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Monday, October 19, 2020

60 years of memories: Wild Weather In Butler

60 Years of Memories of Butler
by James Ring

Over the years, we’ve seen weather extremes on both ends of the scale, and everywhere in between. Bates County, on the edge of transition from timbered Missouri to prairie Kansas, gets to see weather changes almost daily, or even hourly. There’s nothing out here in fly-over country to shelter us or retard the progression of weather systems. Twenty below cold, tornadoes, floods, 100-degree heat and wild winds are just par for the course.

We used to have REAL winters, in that the roads would drift shut with snow, Butler would have piles of dirty used snow around the Square, and the six weeks between Christmas and Ground Hog’s Day would be a progression of cold and wet . We stocked up on fuel and food, and we dealt with it. More than once, my old car would get parked nosedown against the curb on the Square and I couldn’t get traction with my smooth tires to back out. A few Good Samaritans would push and shove until I could get loose.

I learned to carry tire chains in the trunk in the winter, rather than leave them hanging on the garage wall. While I rarely put them on the rear wheels of the car to clatter around town, they came in handy to lay down on a slick spot to gain purchase when I was having trouble getting moving. You just had to remember to go back and retrieve them after you could stop on a bare spot.

A shovel was standard equipment in the trunk as well, to dig down to pavement if you high-centered in a bad stretch of snow. We learned that “bustin’ drifts” was not really a good idea if you didn’t know how deep they were. Four-wheel drive vehicles were limited to Jeeps and an occasional war-surplus truck. Today, everybody has a 4x4 pickup, many of which never see dirt.

The winters became milder over the years, so “climate change” is not particularly new; it’s been changing for the last half-century or so. The highway department used to stock snow fence to sit up in fields next to a highway that was noted for drifting closed, keeping the snow in the pasture before it could blow into the road. There was one particular winter when the weather was so bad Deems Farm Equipment took delivery of some John Deere snowmobiles from dealers up in Iowa; the fun only lasted a few weeks.

Spring and summer floods
were another regular occurrence. It was common to have Mound Branch close South Main road, and the Miami Creek on 52 West would get over the road before running down into the Maris de Cygne river. The Big Flood of 1993 was particularly bad, and it recalled earlier times when Old U.S. 71 would be under water north of Rich Hill. There was one day when Butler was an island, with roads blocked in all directions by high water on the main roads. We locals could get around through country roads, with trial and error.

And the summers regularly brought 100-degree afternoons in late July and August. There was an outdoor thermometer on the north side of Tull’s Rexall Drug store on Chestnut street, and I passed it noting 110 degrees every day in one hot week. Those were mercury-filled thermometers, which of course are horribly unsafe by today’s environmental safety standards. I didn’t own an air-conditioned car until the 1970s, and we raised our kids under primitive conditions, with only open windows and fans to keep cool. School started with big open windows and a teacher-supplied fan, until fall brought some relief. Today, we have to have climate-controlled schoolrooms, and houses and businesses are sealed cocoons.

On the Square, we sat outside on sidewalk benches under the shade of business house awnings, some of which were canvas, cranked out to extend the shade and protect window displays. There were a few screen doors in some of the smaller businesses, and some were just wide open. The apartments over the stores around the square had skylight structures with ventilation windows to let out the heat. And do you know what a “transom” was? It was a small pop-open window above an office door that would let air circulate through (and conversation as well) when the door was closed. So much for survival in the weather extremes of 60 years ago.