Wilson Farm 1981 Aerial Photo

Wilson Farm 1980 Aerial Photo

Wilson Farm 1958 Aerial Photo

This is the photo that was presented to Johnny Wilson in recognition of the 1958 Webster County SWCD Conservation Award.

Tornadic Wind Levels Wilson Barn

Mother Nature unleashed her terrible fury Thursday evening in the form of tornados in several communities across South Central Nebraska. A very quickly developed funnel hit the Johnnie and Bonnie and Rob and Diana Wilson farmstead, 6 1/2 miles north of Inavale at 9:15. Johnnie and Bonnie were not at home at the time but Rob and Diana and daughters, Laci and Amber, were at home in their mobile home which was the far east structure on the farm site. Rob said their first indication that something was serious was brewing with the weather was when their mobile home began to shake. Their family immediately headed for his parent’s house and storm cellar, but the electricity went off by the time they reached their back door and the vibration of their home was so violent they opted for what safety a closet in a frame addition to their mobile home could provide.

When the house quit shaking and he ventured outside, Rob found that their huge barn had been destroyed with a large section of roof slamming into a grain bin and landing on a propane tank, breaking the line from the tank. Not knowing how serious the leak was, they went to a neighbors to call the Red Cloud fire department and report the tornado and several downed power lines that they had crossed to the authorities.

Daylight the next morning revealed the extent of the damage. Nearly every structure on the farm sustained damage of some kind, with the barn taking the brunt of the force, the big hip-roof being completely gone, torn up and strewn about the yard, with a large section nudged up against Johnnie and Bonnie’s house and a piece of tin protruding through a porch window and their picture window and door windows blown out. Straw from the barn loft and glass was strewn throughout the house, yet a centerpiece on their dining room table, which was setting right in front of the picture window, remained in place. The north side of the barn was completely blown out, as was about half of the east side, leaving the hay mow floor leaning precariously to the east. Many of the remaining studdings were cracked or shattered from the terrific, twisting force.

The “Wilson Barn” had served as a landmark in the New Virginia community north of Inavale for many years. A huge structure, the “Red Barn with White Trim” was easily recognized by anyone traveling the Inavale road and was used many, many times as a base of directions to other farmsteads in the area. Built in 1918 by Johnnie’s father, C.M. Wilson, the barn measured 64 ft. long, 72 ft. wide, and 48 ft. to the peak of the hipped roof. At a cost of nearly $6,000.00 in 1918, to build a structure of that type today the cost would be astronomical. The big barn survived another tornado that struck the Wilson farm in 1950, destroying a large hog shed just to the west of it and several other buildings, pushing the barn slightly out of plumb to the east, where it had remained stable and solid until Thursday evening.

 Early the next morning found neighbors and friends arriving to help clean up the debris from the farmstead and to dismantle and salvage what was left of the barn. As the day wore on and more people heard of the tornado, people continued to come to help until evening when Bonnie counted approximately 117 people had been there. For the next three days men continued to return for salvage work, until the spot where the barn had stood was cleaned up. The ladies continued to provide plenty of good food and lots of cold tea to help wash the “30’s” dust and dirt of the guy’s throats.

From the Wilson farmstead the twister continued its northerly path, tearing up trees in a hayland and breaking power lines along the Inavale road, ripping one pole loose from its insulators and dropping it across the road some 60 to 70 years out in a field. It crossed the intersection north of Wilsons, heading north-northeast for just a short distance, then coming back north-northwest in a big arc, upsetting two towers of a center pivot and swirling the cornstalks every which way in its path, and crossing the Inavale road again. From there it went straight north for about 2 miles, just on the west side of the road, taking out lengths of pasture fence, trees, and completely clearing an unoccupied farmstead except for the house. This farm was last occupied by the Leo Conway family and is now farmed by Rob Wilson – so more debris to pick up and clear from a wheat field and milo fields. As the tornado was makings its wide swing to the east, it passed between the New Virginia Church on the Inavale road and the New Virginia school house on half mile east, as if to say one landmark destroyed was enough for this storm.

This photo shows the terrible force exerted by a tornado as the full dimension 2″ x 10″ rafters were reduced to shattered kindling. This large piece of roof slammed into the grain bin at left causing considerable damage to it and then fell onto the propane tank, breaking a pipe and causing much concern over the leaking gas until a member of the Red Cloud Fire Department was able to shut off the valve.




What used to be the north side of the barn.





Neighbors and friends showed up early Friday morning to assist in the clean-up. Friday evening Bonnie Wilson was able to count 117 names of people who had come to help.




The lower half of the west hip roof was carried across the yard and part of it slammed into the south wall of Johnnie and Bonnie Wilson’s house at the extreme right of photo.

