By Brian Earnest
STAUNTON, Ill. _ Russ and Anita Noel have vowed to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
For the second time in 18 months, the owners of Country Classic Cars, one of the nation’s largest and most well-known collector car dealerships, are dealing with a disaster after a tornado landed in the middle of their compound and wiped out two buildings and damaged at least 100 cars on Saturday. The brush with Mother Nature came just as the business was finally back up to full speed following a fire that ravaged the company back in August of 2017. That blaze torched the company’s main building, which housed its business office, and claimed nearly 150 cars on the property.
“One of the buildings, we had just added on and doubled the size of it and just completed it a couple weeks ago, and that building got hit bad,” lamented Anita. “We’re going to rebuild those buildings. Russ is out there right now, trying to decide what to do with cars. Some of them were totaled, some had minor damage … some you just have to decide if there are worth keeping or not. It’s just harum-scarum at this point.
“But if you know my husband, he is about the most positive, upbeat person you’ll ever want to meet. He just figures this is another [challenge] and we’ll rebuild again and carry on.”
The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas on November 30 and December 1, with one fatality reported in Missouri. At least 12 tornadoes were reported in Illinois on Saturday — a rarity for this time of year. It was the biggest tornado outbreak in Illinois in a December storm since Dec. 18-19, 1957, when there were 21, according to published reports. The tornado that hit Taylorville, Ill., was on the ground for around 10 miles. The city of 11,000 had at least 100 homes with major damage. A report in the Springfield State Journal-Register noted that Taylorville Memorial Hospital spokesman said 21 people, from age 9 to 97, arrived for treatment Saturday at Taylorville Memorial Hospital.
The obvious silver lining for Country Classics was that nobody was at work when the twister hit — similar to the night 16 months ago when the fire hit. No employees were hurt. “It was Saturday and we close at 3 on Saturday, so luckily everybody had left here,” Anita Noel said. “Russ and I were in St. Louis, about 40 minutes away. We didn’t know bad weather was headed this way. In the town of Staunton, I don’t think the tornado siren went off. Somebody had a video of the tornado and posted it on Facebook, of course, and you can see … there was a hard wind and it developed a little tale. As soon as it got over the interstate it dropped and hit us and the damage it did was unbelievable… That little tale went over our first building closest to interstate and then all of a sudden jumped down and there was a whirlwind of debris and siding and 2x4s and stuff. It really only hit two buildings and wiped a path through them. We’re lucky it was tiny and not wider or it probably would have taken everything. If you’re gonna get hit by a tornado, I guess it’s better to get hit by a little one.”
“It wrapped our siding all around some of the cars. It’s just terrible. It took one of the 2x4s and stabbed a hole in a car … Then as it scooted off across the prairie it took a lot of our building with it. One of the buildings just has a big wide strip going through the middle of it. It’s actually OK on each end. That’s all going to have to be reconstructed. One of them needs to be completely rebuilt, I think – but this is from a person who doesn’t know anything! And we had all these big garage doors in the buildings, and it sucked out all those big garage doors.”
The Noels were thankful that, unlike the fire, the tornado spared their main building with the business office and a large group of cars. That allowed the company to open and start getting back to business right away Monday morning as the serious cleanup began. “We’re wide open. We’ve got the buildings blocked off so people can’t go in ’em and get hurt,” Anita said. “We’re open for business. Were doing business as usual … The bills go on. Everything goes on.”
As unlucky has Country Classic Cars has been recently, the Noels know there is a difference between misfortune and tragedy. The business has taken a couple of hard hits, but things could have been much worse.
“You know, we have a guy who works here who lives on the lot in a trailer house, and when we heard what happened we were immediately really concerned about him,” Anita concluded. When we knew he was OK, the rest was OK. It’s just damage.
“We do not look forward to the months ahead. This isn’t going to be fun. But we’re actually feeling very positive because nobody got hurt.”
2149 E. Frontage Road
Staunton, IL 62088
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