Jimmy Mackey and the tornado

Jimmy Mackey of Amsterdam noticed a bump on his motorcycle’s tire after Sunday services on Sept. 4,

Jimmy Mackey of Amsterdam noticed a bump on his motorcycle’s tire after Sunday services on Sept. 4, 2011, as he was leaving Metropolitan New Testament Mission Baptist Church in Albany.

His friend Karen Anderson agreed to follow him to get air for the tire. They found a tire blister on Mackey’s bike so Anderson followed Mackey along Route 5 and home to Amsterdam. It was the day of the Cranesville tornado.

When Mackey reached Rotterdam Junction, the wind picked up and light rain started falling right after the bridge to Rotterdam Junction.

When he got to Swart Hill Road, it was like moving into another room with a wall of water coming down. He saw lightning flashing three streaks at a time over the smokestacks of the old power plant across the Mohawk River. The sky was dark gray, with scary clouds.

He maneuvered to the side of Route 5 between Swart Hill Road and the Cranesville firehouse and put down his bike’s kickstand.

He wrote: “The wind was pushing hard. Leaves, sticks and small debris were hitting me in the face. Water was whitecapping on the road. I turned the bike off, but turned my gospel music on full volume.

“I thought, ‘Lord, I’m in your hands.’ I put my head down on the gas tank, closed my eyes and prayed. My mind became still, and soon the storm did also.”

When Mackey lifted his head, a huge tree lay near him across Route 5’s eastbound lane and all traffic was stopped. Other trees were uprooted. Power lines were down. A transformer was hanging upside down on a snapped pole. The Temple of Israel cemetery was torn up. On a nearby hill, trees around Valentino’s restaurant were down.

Mackey wrote: “I waited until the rain stopped to start my bike. When I got home, Karen was ahead of me. She had passed me in the storm without seeing me. We were so glad to see each other and thanked God.”

Mackey said the Cranesville tornado was the third tornado he has encountered on his motorcycle. The other two he experienced took place years ago in Missouri.

Before smartphones

It’s a good bet that if Amsterdam undertaker, historian and civic leader W. Max Reid were alive today, he would own the latest version of the smartphone. Reid is credited with installing Amsterdam’s first telephone.

Reid visited the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and was fascinated by the telephone on display there. On his return to Amsterdam, he strung wires between his casket plant in Amsterdam and a store in Broadalbin.

According to a 1940s article by Earl Stowitts of the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce, “Twice a day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the persons at each end of the line, by a process of shouting into the telephones, and then moving the same instruments to their ears to hear what was shouted back, were able to carry on a conversation over the intervening ten miles.”

Stowitts said other early phone lines connected the New York Central Railroad freight office, the Sanford carpet mill and Kelloggs & Miller’s linseed oil plant. Another telephone pioneer was William Charles, who operated a cotton and wool brokerage business. Charles was listed with phone number “1” into the 1940s.

Historian Hugh Donlon wrote that in 1916, to promote long distance calling, the phone company invited 200 people to a public phone conversation at the Elks Lodge between Amsterdam Mayor James R. Cline and Mayor James Rolph of San Francisco. George Scott, exalted ruler of the Amsterdam Elks, conversed with the exalted ruler of a San Francisco Elks lodge.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at 346-6657 or at [email protected]

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