Category Archives: Weather

The Duck Hunting Just Got Harder

Telling two of my friends of the excellent shooting my Dad and I had enjoyed, we planned a hunt for the coming weekend. The two friends were, Jim Bennett and Mel Peavey, like me, slightly deranged, fearless and game for anything. All of these traits would be needed before our hunt ended.

There was one drawback to our planned hunt. Rice Institute (now University) was playing T.U. (still TU) at 2:00 PM the afternoon of our hunt so we would have to hurry back, try to change clothes, and, for the first time, try to sneak into Rice’s brand new stadium. We had friends from our high school playing on both teams and didn’t want to miss the game.

The morning of our hunt dawned warm and calm. Up at 4:00 AM, load our hunting gear into our 1942 Plymouth, kiss my Mom and Dad goodbye and we’re off. I’ll add at this time, little did we know that the season’s first “norther” was bearing down on the Houston area.

The trip to the Cedar Bayou Bait and Boat Rental Co. was uneventful and we rented a wooden boat and put my outboard motor on it, and for some reason, without our asking, the attendant added two long, heavy oars. We thought nothing of this, but later would thank him for his foresight. We loaded the boat as the motor chugged to life and up the bayou we went, finding the second lake, with the duck blind in the middle, put out my twelve brand new, plastic decoys, guided the boat into the blind and waited for the ducks.

“Here come two Blue Bills at 12 o’clock”, I whispered as Jim rose up and shot both and then the “norther” hit. Immediately it went from calm to blowing twenty-five to thirty-five miles an hour. In an instant the temperature seemed to drop to freezing, the sky clouded up and a light mist started falling. No worries from the three intrepid hunters, we had our waders and football parkas (but no sense)!

No Ducks flying in this weather, where last week my Dad and I had our limits in one hour. No sensible duck, or human, would be out in this stuff! We decided, since no ducks were flying, we would motor out and retrieve the two ducks Jim had shot. Mel said, “Why don’t we call it a day. There’s no ducks and I don’t want to miss the game”. We agreed to pick up my twelve new, plastic decoys and get the two ducks on the way out.

Motoring out to the last duck, we picked it up and tried to turn into the small channel leading out to the main bayou. The fierce wind hit us driving us on to the bank and shearing the pin to the propeller. Of course, we did not have a spare shear pin, and up to that time, not sure what one was. Now, no motor, two miles away from the bait camp, the wind howling, mist blowing side ways, but we were still not worried we have two oars!

What we didn’t know then was that when a very strong “norther” hit our part of the Texas coast, most of the water quickly blows out of the bays and bayous! The wind had blown us into the bank of the channel to the bayou while at the same time it was blowing the water out of the little channel, but I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll jump out of the boat and pull us out to the channel”. Out I go and up to my thighs in sticky, clinging mud! Back into the boat for me and then we all realize were stuck up here. If we can just get to the main channel we can row our way back.

The ordeal began as we tried to get back to the main channel. The only means of propulsion we had was to balance the oars on the transom of the boat, stick them down into the mud and pull the oar handles back toward us. We took turns “speeding” along about twelve to eighteen inches a pull. Talk about slow going!

We finally made it to the main channel and found it almost devoid of water and as soon as we would get the boat floating, the wind would blow it back on to the mud flat. We had no choice but to continue our “modified polling”, twelve to eighteen inches at a time.
After several hours we were able to begin rowing. Taking advantage of a bend in the bayou, we made better time since the wind was now at our back and wouldn’t blow us on to the mud flat. When we finally rowed into the Cedar Bayou Bait and Boat Rental Co. we were three, wet, tired teenagers. The camp’s proprietor greeted us with “Any trouble boys?” “Trouble, us? Not hardly.” we said under our breath. My last words at the bait camp were “Hurry up loading things guys, we’ve got a football game to go to!”

We made it to Rice Stadium by kickoff, snuck in as planned and watched TU whomp Rice 33-14.

The intrepid hunters made a decision not to hunt in Cedar Bayou for a while and to stick to chasing geese, on anybody’s property, on the Katy Prairie.

A Real Ugly One

During an early fall fishing trip, Mike Mitchell, my son-in-law, and I were fishing in Jones Lake when we noticed a serious looking storm approaching from the northeast. We hurried in from the Lake and putted, a 5 MPH speed limit in the canals, around to our house and I got out and hooked the trailer to the Jeep, while Mike putted back around to the boat ramp at Louie’s Bait Camp.

