches and pains. He remained in good health until he died at ninety–two years of age.

Even though I was only seventeen at the time, I learned not to be scared in a crisis because God is there too. Since then, I've been through World War II and survived in Okinawa, but I never came closer to losing my life than in that barn in 1936.