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Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

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Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

09 April 2006

Tornadoes and Old Churches

It’s not all music-related, but the events of the last week have been significant (to me) and bear transcribing.

Sunday, 02 April 2006
Sunday seemed a fairly normal day. I slept in after the late night of playing followed by a long drive home. I played my cello a bit and did some laundry before heading over to Dawna’s to fix a flat tire on her truck. As I got there, the weather seemed to be getting a bit dicey. There had been predictions of potentially severe storms, but that is par for the course this time of year in the Midwest. After some quick attempts at loosening the Arnold Schwarzenegger-tightened lug nuts on her Kia Sorento, we gave up in favor of running into Highland in my van to pick up some things at the store and grab some carry-out from Farmers (owned by the same people who own Ravanelli’s in Granite City), the local eatery with great pasta dishes. She was skeptical about going out, as we had been hearing reports from Fairview Heights of a fair amount of storm damage. I assured her that we would be fine. (Remember this point…because she does.)

As we left her driveway, I looked at the fast-moving clouds and mumbled something about us getting caught in the rain. We drove north toward Highland along the back roads, remarking about how it looked like Collinsville and Glen Carbon were probably getting hammered. Along the way, we saw a young boy flying a kite in a field about 150 yards from a farm house. I joked about him not learning anything from Benjamin Franklin, and Dawna wondered why his parents would let him remain out there. As we made a turn west to zigzag into town, I noticed that the storm seemed to be following us from behind, as well as along the side of us, and remarked about it.

We turned north again and proceeded into town on Poplar Street. This was a near-fatal decision. It began to rain instantaneously. Hard. Followed quickly with small hail. Then, the wind shifted sideways and the trees and power lines were straining and flapping like I have never seen. This should have been enough to warn us off. But, no…we continued onward. She expressed her doubts about our trek, but I assured her again that we would be fine. It was just a storm, right? About two blocks later, I started to have my own doubts as I couldn’t see well and began worrying about trees and power lines falling on us.

It was just about then that things started to fly past us…by “things” I mean parts of buildings, tree limbs, and who knows what else. We saw no cows, though. Like an idiot I drove onward, weaving around large chunks of insulation, wallboard, and siding…and in some cases driving right over them. About another half of a block later, we stopped in front of a downed power line stretched across the street. End of the road. Dawna, who had been simply sitting there with her hands around her face, finally said, “I want to go home.” That was good enough for me. As we started to turn around, a minivan that had stopped on the other side of the power line pulled out and went around the car in front of it, driving right over the top of the line. He had apparently decided that he was getting out of there at any cost. He made it over OK, and zoomed around us like we weren’t even there.

I didn’t really think about it then, as I was concentrating too much on driving, but the overall cacophony was almost deafening. The wind was whipping the rain against the windows from seemingly every direction, the windshield wipers were screeching and thumping at high speed, and there was hail. All the classic signs were there, but I completely ignored them. When we turned around to head back to her farm and saw some of the devastation, it finally occurred to me that we had just driven into a tornado. We had to drive through a farmer’s circle drive to get around one of his trees that had fallen across the road, and dodge a considerable amount of other debris before we returned to her home. Once there, we started getting regular reports from her grandmother about the damage they had received while we were away. We also started hearing details of the damage in Fairview Heights. We looked at each other and shook our heads in amazement.

There was considerable damage on her property as well. One barn had damage to part of the roof, as did one shed. An old travel trailer that had been sitting on a hill next to the lake was now little more than a scrap pile. She had one of those portable garages for her convertible that had simply disappeared. We found it later in the lake. (Fortunately, the car was in the driveway and not parked inside.) On its way over there, it had apparently taken out the power line to the barn, as we found this lying across the ground and strung up into the orchard trees. It had been ripped right out of the well pump house; the wires there still dangling off the side and the electrical box inside ripped off the wall and hanging by wires.

We all stood around outside after the weather had started to clear marveling at what we had just experienced. Growing up in Granite City I had seen a few tornadoes come through town and wreak their havoc, but I was never closer than several blocks away. My mother had always told us stories about the tornadoes she had experienced as a child growing up on a farm just to the north of Highland. One had even taken the roof off of their barn, which was found in a field several miles away. She told of the tell-tale “freight train” sound associated with the intense wind and vacuum of a tornado. While I don’t really remember that specific sound, it was loud overall, as I mentioned before. Oddly, though, the van was remarkably still during the whole ordeal. Other than having things bouncing off of it…like rain, and hail, and buildings…it never really seemed to be considerably shaken by the wind.

I teased Dawna quite a bit afterwards about being the first to drive her into a tornado. No one can ever say that I don’t know how to show a lady a good time.

Tuesday, 04 April 2006
Since starting at my new job, my boss has occasionally asked me how I feel about traveling. My answer has always been the same; I don’t mind, but I’d rather not. Well, they finally got me off the ground this week.

The very first digital organ shipped after I started went to St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baltimore MD. We didn’t yet have the pipes finished, but they wanted to have an organ by Christmas. So, we sent them the digital part and shipped the pipe work when it was done. Since we didn’t troubleshoot the complete organ before it left the shop, this was done in the church by the installation crew…a couple of women from the Virginia area. They called and told us they were having some trouble getting the pipes to play. When they told us of the “modifications” they had made to the digital serial data lines, it became readily apparent that someone would have to go there to fix it. Everyone immediate looked at me. My turn, I guess.

