Monday, June 15, 2015

The afternoon skies turned black: Tornado in Palmer Lake, June 16, 1965



Fifty years is the big part of a lifetime.
But a most vivid memory could pop up just about anywhere in a long, happy span.
Rodger and Judy Voelker had just lived in Palmer Lake about six months when the tornado hit that Wednesday afternoon, a little after 1 p.m., and destroyed the rental house they lived in. They, will remember that forever.
“The U.S.G.S. said all the water that came afterward was a 100 year flood,” said Judy Voelker recently in their current house that survived the twisting winds, and torrential rains that devastated Palmer Lake back in 1965, though the one next to it was destroyed, same as the rental house downhill a bit, that they lived in at the time.
“We didn’t know a lot of people yet, but we got to know them pretty fast,” said Rodger Voelker.
After the storms, there was no running water in town for months, and “We met around the Fort Carson tank truck when we were filling up. Voelker remembers there being about 600 to 800 year-round residents in town at the time, swelling to about twice that in the summer.
“It was the kind of place that you would meet everyone in town out at the dump eventually,” he said.
The response by the locals to the disastrous storms convinced the Voelkers to stay — forever.
“So many people came to help us. That is when Rodger said we’re never going to leave here,” Judy said.
Rodger was working in the basement (no windows) and Judy was upstairs making bread.
“The day of the storm, the skies got really dark,” she said. “There was a terrible hollow feeling, and then the roof started lifting off. It peeled off like a roll top desk.”
When the roar of wind subsided, she ran to the basement door and broke the pane trying to get the door open.
“I said to Rodger, the house is gone,” she remembers. “He patted me on the head and said, “It’s OK.” He thought I was losing it.”
Judy said noise from the Bert and Norita Tatman home downhill at 244 Park Street got their attention that day.
The Tatman home was not destroyed, but heavily damaged. Bert, a co-worker, his wife Norita, and daughters Rhonda, 8, and Becky, 6, were home that day for lunch, after reading gas meters locally.
“The thing I remember most was that it got so dark that the street lights came on,” said Norita Tatman.
“We had finished lunch and I was standing in front of the picture window with the girls watching this storm.”
They (Bert and the coworker) were looking out the other window of the kitchen and saw a roof go by. They told us then to get to the basement.”
Norita said she grabbed the girls by their heads, tucking them under each arm and carrying them to the basement.
“I couldn’t carry them downstairs like that normally if I tried,” she said. In the basement, she said she laid on top of her daughters for protection, “Even though Becky was screaming that I was hurting her.”
“We could hear the roof go off. I was scared.” she said. “It didn’t last that long. Nobody got a scratch. We were covered with insulation.”
Bert said when the noise died down, he was able to climb through debris in the stairwell, and when he got to the ground floor, hail was hitting him in the face and he knew the roof was gone. In fact, one whole end of the house was gone. Norita said the roof was found half a block away, still intact.
“Right after it happened the neighbors (the Voelkers) came running down the hill with blankets.”
“Then, the rains came down,” she said. The Tatmans left town for a few days, staying in Colorado Springs. Later, the gas company Bert worked for supplied a trailer for them in trailer park, until the same builder who constructed the house nine months before the tornado, could rebuild it.
The Voelkers however were still in town when flooding occurred.
“After the tornado, you couldn’t drive anywhere. There were exposed wires and things everywhere,” she said and they went uphill to another neighbor, Andy Krueger’s house. The rain poured that afternoon and as they watched it continue to pour, eventually they heard another frightening roar.
“We saw a wall of water coming out of the canyon at the top of High Street and we heard a terrible roar,” she said. “We watched it hit Reba Bradley’s House and demolish it. It hit Florence Hafer’s house and totally wiped it out. Then it hit the pink stucco house. We watched it fill up with water. The water kept pouring out of the canyon. “By that point, you are just kind of numb.”
Rodger remembers helping in the rescue of Florence Hafer, 62, and Betty Schreiper, 50, who were trapped, neck-deep in swirling water for 90 minutes, under kitchen appliances and cabinets when streams swept away the foundation of their home. When and Air Force Academy crew cab pickup turned over in the mud, Rodger’s new 1965 Ford F-250 four-wheel drive pickup was used to transport the two women to an academy ambulance.
Both couples however, today talk of the good life in Palmer Lake that followed the chaos of that terrible Wednesday afternoon. Planting poppy seeds on hill behind, the quiet times in hills, watching wildlife, lights downvalley, and much more.
Fifty years of good neighbors — a nice, quiet place to live, memories, and knowing that your neighbors are there for you if something happens. Fifty years is a big part of a lifetime.
Records show May and June of 1965 as among the wettest on record with eight inches falling in May that year, and one to two inches of rain and hail falling for 15 days straight from June 7 to June 21. Torrential rain began falling starting June 14, 1965, creating one of the worst floods in Colorado history.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

