SEILING — The bread truck came roaring down the narrow street. Leslie England was at the helm.
He whipped the swaying wagon into the driveway of a rent house near the Methodist church. The stocky, 5-foot-8 man bolted through the door and proclaimed, "We've got to go to Earl's Hardware, there's something you've got to see!”
Leslie gathered his wife, daughter and one of his sons into the cab of the truck. The bread salesman and his brood arrived at the hardware store about 7 p.m.
The son, 12 at the time, remembers, "We walked in there, and there were all these boxes and, of course, if you looked at the screen it looked like a snowstorm.”
The boy was Gary England, long-time chief meteorologist at KWTV News 9. That evening marked his first look at a television.
England recently returned to his hometown of Seiling as part of The Oklahoman's "Going Home” series. In Seiling, U.S. Highway 281 splits the east and west awning-covered sidewalks of downtown. But neither it, nor the 18-wheel trucks or motorcycles or pickups on the road could block the memories England pulled out of those store fronts.
He stood outside the now-closed business bearing the name "England Grocery & Market.” He spoke not only of television and weather, but of community and family. As he went home, home came back to him.
A Brownie Hawkeye
"Right over there was and still is Bivens Drug,” he said.
The drugstore was a hub of activity. The boards gently creak as customers walk the floor but they only add a bit of background music to the memories. England and buddies would rush in after the Seiling Wildcats' football practice because Bivens had a soda fountain. The owner would allow them to read the old magazines as well as the comic books. But England's best story about Bivens centered on a Brownie Hawkeye camera he eyed one day in a case.
The 14-year-old listened to his heart as opposed to his head, buying the $16 camera and charging it to his father's name. He quickly loaded it with film and took some pictures, knowing the store wouldn't take it back after it had been used."I took pictures of my pigs and clouds,” he said. "It might have taken dad a week to figure out what I'd done. And I never charged anything after that without permission.”
Even though his dad was "upset” — slight understatement — about the purchase, the camera was a link to England's future. On May 25, 1955, a tornado struck near Camargo about 30 miles from Seiling. The National Weather Service Forecast Office listed no deaths.
"One day after Dad was finished with his bread route he drove me around and let me take pictures of the tornado damage,” England said. Although some may not remember that particular tornado, there were others in Oklahoma and Kansas that day, including a tornado that killed 19 people in Blackwell in north central Oklahoma and one person to the northeast of Blackwell, according to the National Weather Service Forecast Office.
Also on that same day, another tornado formed north of Peckham in Oklahoma and then moved into southern Kansas, eventually killing 80 people. His grandmother, Stella Stong, owned a television , and on Sunday afternoons he would go over and watch an Oklahoma City television meteorologist named Harry Volkman. "Harry would talk for 15 minutes about the jet stream and his family,” he said. "He made it so fascinating, and it was back then I decided I wanted to do what I've done most of my life and a lot of that was due to Harry Volkman.
"Storms frightened me, but I loved it.” And so he pointed down the east side stretch of sidewalk to what was the location of the Tower Theater. Storms would build on a Spring night while England and buddies were inside watching a movie. "Mrs. Cates would walk down to the front of the theater and announce something along the lines of ‘A tornado has just been spotted near Taloga moving directly toward Seiling,'” England said of Rhoda Cates, who ran the movie house.
"The theater was always full in those days, and I can remember people just pouring out of the place." And if you had a car you ran and jumped in the car and everybody roared home and everyone would get in the cellar, and we would wait for the tornado that never came. It was the ultimate in crying wolf, but it was exciting.
”Tornado? No. Straight winds? Yes. One time while living on a farm, England and his father were cleaning the concrete floor inside the building where they kept chickens.
"The straight winds hit, and it ripped the tin roof off,” he said. "There was a lot of noise and feathered bullets going everywhere.”
Not all his memories are linked to weather. Some lean more toward entertainment. Gary England Boulevard stops just across from what was Pop's Pool Hall. The town's teens were not supposed to be in there, so that's probably why they were — that and the desire to play snooker. But sometimes doing what they weren't supposed to do grew old, so other forms of entertainment were needed.
"On summer nights there were all kinds of kids around and those 18-wheelers were rolling through all the time,” he said. "At times we'd get 10 kids on one side and 10 on the other and we'd do this routine like we were holding something.” They wanted the truck driver to think they had a rope or something stretched across the street. "They'd see that and they'd slam on their brakes,” he said. "And after they'd realized what we'd done they'd blow those darn diesel horns.”