The farm was hit by what was then called a F4 tornado about 15 years ago (they've changed the scale since then to EF3, EF4, etc.). A F4 tornado has winds rated at 207-260 mph and after seeing the destruction, I'd guess that this one was at least half a mile wide (at least the destruction was that wide).
Grandma was living on the farm at the time and she somehow managed to survive while her house was completely destroyed around her. The only part of the house that was still standing was the bathroom and a short section of the hallway next to it where she rode out the tornado.
On a side note, in my opinion, the only reason that part of the hallway survived was because the house had been remodeled years before and a door had been relocated further down the hall. The old doorway had 2x4 blocking nailed all around the opening so it could be drywalled, so it ended up being beefed-up much more than a typical wall with three 2x4's on each side of the opening, a thicker header, and horizontal blocking in the middle of the opening (I'm not sure why they even put that in, but they did). She was in the hallway right by that old doorway when the tornado hit and I'm convinced that's why she survived.
She spent the night at a neighbor's house and the next day we (me, my parents, my aunt, etc.) went to pick her up, to see what was damaged, what could be salvaged, and what needed to be fixed. I was expecting that the house roof might need to be tarped to keep the rain out, or the tin might have been blown off of the barns, but instead everything was just flattened and either gone or scattered.
Most of the landmarks like buildings or trees were missing and everything had a strange "eerie feel" to it. The destruction was hard to explain at times, the roof of her house was scattered about a quarter-mile away in a pile, a couple of small 1000 bu. grain bins "unzipped" into long sheets and tied themselves around some big cedar trees, about 80 round bales of hay completely disappeared, and some clothes were still on the hangers in a closet even though the doors had been ripped off.
At the time, I was either between jobs, unemployed, under-employed, or self-employed depending on who was making the observation, so I spent a lot of time over the next year cleaning everything up (I didn't single-handedly do everything myself, but I did a lot of it).
It was one of the biggest projects I've ever taken on; the work ranged from tearing down what was left of the house, to salvaging everything that could be salvaged, to fixing fences, to cutting gigantic piles of firewood from all the downed trees, to cleaning up debris spread out over 600-800 acres, etc. It was one of the few times in my life when I was consistently working hard for 10-12 hours a day and wasn't complaining about it, I was waking up each morning ready to go to work, and each day I could look at what I had done and could be satisfied with both myself and my place in the world. As a bonus, I was in the best shape I'd ever been in.
At first, I was starting to think that I was feeling that way about myself and the work because I was able to take chaos and destruction and put order to that chaos. I
gave serious thought to finding some sort of career that might have some of the same type of working conditions. But, I wasn't exactly sure what kind of career that might be.
The more I worked around the farm, the more I thought about my past ideas about finding some land and raising cattle and deer, and the idea of farming this farm started to grow on me. I don't know why it took so long to realize that I might have my best opportunity to farm if I actually tried to farm this family-owned land, but there was something about actually working on the farm that seemed to be making it more of a part of me.
In a similar but different way, every piece of land I've hunted "belongs" to me in a way, but working to clean up, improve, or make a living from a piece of land is more than that.
Once I'd decided to set my course towards farming right here on this piece of ground, my focus changed from possibly farming to figuring out a concrete plan to farm. I started paying much closer attention to how everyone else around the farm was doing things and trying to decide exactly what and how I wanted to farm.
It wasn't a straight line from there to here, I almost completely gave up on the idea more than once, a few times I thought about leaving Oklahoma and never coming back, I had extraordinary luck and undeserved help at times, but I eventually got there.
In a future post, I'll try to explain what my original farming plans were and how I actually started farming (the nuts and bolts part of the story).