A year after Armour storm, rainbows and pain
ARMOUR — The southwest sky darkened as residents finished morning coffees.
Someone looking out a First State Bank window announced: This is bad.
Bank employees Arlene Hinckley and Sheila Payer rushed to a pane of glass overlooking Armour's Main Street just as sheets of metal roofing raced ahead of the pouring rain and hail.
One full year later, sitting beneath a new bank roof, they questioned why they lacked enough sense to seek shelter during the morning excitement of May 15, 2017.
"I don't want to live through that again," said Hinckley, before adding, "or I want to be smart enough to take cover."
The storm brought winds of 60- to 80-mph and up to 2 inches of rain. It revealed not only the good of rural living — people volunteering to help people — but also the challenge of owning a small business on the Plains.
As baby cumulus clouds bubbled into calm heavens Wednesday, residents of Armour, population 880, recalled how people trailed outside after the departing storm clouds to cut neighbors' fallen limbs, haul debris and patch roofs. Hinckley and Payer bought cases of water and delivered bottles to thirsty farmers on tractors, small children picking up branches, and even the elderly doing what they could.
"Everybody pitches in," Payer said.
A year later, all visible trace of the storm has been removed except for some broken red bricks alongside a downtown veterinary clinic.
But not everyone sees rainbows, and the storm may have presented just one challenge too many for Bryan Mulder of Trail Rite, whose trailer manufacturing and repair shop sustained some of the worst damage.
To Mulder, it seems as if the storm singled him out, missing the next-door bar, peeling the large roof off his building, sparing his neighbor to the north, and then destroying his paint booth just beyond.
A year later, he's hired a lawyer to fight an insurance company, looks at the flat farm economy, threats of pending tariffs, and wonders whether his 32nd year at the Armour business will be his last.
"It could always be worse," he says, repeating past consolations, then adds, "but I don't know how."
People watching his store from across Hwy. 281 told Mulder the roof lifted straight into the sky, spun seven or eight times, slid over slightly and slammed onto two recently completed trailers.
The National Weather Service defined the storm as straight-line winds, although people watching from outside of town swear they saw tails descending from funnel clouds.
As notes Tyler Wilson, manager of Wilson True Value, straight winds and tornadoes have a similar character.
Inside Wilson's store, a gift and small appliance section got soaked after the store's roof was rent by debris. True Value recovered quickly from the storm. Wilson boarded up a broken window, emergency crews patched the old rubber roof, staff swept up glass and broken wall, and then Wilson set out to help neighbors. Insurance covered the bulk of damages and a new roof, Wilson said. It took a few weeks to sort through and replace soaked items. On the storm's one-year anniversary, nobody really took notice.
"I didn't hear anybody talking about it," Wilson said as he repaired mowers in his back shop.
Mulder's wife, however, brought it up immediately when she called her husband at his trailer shop Tuesday morning.
"I had a long talk with my wife the other day," Mulder said. "We'll see how it goes the next six months. It may be time to move on, move out," he said. "There's nothing here in Armour for me any more."
It's OK to print that, Mulder said. He's been saying it out loud.
On May 15, 2017, the winds came, then rain, then hail, and then rain again. Afterward, his roof was gone, his plasma cutters and welding machines tipped over and soaking wet, inside and out. He did what he could to move equipment into a protected area, and by midafternoon more than a dozen guys had shown up with offers of help.
"Then there were a lot of 'ifs,' 'ands' and 'buts,'" he said.
It took more than two months to find a contractor with enough slack in their schedule to make the repairs, and Mulder bartered two trailers into a deal to make it happen even that quickly. For three months, he said, his business was at a standstill.
His insurer paid for damages to the building but balked at paying for most of the soaked items inside. A call to regulators in Pierre yielded nothing, Mulder said, so he has hired a Wagner lawyer.
"It's more of a struggle now than it was at the time," he said.
The presidential threat of a tariff on Chinese steel has driven metal costs crazy, Mulder said. Meanwhile, low farm income and the worries of Chinese retaliation tariffs against agriculture have put farmers in a saving mood.
"I don't think farmers will be spending any money now on trailers," he said.
Mulder started working in what was his father's shop in 1986. He has two employees. It's been getting harder to compete with other operations.
"It's been a year I'll never forget," he said.