A more recent picture of my Wife, Layla, the wonder Dog, Spike, our 1982, Jeep Scrambler, and with the old ranch house, now my office, in the background featured at the top of this post.

Several other anglers were in line and waiting their turn to retrieve their boats and I was fourth in line. Just sitting there and looking at this storm racing toward us, I knew from experience that it would get us before we got the boat on the trailer.

The storm hits us full force, a deluge of rain, lightning popping all around and the wind shaking the jeep. I see Mike head under the bridge over Highlands Bayou and for a degree of safety, using the boat’s motor to keep it headed into the wind. Several times we make eye contact and he is pointing up, overhead. I don’t know why he is pointing, so with only a bikini top on the jeep and the windows rolled up, I might as well be standing outside in the rain. The wind is rocking the Jeep, so I maneuver to point the Jeep’s hood directly into it.

Now as I glance upwards, I see what Mike was pointing at, a tornado curled up into the cloud above us. The ugliest, twisting, turning mass of weather gone berserk that I had ever seen. It resembled a black corkscrew, twisting up into a dark gray cloud and coming down out of the cloud, directly toward us. It hits the ground, marsh to be exact, about 200 hundred yards southwest of us. It hits like a bomb, knocking mud and water a good one hundred feet into the air and goes of skipping across the marsh, over the railroad tracks and then back up into the cloud.

The rain lets up, the wind dies down, out peeps the sun and we load up the Whaler. Mike gets into the Jeep and quips, “Dad, the seats are wet!”

My fourth ground zero, introduction to a tornado and this one was way too close!

Hurricane Alicia – Phase 2

Brad and Randy pick me up at the hospital the next morning, crutches and all, and we head off to meet Mac Windsor, Rick Smith and R. E. “Bubba” Brousard to drive to Bayou Vista, which is a mess and I even have to show my owner’s card to the National Guardsman to get us in.

My street is clear and when we arrive at the house, there is no boat parked there. There’s a trailer, but no boat. Everything on the ground floor is gone, the fridge, the toilet, the freezer and strangely, the only wall left downstairs, has all ten of my fishing rods still hung on it.

I’m on crutches, so Randy collects my rods, and Bubba and Brad check the second floor and find no damage. The water did rise up to eleven feet and barely covered the floor ruining the carpet, which can be replaced. But where is the boat?

As if on cue, Mick Wilson, my next door neighbor, and chief pilot for a major airline, walks over and says, “I heard your boat was over on Pompano Street in a vacant lot. Looks like you had your surgery at a bad time. Everything OK? Want a drink?” “No thanks. As good as it can be,” I reply as we load up and head 4 streets over to, hopefully, find my boat.

Sure enough, 4 streets over, my boat, a twenty foot, deep vee, is resting on its side in a vacant lot. Close inspection shows that the windshield is broken and there is a twelve inch hole about six inches below the water line on the right side. We have to get it back, all fifteen hundred pounds of it, on the trailer and pull it back to Houston so I can get it fixed.

There is all kinds of scrap wood, debris from the storm, laying around and Bubba and Brad devise a roller/lever contraption to scoot the boat to the edge of the bulkhead. We stuff some loose bedding into the hole in the side, and all, including me, push the boat over the bulkhead and into the canal. The motor starts on the first try, and with water leaking steadily into the boat, Bubba and Brad speed back to my house. Of course, there is a 5 MPH speed limit in the canals, and wouldn’t you know it, some guy shouts at them, “Hey, watch that wake!” If they stop or go slow they sink, so they keep speeding back to the launch ramp at our house!

We get the boat on the trailer and tie it down and head back to Houston. I spent the rest of that day and evening sitting on a stool in my garage, cleaning my fishing tackle and by 9:00 PM my knee has swelled up to twice its normal size. I finally figure that I should go to bed, elevate my knee and stay off of it for a couple of days.

My knee healed fine and I was back to playing softball three weeks to the day from the surgery. The boat repairs were over $3,000.00. Bayou Vista was without power for two weeks and the full time residents had a real rough time. The Masters, one of the co-owners of the beach house, went into a messy divorce and after I traded Jerry Masters out of my portion of the house, it finally went back to the mortgage company.

Another interesting note. In 1989 Layla and I were trying to find a house in Bayou Vista and the old house, now in pretty bad repair, was back with the mortgage company. We placed a $60K offer on it and we later heard that the “good ole’ boys” won this one and that the bankers friend got a real good deal on it.

