In the Spring of 1965 Connie and I decided to take a trip to Indianapolis to attend an art exhibit at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. Connie was an art major so I’m sure at the time it had special meaning for her but for me it was just an opportunity to spend time together. I was closing out my freshman year at Ball State in Muncie and she was attending to her first year studies at Purdue, so the time we got to spend together was limited to the occasional weekend. As a result, we naturally jumped at the chance to take Dad’s “Bug,” a 62 Volkswagen, for a day trip.
When we started the hour long drive in the early morning it was a picture perfect day. The sky was clear and there was little to no traffic because it was Palm Sunday. That all changed five hours later when we found ourselves in the thick of a storm front that generated no less than 47 tornadoes across the northern half of Indiana.
When we started on the trip back everything seemed normal. Again, the sky was clear so we had no reason to think that we were going to encounter anything out of the ordinary at least as far the weather was concerned. A half hour later, however, we could see a low black curtain of clouds on the distant horizon but it wasn’t until we were about 15 miles south of Lafayette that we began to take real notice of the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions — southbound cars blinking their headlights, an increasingly strong headwind, and an exceptionally low cloud cover. The car didn’t have a radio so we really had no way of actually knowing what we were getting ourselves into so the idea of stopping, let alone turning around, didn’t even cross our minds.
It wasn’t until we reached a point six or seven miles south of Lafayette that the headwind got so strong that we were forced to pull the car off the highway and onto a dirt road. Parking the car to face the on coming storm, we marveled at the dark formations immediately above us. Neither of us had ever seen a layer of clouds this low let alone clouds that resembled the surface of a boiling cauldron.
In the distance we could see the sun breaking through and I was beginning to think that worst was over but it was then that Connie pointed to a cloud formation to our left and let out a loud cry. “Look. Look.”
No more than 100 yards to the southeast, a funnel began to develop and drop from the clouds and it was then that I restarted the car and returned to the highway. Connie continued to watch the funnel cloud widen and eventually touch down as the car struggled in a futile attempt to make its way through the gusty wind. In a panic I initially thought we had been caught up in some exotic back draft but that discomfort quickly subsided when I realized that I’d failed to release the emergency brake.
We arrived home a half an hour later and sat down with Connie’s mother to watch the on going news coverage. It was then that we heard that the town of Russiaville, a small village just five miles northeast of the place we’d pulled off the road, had been completely destroyed.