Glimpses of Childhood: Tornado Drills, A-Bomb Drills and Bat Guano


Being born in the latter days of the 50’s. I was the very essence of a 60’s child. I was too young to ‘tune out and turn on’ and I missed the ‘free love’ thing altogether.

Still growing up in the 60’s was an interesting journey to say the least. It was the era of the Cold War and the images of atomic bombs and the devastation that they entailed were scary. The ‘child friendly’ film above was still being shown in schools and was intended to help us youngsters know how to react when the bad guys dropped the big one on us.

Oddly enough, if you were in school and a tornado hit, the drill was almost exactly the same as in the film. As this 2010 news clip shows, the drill has not changed much from the one that we practised when I was in grade school:

In the 1960’s the bad guy was Russia and the threat of them dropping a bomb on us was a daily threat. We were urged to have a ‘fallout’ shelter. If you were a frugal family, you used your tornado shelter (aka storm cellar) as both a place to hide when the twisters came to flatten your home and the place to hide from the after effects of the nuclear explosions.

A bit fancy, this one could have been for the Rockefeller family.

If my family ran and hid from either the bomb or a twister, our shelter was a bit more ‘down-to-earth’ and we shared our ‘safe space’ with the canned preserves and spiders and other creepy crawlies that loved the dark dank shelter.

“Just pass some canned tomatoes while we’re waiting, will you?”

Of course growing up in the rural south as a child we never really bought into the whole ‘Ivan-the-Terrible‘ Russian is going to drop a big, bad bomb on our heads. We did, though, believe whole-heartedly in the chances of being blown away by a tornado.

The schools did show us many films on the dangers of the atomic bomb. I remember vividly the film that they used to show prior to the Duck and Cover film. This was a very short film and it had been made at one of the Nevada test sites. It showed cinderblock buildings being turned to dust and cars being thrown about like Tonka toys.

It was terrifying to a 7-year-old. But it was still just a movie. We only had to look out our school windows to see the damage that the last  tornado did to Old Man Jones’s barn. I’m sure he would have come in and told us about it but, unfortunately for him, Old Man Jones went the same way as his barn.

The visceral reality of the tornadoes damage which could be witnessed personally far outweighed the terror of the ‘filmed’ atomic destruction.

As I write this I am reminded of a school I attended in Springdale, Arkansas. It was in the 60’s and it was huge. The school boasted three floors (one of which was under ground level) and if you were on the top floor you had to go down a circular slide as part of the schools fire drill.

Now a historical building and it’s been re-designated as a High School.

I was in the school when I was in the fourth grade. The time I spent there was marked by two events. One was the day I went to school in the morning and it was drizzling rain. By noon the rain turned to sleet and then snow. By two o’clock in the afternoon the snow was so deep that the basement windows were covered and school let out early. That marked the beginning of one of the worst snow/ice storms in Arkansas history.

The second event was the initial trial run of the fire escape. On the back of the school was a tower that housed a circular slide. It had sat unused throughout the summer months and it was decided to give the tower a ‘trial run’ when school started up. Unknown to the school authority’s, a family of bats had made the tower their new home.

The first person who went down the slide was a teacher (presumably showing how safe it was) whose backside was immediately covered in bat guano. The fire escape was closed for a long time while the school got rid of the bats. Not to mention the guano.

So growing up in the 1960’s was pretty cool, if not a bit scary. You just needed to know what to do when the A-bomb hit or when a tornado was barreling down on your town. Oh and the necessity of avoiding bat guano.

Okay, who forgot the toilet paper.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

13 thoughts on “Glimpses of Childhood: Tornado Drills, A-Bomb Drills and Bat Guano”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this. I attended the same school a few years later. Your account of the bats in the fire escape brought back some fun memories. One day we received a bomb threat, all students exited the building (down the carpet covered stairs), the building was checked and deemed safe, we returned to class. My brain always thinks of something to worry about so I became concerned that the bomb could be in the fire escape. I mentioned it to the teacher and she allowed the fire marshal to go down the fire escape to check the safety. He ended up with a pigeon’s nest between his legs on the way down. I think the beloved fire escape was removed when they added onto the building.

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    1. Mine too! I still think it was hysterically funny that the teacher (who went down the slide on a burlap bag) still got covered in bat poop! One of my fave childhood memories! Cheers mate!

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  2. Reblogged this on Serendipity and commented:
    By the 1960s, I was either a teenager or young adult, great timing because I hit adulthood in the early ’70s — the real days of drugs, sex, and rock and roll … a fine time to be young. But I also remember duck and cover drills, which I though stupid even at the tender age of 6, I remember sticking my head between my knees, covering my head with my hands and thinking that this was not going to provide protection from an atomic bomb. I was precocious and my mother was a high level debunker of popular mythology, so I was born out of step. Tornadoes were not a big issue in New York city, but we were definitely supposed to worry about The Bomb. It’s been years since I thought about this stuff. It is like dropping through a wormhole in time.

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  3. By the 1960s, I was either a teenager or young adult, which was great timing because I hit my early 20s in early 1970s — the real days of drugs, sex, and rock and roll. I remember duck and cover drills and remember even at the tender age of 6, I thought sticking my head between my knees and covering my head with my hands was unlikely to provide protection from an atomic bomb. I was precocious. My parents were cynical too. My mother was a high level debunker of popular mythology, so I was born to be out of step. I suspect my parents were both been commie symps in their misspent youths. My father could still sing “The Internationale” in Russian — a bit of a giveaway. At the time, it didn’t seem such a big deal. In retrospect, I guess that’s why they were so jumpy during the HUAC witch hunts of the 1950s. You sure did bring back a lot of strange memories. It’s been years since I thought about this stuff. Thanks, I think! I feel like I just dropped through one of those wormholes in time.

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    1. Oddly this whole post was brought about by the freshly pressed blog about ‘toaster bacon’ and the silly things that were predicted about the future in the 60’s. It made me think of other ‘less amusing’ things we participated in and of course that lead to the more amusing ones.
      Being born in 58 and living in Arkansas throughout the 60’s and most of the 70’s I felt as though I was in a time warp. I;m glad you enjoyed it! Cheers!!

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  4. I remember well the tornado drills in the hallway. I never could quite figure out how covering our heads with textbooks was going to save us…I got caught outside in a tornado once when I was very small too – was lucky, just ended up with some twigs in my eyes and stuff bit they’re scary and beautiful but scary. The last one to hit my home state was devastating – had to wait three days to find out if my parents and friends were okay.

    Great article, Mike!

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  5. I missed that era (sadly?) being born in the ’70s, and being a California boy, I’ve never been a part of serious tornadoes. I’ve always wondered what living in Tornado Alley would be like. People think we’re nuts to put up with the earthquakes, but tornadoes would scare me much more.

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    1. Tornadoes seem much more random and scarily violent. I remember as a boy seeing the pathway of a tornado and how it would randomly skip places. Very disconcerting. Thanks for commenting! Cheers mate!!

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