Gleanings from the cornflats: Dan vs. the Tornado

On June 24, 1960, a tornado touched down and cut a 3-mile path of destruction in Schenectady, Rotterdam and Niskayuna, causing several millions of dollars in damage. In Niskayuna, the storm damage was particularly strong on Rosendale Road and was witnessed by a young newsboy, Daniel Bradt, as he made evening rounds to collect from his customers. This is his story. Well, this episode took place in the early summer of 1960.

We had just been liberated from school and started a long summer vacation.

It was Friday afternoon, a warm day as I recall, and I had finished collecting from most of my customers who lived between Mohegan Road and Hedgewood Lane.

I was sitting on the stone wall, which still runs along the property abutting Hedgewood Lane to Rosendale Road, counting my money and double-checking my payment book to see where I needed to go next.

Suddenly, a cold chill came over me; the temperature dropped about 10 to 20 degrees just like that, wham!
I looked up from my paper-route book and there was complete quiet. Not a bird, not an insect, not a car, nothing, complete silence. When I looked higher, there was the blackest sky I saw. It was directly in front of me and looked like it was at Route 7, it was that close — then I heard it.

It was a freight train coming at me — the wind picked up, the noise grew louder and I was off the wall, on my bike and peddling as fast as I knew how, heading east down Rosendale Road toward my house.

The faster I peddled the faster the wind came; no one was on the roads, nothing but a cold wind and a freight train chasing me down Rosendale. I was moving fast and peddling like a madman, staying ahead of whatever was chasing me.

I started remembering the earlier radio broadcasts that I had heard while waiting in the doorways collecting money. I think they did mention something about a heavy thunderstorm and a possible tornado in and around the Capital Region.

But hey, who ever heard of a tornado in New York? Not me.

By the time I reached the top of the little hill in front of the Godfreys’ old house I was flying — almost to Godfrey Lane and almost home. I kept peddling. Then pop. There went my bike chain. Well, I was moving fast and I could coast home, past the Gallaghers’ house, toward Mohegan, past the DePalmas’ place on the left — almost there.

Nearing the bend, past Maj. Drum’s house — the bike was slowing down — rounding the bend by Bard’s farm — slowing down too much — that train was coming on fast.

The wind was terrible, stuff was flying all around me, trees snapping, buildings making weird sounds — groanings, sharp pitched noises — more wind, dirt, sand, raining too? Not good.

And did I just see a doghouse go by to my left? Can’t be. Is that the dog on a chain flying by, too?
I can run faster than this bike. In one easy move, I’m off the bike and running for my life straight down Rosendale, past the Enrights’ house; I’m almost there, into the driveway, running for the door. Winds howling, rain, dust, dirt, gravel flying.

I hit the door with a thud — it’s locked. I bang on the door, no place to hide, keep banging — zip, the door flies open. Dad grabs my arm and pulls me in, and slams the door. Bang.

The next morning, I went about my job delivering papers. Rosendale Road was open for emergency vehicles only and, of course, me, the paperboy.

As I made my way around the devastation of fallen trees, building debris, metal roofing, broken glass, slate roofing, snapped telephone poles and downed wires, I saw firsthand what a twister can do. Some of our neighbors who were closer to the tornado path needed new roofs; others needed to replace shingles torn off by the terrible vortex.

One customer needed a whole new house. The Gallagher house on the corner of Rosendale and Godfrey Lane was almost completely torn off its foundation, nothing left but a few walls and a room sitting askew of its original alignment.

As I made my way past the fallen trees and debris, I walked toward the house’s front stoop. A fireman or a policeman asked me what I wanted, and I said I was here to deliver the newspaper. He said OK, go ahead, so I did and placed their Schenectady Gazette at their front door or, should I say, where their front door used to be.

Several things I will never forget about that day.

First was the sound of that freight train barreling down the road behind me. Even today, after 62 years, I still get a bit jumpy when the wind picks up.

Second, when I see a greenish-blue sky and the weather reports a chance of severe storms, I head for cover.

By the way, I never did find my bike; I suspect it went up and away, like Dorothy & Toto.

Thank you to town resident Daniel Paul Bradt for sharing his story. We encourage any past or present town residents to contact the Niskayuna town historian, Denis Brennan, at [email protected] regarding any information, resources or stories they might like to share about Niskayuna’s distinctive history.

Categories: Opinion, Your Niskayuna

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