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Tornado

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

We tend to doubt people who say they simply have nothing to wear. In the case of Captain E. E. Heerman, believe it.

Captain Heerman had just maneuvered the steamboat Minnieta and its thirteen-string raft of logs past the Clinton, Iowa, bridge, in July of 1874, when the tornado came straight up the channel. The Minnieta was on its way from the log boom at Beef Slough to a sawmill in Burlington, Iowa. The captain barely had time to secure his nine-year-old son to the snubbing works which held the raft together before the tornado sent logs flying everywhere. He remained with his boat, trying to save it from tipping over completely. Then, just as suddenly, the storm was over.

When his wet and frightened raftsmen stoutly refused to go after the logs, Captain Heerman paid a visit to the Minnieta's cook. "I'm thinking fried chicken and gravy," he said. "And I'm thinking pie." Some meal it must have been. The raftsmen rose from the dinner table and scattered out for the missing logs.

They likely regretted their decision eight days later when the logs had been reassembled. There were logs in cornfields, logs on islands and sloughs, in the middle of bramble patches, logs far down the Mississippi. Thorns and branches had shredded the raftsmen's clothes; there was not enough pants and shirt for even one man. Captain Heerman and a crew went ashore dressed in sheets. While the Captain waited in the bushes, the crewman went into a small town to buy a pair of pants. Too small by far for the Captain. The two men then rowed their skiff down to Cordova, where makeshift outfits were purchased for the men back on the raft.

The Minnieta continued on down to Burlington without further incident. The motley raftsmen who pulled into the mill looked as if they had been having a costume party, though given the reputation of raftsmen, I doubt if anyone laughed. Besides, the men themselves were likely still lost in memories of pie. It must have been exceptionally good pie: only three logs out of more than a thousand were still missing.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.