Updated: Apr 5, 2019

A crowd gathered to watch the Wagon Wheel burning. Photo courtesy of Carol de Young.

By George R. Vincent, Pinole Historical Society

In late October of 1945, Pinole was pounded by a fierce wind and rainstorm that generated a destructive tornado. The local newspaper reported, “terrific destruction was left in its wake.”

Pinole residents who had once lived in the tornado belt of the Midwest said the freak windstorm had “all the earmarks of a tornado with a warning sound before its arrival.” The outskirts of Pinole at the western city limits on both sides of San Pablo Avenue were most affected. The tornado, or “twister” as some Pinoleans called it, made its erratic way up to Tank Farm Hill outside of San Pablo. It was here where Chevron had its huge oil storage tanks.

The tornado barnstormed through Pinole, doing thousands of dollars in damage, injuring several residents and scaring the life out of others. It was a miracle there were no fatalities. My grandmother Scanlan’s ranch was on the north side of San Pablo Avenue extending down to the Santa Fe Railroad tracks. The area at that time was quite rural and I was quite young. My family was visiting her and I was tired of hearing grown-ups talking, and like a little kid I was bored and wanted to go home. We were in the kitchen and it was raining hard. I had nothing to do, so I looked out the big kitchen window toward the bay and watched it rain. It was then I saw a sight that would stay with me for the rest of my life.

A lightning flash lit up the outside, and in that moment I heard a roar and saw the large oak tree twist right out of the ground and the barn disappear into the air! Everything went dark in the house and we could hear power poles falling and sparking electrical wires were everywhere. We couldn’t get to our old green Plymouth because of the darkness and the danger from fallen poles and wires. At that time, we didn’t know what had happened or the extent of the damage around us. We were so lucky the twister had narrowly missed my grandmother’s home. Others, however, were not so fortunate. At the Westman Ranch, a chicken house disappeared but the garage beside it remained intact. Sheets of