After lunch, sit a while. After supper, walk a mile.





It has been much more than 100 years, but good health and lunch has always been important in Palmer Lake.
Former car conductor John Reed Judd, and his wife Annie, came to Colorado on advice of their doctor. Annie suffered from chronic anemia.
"Judd's uncle, Irish Haddock, who owned the Cliff House in Manitou Springs, suggested the couple settle in Palmer Lake. In 1890, Judd was elected mayor and in 1898, he became the proprietor of the Palmer Lake Lunch Counter, which became known as Judd's Eating House," according to the Palmer Lake Historical Society.
"Also plagued with ill health, John Judd unsuccessfully sought a diagnosis from California and Oklahoma doctors for what ailed him. Never, really pinning it down, he died in 1914, and left Annie to manage the restaurant. In 1929, the restaurant was sold and Annie kept only the dishes marked "Palmer Lake" and those that had been preserved for General Palmer and Teddy Roosevelt," said Palmer Lake Historical society documents.
An advertisement touting the eatery about 1890, tells the story.
"PALMER LAKE LUNCH ROOM!," screams the headline. It goes on with colorful descriptions to entice customers.
"On the line of the Denver and Rio Grande, Missouri Pacific, and the Rock Island Railroads, John L Judd, prop. Palmer Lake Colorado. All passenger trains stop here for lunch!
Lunches for picnics, pavilion for dancing, boats for rowing or sailing, on the most beautiful sheet of water in Colorado. Palmer Lake is pre-eminently one of the GEMS OF THE MOUNTAINS, and together with its rocky glens, presents one of the most beautiful and picturesque grounds for picnics or other parties in the state."
Alan Lewis, in his book "Railroads of the Pikes Peak Region," says the railroad list allows placement in time of the advertisement.
"The mention of the Rock Island as one of the railroads serving Palmer Lake dates this advertisement to about 1890. With over a dozen trains per day, John Judd had plenty of customers, and the dances and picnics held on the weekends attracted even more visitors," Lewis said.
The Town of Palmer Lake purchased the lake, reservoirs and water rights form the D and R.G. Railroad in 1982.
"The Railroad opened for passenger and freight business on January 1, 1872. The Palmer Lake Depot and Judd's Eating House were built on the west side of the lake in 1882," another reference in Palmer Lake Historical documents says, though it may have originally been run by someone else, rather than John Judd and his wife Annie.
"The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad laid tracks and opened their station on the east side of the lake in 1887. During WWI when the U.S. government took over management of the railroads, the two lines were consolidated. Northbound trains were sent over the Santa Fe tracks and southbound trains used the Rio Grande tracks.
 As automobiles became the principal means of travel, the use of passenger trains dwindled and both stations were torn down about 1940.
A small station was moved to Palmer Lake from Pring in 1936 and run by Henry Rasmussen. It was closed in 1967 and moved to South Park. 
The last regularly scheduled steam locomotive came through Palmer Lake in 1962 and it belonged to the Colorado Southern Railroad.

Photo 1: Judd's Eating House interior.
Photo 2: Annie Judd
Photo 3: Palmer Lake Depot and Judd's beyond, in1894.
Photo 4: Judd's Palmer Lake Lunch Room.

photos from The Vaile Museum