Hurricane Alicia – Phase 1

The late summer of 1983 found Randy and I “batchin” it. He would attend Texas A & M University within the month. Brad was living with his cousin. I was single again and worst of all, while attending a special class for high performers at Harvard University in Mass, an old football injury had turned bad and my left knee was locked tight as a drum!

As soon as I got home I had an appointment with a Doc and he tells me “Your knee is locked up.” Wow, what news. He feels around and takes an X-Ray, this was before MRI’s and says, “Yes, it’s locked up and I think it is the cartilage. Can you be available for surgery tomorrow afternoon?” Since I can’t straighten out my leg and have trouble moving around, I readily agree. One small problem, there is a Class 3, hurricane, Hurricane Alicia, taking direct aim on Galveston Island. I’ll be in the hospital when it hits and it will probably ruin my fishing tackle, boat and “our” beach house, but I have no choice.

As “Alicia” bores down on us, I check into the hospital and the Docs start getting me ready for the surgery, arthoscopic, no knives, but still a relatively new procedure and I will stay in the hospital tonight and be released tomorrow morning.

As they wheel me in to the operating room, I look up and see the Docs and Nurses with their reflectors on and I quip, “All of you all have on your carbon headlamps, the hurricane must be close.” Laughter all around and then the Doc says, “Start the IV. Jon, count down from ten.” I laughingly say “Ten, nine, eight.”

The surgery was successful, and the first thing I remember coming out of the anesthesia are visitors laughing at me. I don’t need this and go back to sleep. Right at closing time my sister, H.R., shows up with a very large, even for her, handbag. Opening it up she proudly displays a bottle of Champagne to celebrate my successful surgery. We celebrate it properly, she leaves and I go back to sleep.

The Doc shows up early the next morning and says he cleaned up the knee and I should be back playing softball in three weeks. Pointing out of my window he states “You will be laid up for a couple of days, so I’m prescribing that you remain in the hospital the next 2 days and let the hurricane pass.”

As I take a prescribed sleeping pill that night, the storm is beginning to rage outside and it is howling. Before I go to sleep, I call Brad and tell him that I will need to get down to Bayou Vista day after tomorrow to check on the damage and for him to get some guys together in case we need to do some “heavy lifting”.

Waking up and looking out of my window, I see the rain in the corner of the building is raining upwards and the trees are bending nearly double big wind! It blows for another hour and then it stops. Dead calm, the eye is passing right over us. The last time I was in an “eye” was in 1941 in West University. The wind picks back up as the hurricane moves northwest.

The aftermath of Hurricane Alicia follows.

White Out

Putting together a collection of my stories about all of the storms and natural disasters I have been in, one comes to the fore and shows how conditions can quickly move past hazardous and become deadly!

White Out

In the spring of 2005, several months before I retired, I had planned to get an early start on a Saturday morning and drive to Goldthwaite and arrive before lunch. Living in Bayou Vista, Texas, right on the Gulf Coast, I had a 4 plus, hour drive awaiting me.

Setting my clock for 5:30 AM, I awoke with a start at 6:00 AM. I hadn’t turned “On” the alarm. So much for a real early start! Rushing and getting dressed I look outside toward my boat dock and notice that it is foggy, not unusual for this time of the year.

Nothing to load up so I climb into my 4WD, Suburban and head out noticing that there is about 200 yards of visibility, again not strange. I surmise that the farther I go inland, the lighter the fog will be.

Heading north on I-45 the traffic, yes traffic at 6:20 AM on a Saturday, is moving along about 45 MPH and the farther inland I get, it seems the fog is getting thicker. Seventeen miles from downtown Houston, Beltway 8, a toll road, exits east and west. It is a highly elevated, curving, exit to the west and the fog almost, it seems, touches the Suburban’s top!

Clicking on my blinkers, the traffic report comes on, every 20 minutes on weekends, instead of the 10 minutes on work days, and reports heavy fog on Beltway 8 around Texas 288, The Nolan Ryan Expressway, 5 miles ahead. Slow going for a ways!

On the “Raceway”, er Beltway, posted speed is 65 MPH, which is ignored, and most motorist clip along a 75 or 80, but today we’re down to 40 and nearing 288, traffic slows dramatically, red lights glaring, hazard lights blinking and we enter a white world. The radio blares, “There has been a series of major accident on Beltway 8 between Hillcroft and Cullen, and reports from the scene say the Beltway is closed.”

