Dairy, one-room schoolhouse flattened

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By Linda Ireland

An EF2 tornado, with wind speed of up to 135 miles per hour, cut a seven-mile swath through northern LaRue County Wednesday, June 26.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado touched down at 10:25 p.m. near the LaRue-Hardin line just north of Tonieville. It moved east-northeast for eight minutes, causing a great deal of damage on Castleman, Carter Brothers, Slack, River and Dan Dunn Roads. The destruction was 150-to-300 yards wide.

Emergency responders had a difficult time reaching the area due to the number of trees across the roadway. Firefighter Jo Mather said the volunteers assisted those affected by the storm and got cows out of the road until about 3 a.m. They “went home, cleaned equipment, ate breakfast and came back” about daybreak Thursday. Mather was going through the remains of a shed Thursday morning attempting to find posts for a fence to contain cattle.

Rock Dairy Farm on Slack Road took the brunt of the storm. Several barns and sheds were destroyed and a large combine was lifted and moved about 12-feet, according to Chris Loyall, Gary Rock’s son-in-law.

However, the milk parlor containing the milking equipment and an apartment for a laborer were spared.

Gary Rock, owner of the dairy, said 20 calves were trapped in a barn when it collapsed. They were rescued and apparently unharmed.

One cow was killed when the main barn was hit – three more had to be put down, said Rock. Another six were injured but were able to be sold.

Rock had to make a quick decision about the remaining 124 cows. They had to be milked.

He made a phone call to Mike Hatcher who owns a cattle sales barn in Russell Springs. Hatcher arranged for the cows to be taken to a dairy in Columbia.

Hatcher is just one of the many people who offered assistance in the wake of the tornado.

“If the number of friends, neighbors and church members showing up the next day is a measure of wealth, then I am a wealthy man,” said Rock.

Rock isn’t sure about the immediate future. He realizes he is “dealing in a dying industry” but he would like to rebuild. (Before the storm, there were only four dairies left in LaRue County.)

He has contacted a builder and his insurance company. If he rebuilds, it will depend on whether insurance “can come close to replacing the cost” of what he has lost.

If his milking equipment had been destroyed, he would not consider rebuilding, he added.

“All of us face tragedies in life,” he said. “…the difference between success and failure is getting up one more time. I’m getting up one more time – I just don’t know in what direction.”

The Rock family is also reeling from the loss of the Nicholas schoolhouse – a one-room school on a hillside across from the dairy barn. The family restored the building in the mid 1990s.

The 113-year-old white framed building was flattened – chalkboard, books, desks and other items were buried under debris. The family isn’t sure if anything can be salvaged.

“That’s the worst thing,” said Mark Rock, Gary’s brother.

The Rocks’ grandmother Sudie Nicholas taught in the little school for 47 years. A schoolhouse of some kind has been on the farm for more than 200 years. It’s part of their heritage that many others have enjoyed through the years.

Even after the storm, someone from out of state had stopped by to visit “where they attended school,” he said.

After surveying the damage, Rock marveled that no one was seriously injured or killed in the tornado.

“You go through something like this and nobody gets hurt … you’re blessed,” said Rock.

“I have the comfort of knowing I still get to go home,” he added.

Just down the road from the Rocks’, the roof was blown from Lennie Frye’s two-story house. Frye was inside at the time and suffered some abrasions, according to neighbors.

A shed was blown down and several trees were uprooted.

A barn owned by Alton Bennett lost its roof. The metal roofing ended up at his house on top of an attached garage.

David Brown, who lives on Dan Dunn Road, lost barns and silos. Pieces of twisted metal littered the fields surrounding his farm.

On Castleman Road, a metal shop building lost its roof.

On Carter Brothers Road, at the home of Mike Dwyer, a large RV inside a metal shed was blown onto its side. The shed was destroyed. Dwyer’s house was damaged as well.

In several places, wheat, tobacco and corn crops were flattened.

The tornado appeared to skip a few times along its path, according to the NWS.