55747 County Road 10, Albany, Minnesota 56307
On Friday, May 15, 1998, the members of the Stearns County
Pioneer Club of Albany, Minnesota, were busy getting their show
grounds ready for their annual toy show and swap meet. About 20
swappers had already arrived and were busy setting up their table.
The day had been quite sultry and some thunderheads were starting
to form. At 4:30 on this afternoon, the local radio station
announced a severe thunderstorm warning for the entire county.
I knew that there were a lot of people set-up at our show
grounds already, and living right next door, I decided that the
visitors should know of the warning. I took a quick drive through
the area and alerted everyone to the warning and suggested they
keep their eyes to the sky and be ready to take shelter in the
church basement on the grounds if the weather started to threaten.
As I finished the trip around the grounds the rain and lightning
started, so I headed back to my house just up the hill. As a number
of us stood in my garage and watched the hard rain, suddenly we
heard this strange roar and looked out the back door to see big
tree limbs being carried high into the air. We rushed down into the
basement, and as quick as it had appeared, it was gone. My husband
came across our backyard and frantically yelled that a tornado had
touched down in front of our shop and headed straight down through
the show grounds.
We quickly checked our buildings and decided that the damage was
not too great, and we headed for the show grounds immediately. Our
route to the grounds was obstructed by downed trees, so we quickly
went the highway route and a minute later, as we arrived at the
grounds, our worst fears were quickly confirmed. I cannot describe
the sight!!! It looked like a war zone! Buildings were blown apart,
trailers were totally destroyed, campers were reduced to piles of
rubble, with people trapped underneath those piles many seriously
injured. The next two hours are kind of a blur in our minds, as we
frantically worked with local rescue squads to free the trapped
people and help the injured. Only after the last injured were
treated and transported to area hospitals and the body of the
fatally inured person was taken away, could we try to grasp the
magnitude of the disaster that had just befallen our club.
A quick assessment of our grounds showed that we had one big 120
x 42 ft. building entirely gone, and another 120 x 42 ft. building
with three sides completely destroyed. (This building houses the
big Corliss steam engine and precious rope making machine). Parts
of this building were found in farm fields 15 miles to the north.
Our registration building, one of our souvenir buildings, the
brat-wurst stand and beer garden, the pump house, the wooden
windmill tower, and one of the ticket booths were all completely
destroyed, along with about 15 to 20 campers. Our big beautiful
church lost all the stained glass windows along the east side, and
the whole structure was twisted by the force of the tornado.
Another dozen buildings had roofs destroyed, windows broken, doors
ripped off, etc. The old log house that we moved to the grounds
about 20 years ago will have to come down because it is twisted
Most of our club equipment escaped major damage, but some of the
threshing machines did receive some damage. Some of our own
equipment sustained some heavy damage: an old wooden Bird sell
clover huller which has been in the Petemell family for generations
received some major damage. The machine dearest to this
writer’s heart was a wooden Minneapolis grain thresher. I spent
most of the summer of 1976 stripping all the paint off this
machine, right down to the bare wood, sanding it, and completely
repainting it for the second Albany Pioneer Days Show. This machine
was damaged beyond repair. A summer’s work destroyed in less
than a minute!
Now our club has the huge task of rebuilding. Some of the
buildings will be up and finished by show time on September 18. The
stained glass window repairs will wait until next year and
hopefully we will be able to raise some extra funds to complete
them for our twenty-fifth anniversary show in September of
We will be forever grateful that more lives were not lost
because material things can always be replaced but the loss of any
one life is tragic.