I hopped on a Southwest flight at 06:25 Tuesday morning and arrived at Baltimore-Washington International right on schedule. One of the ladies from KMK Services met me as I walked off the plane, and after retrieving my luggage (tool bag, laptop, etc.) we drove straight to the church. I was glad they agreed to meet me there, because I didn’t particularly relish the thought of driving a rental car in that area. When we got to the church, we went immediately to work.

This church is about 100 years old, and, accordingly, has that majestic landmark look to it. It is constructed of stone and mortar on the outside, but fairly modern materials on the inside. In a matter of about ½ an hour, I had the pipes playing by replacing a MIDI conversion pc board. My attention then turned to the serial data line that ran from the back of the church through the ceiling to the front organ chambers. Once I climbed into the ceiling area above the altar, I immediately wished that I had brought my camera with me. It wasn’t a pleasant situation in which to work, but the view was priceless. I had my camera in my bag to take pictures of the installation anyway, so I would have to remember to climb back up there later to get some “behind-the-scenes” shots.

After a few non-productive attempts at cutting and re-soldering the data cable, I gave up and just decided to run a new one that I had brought with me. This was when it got interesting. Along the apex of the ceiling was a catwalk running the length of the building. The ceiling itself was some kind of old masonite-type material. Every so often, there were holes in the ceiling that appeared to be about the size of a foot. As the floor of the chapel was some 40 feet below me, I had no intention of being the first to put a body-size hole in it. I dragged the new cable along with me as I traversed the catwalk, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds. The catwalk was really just a 1x8 board mounted on the top of the ceiling, with ropes strung along the sides – unevenly, I might add – for handrails. It is never too difficult to walk in a straight line unless you start thinking about busting through a ceiling and falling 40 feet onto a bunch of church pews. Add a 180-foot cable in one hand, and the rearward tension it is exerting as it is being dragged, and balance is suddenly a precarious thing. After ninja-walking across this thing, ducking under several waist-high cross-beams, I arrived at the other end. The hole in the wall leading into the rear organ chamber was about ¾ of the way down the side from the middle point. When I asked Mary-William how they got down there the first time, she yelled back up to me that Kathy had done this, not her. The best she knew was that she had slid down the ceiling to the wall and caught onto an I-beam to stop herself.


Now…besides being a very old building made with materials of questionable rigidity, it is in an old industrial town, which means it is very dirty up there. As there was no way to walk down the edge of the wall against the front of the building, it seemed that this was the only way. So, I placed my left foot as close to the wall as possible, guessed about where the second ceiling support would be (about every two feet, I was thinking) and placed my right foot there. I then let go of the catwalk and promptly slid down the ceiling at about a 45 degree angle. I caught hold of a vertical I-beam and stopped myself about where I needed to be. Success!

Now all I had to do was figure out how to get to the hole with the cables running through them. It was located a couple of feet under a stone wall outcropping. I had just enough room to kneel on a metal I-beam and, crouching down, almost reach the hole. MW had climbed up a ladder in the chamber and could just barely get her fingers into the cable hole. We flipped the cable back and forth for awhile before she finally got a good grip on it and pulled it through. What a nightmare. Surprisingly, I was able to walk back up the ceiling with little trouble. As fun as this was, it was time for me to get down on solid ground for awhile.

We worked together on some other issues with the pipe chest wiring, and before I knew it, it was time for me to head back to the airport. The minister came in and remarked about the time. It was then that I realized that we had worked the whole day through, not even stopping for lunch. I had eaten a granola bar on the plane, but nothing else all day. I wasn’t even hungry until I started thinking about it. As the minister looked me up and down and grinned, I realized that wearing a white shirt had probably been a mistake. I was filthy, to say the least.

I cleaned up a bit, and the minister agreed to drive me back to BWI, as Mary-William had a few more things she wanted to fix before leaving the church. We had a nice conversation about the merits of the Baltimore area, music preferences, their new organ, sports, his connections to St. Louis via the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and summer festivals. We successfully avoided altogether any discussion of religion.

He got me to the airport with plenty of time to spare. This was a good thing, as I now had a one-track mind steering me towards food. As I walked the concourse browsing the restaurant choices, I opted for the easy way out. McDonald’s. Or, in this case, McMolasses. I have never seen a more poorly run place in my life. After about 10-15 minutes of watching other people come and go with their food, I finally asked the girl at the counter if she had forgotten me. She looked at me, then turned and walked away. A couple of minutes later, I walked over to the manager and thundered in my most type-A mean-man voice about how I didn’t care for being soundly ignored and wanting my damned food. Amazingly, I had it in my hand just mere moments later. Everyone around seemed to get a good chuckle out of this display…well, everyone but me. I was just hungry.

After enjoying my burger on a stale bun, and watered-down Dr. Pepper, I boarded the plane and headed back to St. Louis. About half way home, I realized that I had seen both sunrise and sunset from a plane window. I wasn’t too thrilled about the thought that this might become a common occurrence for me. It was a long day, and I was fighting the urge to sleep during the flight, as I still had a fair drive home from the airport.

I never did get those pictures of the church, though. When I pulled out my camera, just before I left, the batteries went dead almost immediately. Bummer. Oh, well…I’m sure there’ll be a next time. On the bright side, though, I did get to play a Wick’s Royal Classic organ in an old church…and no, I didn’t play Mr. Crowley this time.


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