The Dysart Tornado of May 31, 1958

Credit: Cedar Rapids Gazette

This post includes personal recollections and photographs along with newspaper clippings from several Iowa newspapers. The bulk of this information came from clippings found at the Norma Anders Library in Dysart, Iowa and the credit for these was not noted. It is assumed they are from the Dysart Reporter unless otherwise noted. Where known, I have added the physical location of homes and businesses to the best of my recall. 

My parents, Alvin and Edna Schutt, were not in Dysart the day of the tornado. When they returned to town this is how they found their home. Mom remembers they had a difficult time getting into the house. The next day was June 1 and they faced a busy month. I was born 20 days later and five days after that they moved to our home on Wilson Street. The house shown here was located on Clark Street. This house is no longer standing and in it’s place is a new home which is on the hill just north of the Middle School in Dysart near the corner of West Street and Clark. .

The Storm Came in From the West

Credit: Sioux City Journal

It was 15 days short of a year since a similar twister  swooped into Dysart on practically the same path and damaged some of the same buildings. This year’s disaster struck on a Saturday too. It was shortly after 12:30 p.m. when the storm hurtled in from the west. Cutting a swath of destruction down Highway 8 from Traer, the wind struck first at the Mrs. Martha Schulz home and roared on down Wilson street.

The Damage in Town Started at about Noon

“There wasn’t time to get scared,” said Paul Wieck after he had witnessed the cyclonic fury of the Saturday noon storm which ripped open two Dysart business buildings as he stood in the office of one of them. Paul was in the driveway of the Wieck Feed & Livestock building at the height of the storm and saw the roof lifted off the long Farmers Lumber company building across the street. He then stepped into the Wieck office building and found himself looking out of an office without a front.

In those few seconds of devastation, the front of the Wieck office was torn loose and flattened on west Wilson street. Paul heard nothing of its going as the roar of the winds drowned all other sounds. Had he been sitting at his desk, he might have been dumped outside with the broken boards of the front. Total damage to the building and stock was estimated at about $2,000 by Ernest Wieck.


The Storm Hit Hard on West Clark Street

Huge trees were twisted in a giant grip, torn from their moorings and tossed aside. Felled were friendly shade trees at the F. C. Lewis, Ernest Wieck, Alvin Schutt, and John Burhenn homes. A massive tree crushed the vacant house on west Wilson owned by Mrs. Gertie Cone. (These houses were between the county road and West Street on Clark.)

The Bob Bohnsack family (Corner of Grant and Clark) saw the black clouds close in, accompanied by a driving rain. As they headed for their basement, a giant tree toppled against the front porch of their home, tearing it from the house and snapping the posts. Their garage rose straight in the air for about 10 feet, then was whipped east and dashed against the neighboring homes of Floyd Tuttle and Jack Fordice (Grant Street up from Clark).


In the same vicinity, three big trees crashed to the ground at the Ed Gleim residence and one in front of Gerald Dunlavey’s (State and Clark). A television aerial was ripped from atop the Roy Hahn home (Lincoln and Wilson) and deposited several blocks away on the roof of the Bader grocery (Main Street). The garage was flattened on the Bill Schultz property (State and Wilson). A metal awning was torn from the Mrs. Hilda Jansen home and dropped behind the Stein tavern (Main Street, now LB’s Pizza).

One Evergreen Hatchery Building Was Demolished

Total destruction was the fate of the cement block building on west Wilson, owned by the Evergreen Hatchery. This structure simply exploded, cutting wires at the adjoining electrical sub-station that sputtered dangerously. Ray Baker was caught in this building as it was demolished. He had just driven a truck inside and dived under the truck when the storm unleased its power. Blocks and beams tumbled around and on the pickup but Mr. Baker was unhurt. “It sounded like a freight train,” said Baker. “I never did find out where the wind carried my cap.” A small portion of the door of the Evergreen building was found near the Barnes Hardware (Main and Wilson), more than 2 blocks away. The hatchery suffered considerable loss on the building and contents stored there. At the hatchery plant, an auxiliary generator again kept the incubators going during the 12 hour period of power outage. 

The Lumbar Yard Received Extensive Damage 

Next in line was the big building of the Farmers Lumber company (Wilson and Main). The west driveway door was ripped off and flung a block east near the D-X bulk storage tanks. About four-fifths of the roof was stripped away and dumped helter-skelter over a wide area. Evidence of the storm’s might was a heavy hog ringing chute which stood on the south side of the lumber yard. It was whirled through the air until it struck the side of the Evergreen Elevator office, leaving red paint marks for a trail then carried on 20 or more yards to the north. Two large portable hog houses were shattered. Manager R. L. McMurray had a crew of about 20 men at work Sunday laying a new roof to protect the contents of the yard from rain. “I was really sick,” he said, “when I saw the damage.” The wind freakishly burst downward through the ceiling tiles of the office, then pushed the scale window out. In the path of all of this, not a paper on the office desk was moved.

Barnes Hardware Hit Again

The large neon sign atop the Evergreen Elevator office was bent double. Across the street, a gaping hole was torn in the roof of the coal sheds of the Townsend-Merrill company. The Barnes Hardware building (currently the Brick-a-Brack Building), badly damaged in the 1957 tornado, suffered again. A gaping hole was gouged in the brick wall of the building along east Wilson street. The cap on the false front of the Village Inn (Main Street, the Bottoms Up Bar) was raised. The decorative brickwork atop the three-story Keidel building (former hotel on Main Street) was pushed backward onto the roof. 


More Damage Around Town

The north edge of Dysart was badly bruised. A new double garage built by Richard Bednar was demolished. A tile workshop behind the Bill Matthiesen home (Estelle Street) collapsed. The garage went down at the Ray Larsen home. The porch of the Mrs. Mary Barta residence was severely damaged by a falling tree.

There was damage in south Dysart also. A branch from a tree in the high school yard (Connell and Tilford area) was flung against the John Thiele home to rip away siding. Trees fell at the Dick Moeller, John Loeb, D. C. Wunder, Herman Lenaburg, Rev. J.E. Albertson, and Leonard Siemens homes. Harlan Downs lost his garage and William Hilmer’s garage tumbled around it.

Dysart Was Not the Only Community Hit

May 31, 1958, was a day of widespread storms throughout many parts of Iowa and led to the death of at least two people. Dysart, Carroll and Toledo all reported tornados. Funnel clouds were widely reported but not all of these touched down. Other communities experienced  straight line winds and powerful thunderstorms. In our area, Clutier and Garrison were both hit and suffered damage. 


Further north and east of Dysart, Strawberry Point recorded a record breaking 4 1/2″ inches of rain. The communities of Oelwein and Edgewood experienced baseball sized hail. A Des Moines businessman flying a small plane with his wife and child aboard was forced to make an emergency landing near Oelwein when hail broke the windshield and dented the body of the plane. The high school in Edgewood lost every single window to hail damage. There was widespread phone disruption throughout the region. 


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