Red Cloud Chief
September 25, 1986
Written by Ron Bartels

Landmark Demolished

The barn destroyed in Thursday’s storm was built by Con and Wilella Wilson, parents and grandparents of the present occupants. Besides being a successful farmer and stockman, Con also practiced veterinary medicine.

My father had some fine Belgian horses and raised them for sale when farmers still depended on those gallant beasts to pull farm implements. My earliest remembrance of Mr. Wilson was when he had come to doctor some mares and colts who were down with the sleeping sickness. We girls weren’t allowed at the barn, I guess horses dying of sleeping sickness are not a pretty sight. But I caught Mr. Wilson between the barn and his car that day and invited him to dinner. He jokingly asked what we were having. I told him chocolate pudding, for even at age 4, dessert was the most important part of the meal for me! I don’t know what else we ate, but I can see him yet on the east side of the table in grandma’s big dining room, spooning in the chocolate pudding.

CONSTRUCTION ON THE WILSON BARN WAS STARTED IN 1916. The first contractor gave up after a strong wind took down some of the side walls. Another took his place and the giant structure was completed in 1918. It was built of all new lumber and was 72 ft. wide, 64 ft. long and 42 ft. high.

THIS ONCE PROUD, GLORIOUS BARN was nothing but a pile of rubble following a tornado seven miles north of Inavale last Thursday night. The clean-up crew did not find any dimension lumber in the roof which could be salvaged. Most 2×6’s looked like tooth picks.

Blue Hill Leader

Tornado wreaks damage

Johnnie Wilson was hospitalized at Alma Thursday night and his wife, Bonnie was with him. So their farm house north of Inavale was empty. But, on the same farmstead, their son, Rob, his wife, Diana, and their 2 small daughters, Laci and Amber, were in their mobile home when destruction came out of the sky at 9:18 p.m.

Diana has heard a tornado before and recognized the sound. By the time they grabbed their daughters and got to the back door, the air was filled with flying debris and there was nothing to do but sit out the storm where they were.

Almost immediately the power went off. So when the storm passed over they evacuated in darkness and drove to the Ken Larrick home a mile east, where they called the Webster County Sheriff to report a tornado on the ground and called the fire department for help as they could smell a propane gas leak when the left the house.

The main destruction to the farmstead was the large barn which was decapitated above the hay mow floor. The lower part was twisted beyond repair. Parts of the barn were scattered everywhere. One large section of the eaves was layed against the south end of the main house pushing out windows, casing and all. A large picture window was shattered onto a table in the living room, but a vase on that table was standing and undamaged.

Only a few feet from the house, the east side of the garage was gone; and on the opposite end of the yard, the east end was pushed out of a farrowing house. The power poles from the road to the farmstead were splintered and broken, but the wires between the barn and the main house were intact.

Grain bins near the barn were dented by the impact of the roof crashing into them. The propane tank was also hit causing a gas leak which forced the evacuation of the John D. Harvey, Johnnie Allen Harvey and Harvey Lovejoy families. A large cottonwood tree approximately 30 feet from the back door of the mobile has was mutilated.

From the Wilson farmstead the storm tracked east and north and west and north and east again, leaving a trail through fences, trees, milo, buildings, corn and more trees. The outbuildings on the farmstead formerly occupied by the Leo Conway family were leveld and trees were up rooted as far north as the old Cather place now owned by the Jim Krals. All along the Inavale road debris was hanging from fences and power lines yet Saturday morning.

Over 100 people came Friday to help the Wilsons with their giant clean up job and there were 30 there again by 10 o’clock Saturday morning. Sunday work pretty well finished the job of taking the barn down, and friends and neighbors were planning to be  at the Wilson home again Monday to continue clean-up.

I read in the Friday issue of a daily paper widly circulated in our area, that a Webster County Sheriff’s office dispatcher had reported to them that a possible tornado was sighted near Inavale. Believe me, it was a tornado! Or if not, I’m sure the Wilsons are hoping they never have one come their way! And the other people living in the tornado’s path are thanking their lucky stars that other farmsteads weren’t hit as no warning was ever given after the initial sighting was reported.

Blue Hill Leader

NOAA Lists Wilson Farm Tornado as EF2

While doing some research on the tornado that struck the Wilson farm on September 18, 1986, I came across the following information directly from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

– September 18, 1986
Webster County. A tornado touched down six miles south of Inavale, NE and moved northeast for two miles. The tornado destroyed a barn, downed power lines and trees, and damaged several outbuildings.

September Tornadoes – South Central Nebraska and North Central Kansas
Data from January, 1950 – December 2010

The source states that the tornado touched down six miles south of Inavale, when in fact it was six miles north of Inavale.

Wilson Farm Tornado Aftermath September 1986

On the night of September 18, 1986, a tornado struck the Wilson farm destroying their landmark red barn. This video was filmed primarily by Bill Hogeland and follows the cleanup effort for the next three days where 117 friends, family, and neighbors turned out to lend a hand.