PEKIN — Thirty days. That’s all it took for Rick Lanham to get his Pekin lumberyard up and sawing again after the March 2, 2012, tornadoes almost demolished it.
Within 40 days, Worley Lumber Co. was back at full production — not a small feat. And Lanham accomplished this without having to lay off a single one of his 15 workers.
“We kept them cleaning up, and I believe everybody worked straight through,” he said.
Around the town, signs of the disaster are still apparent. It’s not unusual to see a piece of metal still stuck in a tree. Cleanup hasn’t entirely finished, even after a year.
“There are still families up through here having a rough time. Things haven’t worked out for them completely. People are adjusting,” Lanham said.
Down the road from the saw mill is the place where all five members of the Babcock family perished in the EF-4 twister. Only a wooden cross surrounded by weathered teddy bears and burned candles indicates where the mobile home once stood.
Lanham said he was trying to help the struggling family get back on their feet by providing them with this housing. The next week, he was going to add the father, Joseph Babcock, to the mill’s payroll. He remembered talking to him the day that the tornadoes struck.
“Just that Friday [March 2], he came to me that morning and said, ‘I have to leave by 11.’ His minister was picking him up and taking him to the license branch,” Lanham said. “He came back just a few minutes after 12 with a pink piece of paper and said, ‘They’ll mail me one with my picture.’ He’d never had a driver’s license. He was as proud as a peacock.”
Hours later, he would be dead.
Lanham knew the family well. Moriah Brough, the mother, was raised in the town. Her father works at the lumberyard still today. While difficult to understand, Lanham said he was consoled that the family spent their last moments with one another.