Closed it is and the fog is so thick I can barely make out the reflections of the car’s lights to my front. I have never seen, or even imagined, that fog could be so heavy! Behind me I hear a grinding CRASH, and brace for a hit that never comes.

We’re stopped and nothing to do but listen to the radio, that is now getting a better report from the authorities. The Beltway is closed both ways and at least 100 cars are involved in the chain reaction accident on the inbound side and around 1,000 cars are stuck and fogged in. Deaths and injuries are reported and we are still 2 to 3 miles from the accident site.

Sirens are blaring from every direction as police and sheriff’s officers begin to arrive all along the Beltway. They begin moving cars off of the Beltway and soon I’m on the access road, still heading west, but stopped. We creep along and in some places the fog seems so thick that it must be impenetrable.

After about an hour, we begin creeping along side the scene of the most deadly accidents and then, the fog lifts, just like that! Cars are piled into each other and resemble accordions, reminding me of scenes from “The Highway Of Death” in Kuwait; some cars are upside down on the grades leading up the overpasses, with radiator fluid, gasoline and oil pooled on the road surface, people are milling around stunned and law officers are everywhere. We continue our creep for 600 or 700 yards and up ahead I see the law directing us back on to the Beltway, in bright sunshine!

We couldn’t get out of our vehicles and help since we were being herded along. All I could do was say a prayer for those involved and thank the Lord that I was 15 minutes late. If I had been on time, I would have been right in the middle of it.

Final tally was 110, cars and trucks involved, with 7 deaths and a myriad of injured.

I was in Houston last month and traveled along this stretch of the Beltway (at 75 MPH) and there are still skid marks on the road surface and on the median attesting to the speed and violence of the crashes!

Surprise – That White Stuff Is Snow

Getting up at 5:00 AM and slipping on my workout clothes, I opened the side door of my house, in the Texas Hill Country, southwest of Goldthwaite, Texas, and was preparing to go outside and get into my truck for the ten-minute drive to the gym, when the “glare” hit me. Not so much the glare but the complete whiteness of the early morning. The TV weather had reported a Winter Storm Warning, but so many of their warnings fizzle out I had not mentally prepared myself for snow on the ground and snow piling out of the sky. Flipping on the TV, sure enough, they reported it was snowing in their north and northwest viewing area. So much for a workout.

It kept snowing for well into the morning and everything was white! I did notice that my newly planted Garlic was bravely sticking barely above the snow. Wow! We must have at least four inches and counting. The field behind our house looked like a bowl of whipped egg whites, and a crazy thought popped into my mind, if we get two or three more inches I could get out my skis and ski down the county road or take a leisurely swing down my field. That would make a good picture.

Growing up in Houston, and living most of my life there, we would see snow, maybe once every ten or fifteen years. We have hunted Quail in the snow in Arizona, sledded down the hills in Georgia and pounded the slopes, skiing, in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, but having all of this snow on the ground and falling out of the sky on my place was more than exciting.

After breakfast we, my wife and our wonder dog, Spike, headed out to my truck, cleaned the snow off of the windshield, put it in four-wheel high and “plowed” out onto our place.

The first stop was a water trough, frozen (I broke up the ice), framed by snow and on down the road, where we both noticed how pretty the snow was on the prickly pear cactus. We couldn’t resist a picture.

Spike was bouncing up and down wanting to get out into the snow. Being a miniature Dachshund, he only has three or four inches of ground clearance, but out he went, nose to the ground. No game was moving but he was hunting. My wife was worried, that with his short hair, he would get cold, poor baby.

We checked on a deer feeder and there were signs of activity early in the morning, but the tracks were almost snowed out. Driving on, we noticed deer tracks crossing the road. Stopping and letting Spike out, he quickly found the trail and the “hunt” was on. He hunted for several hundred yards, me following. Spike is short, no more that ten inches tall. I am six feet tall. Spike runs under the brush and trees while I plow through the snow and brush covered with snow. Not even having a gun and having enough of this fun, I call off the “hunt”, pick Spike up and head back toward the truck. The little dog had been in “hog heaven” hunting in the snow.

The snow had stopped by the time we got back to the house and we shed our wet jackets. Looking out over our place and thinking how great this moisture would be for the land, how sloppy it would be for a couple of days and how dirty our vehicles would be, helped us to appreciate the warm, cozy house and the fire glowing in the cast iron heater.

Spike wanted to get back to hunting!