January of 1975, married less than 2 years, I still worked at 3m in Hutchinson, 20 miles away. We signed the papers on our first mortgage the previous fall commiting ourselves to a $23,500 debt. Aarrgh, don’t even go there!
The half buried vehicle you see is the ’69 Chevy Impala that Honey had driven back to MN from his Navy base in Pensacola, Florida in ’72. Man, that was a great car — roomy, smooth and heavy, and perfectly balanced on ice and snow. It went through everything nasty that could be on pavement as if it were sunny and dry. However, I did succeed in putting it into a ditch later that winter. Just once. Oh, and once for the Mustang, too, both incidents in two consecutive days, same curve. That’s another blog. BTW, I’ve only ditched once since then, on glaze ice, a freebie, doesn’t count.
The Blizzard of the Century hit on the 10th of January, ’75. The previous weekend there had been blizzard threats from all of the weather-dudes. 3M had sent people home early. It fizzled. This particular weekend, the news was equally grave. Fool me twice, shame on me was the official call until a longterm employee marched into Mr. I’m The Boss’ office and demanded that he care. Grudgingly, they let us leave around 4pm. The storm had begun in earnest and was just tuning up.
I had been car pooling with my friend Kathy and the Presbyterian minister’s daughter. It was my turn to drive and because the Mustang tended to fishtail on dry roads, I was driving the Chevy. We piled in and headed home across open prairie facing heavy crosswinds. Something told me to push the pedal as hard as I could without spinning us out of control. I did that and gripped the wheel with both hands in a left turn position to counter the heavy west winds. The snow was rapidly thickening both in the air and on the ground. By the time I was exactly 5 miles from home, having cleared the two curves around Lake Minnebelle, my only clue to where to drive was the telephone poles barely visible on either side. Ok, aim for the middle. Simultaneously, the wipers were clogged and stuck. Kathy bravely got out to snap the snow off and was blown off her feet. If I hadn’t been hanging on to her free arm she would have disappeared into the white.
Two cars behind me, the lady who had plead our escape was driving slower than the required 35mph and the snow stopped her car. Behind her was the sheriff closing off the road.
We managed to plow our way into town to drop off the PK and got stuck in her driveway. As soon as I made it through our door, it worsened and Kathy was forced to stay with us. We didn’t have time to dig her car out from under our Ponderosa Pine before dark anyway.
There were no car phones, only rotary phones and land lines. (Daddy, what does rotary mean?) When I got in the house, I was instructed to call my mother-in-law. She had spent the last two hours pacing and crying, worrying about me. That was the first time I really realized she more than just casually liked me. I can look in the mirror and honestly say, ” You dummy. She loved you.”
The wind hurtled and howled around our little house all night;
the power flickered once or twice, and the temperature plunged to more than -20 by morning. The next day, we were going to free Kathy’s car but for two things: we couldn’t see it under the snow and fallen branches and we couldn’t open the front door. Honey’s brother being in Texas at furniture market and we being in charge of his teenagers, we called the house and asked Kevin, the oldest, to come over on the snowmobile with a shovel and dig his way in. “We’ll feed you. Eggs ok?”
That snow barely fit the definition of snow. It was grey, mixed with South Dakota dirt and beaten into the consistency of talcum powder. It packed tight, deep, and high. Drifts exceeded 12 feet in some areas. And it stuck around for a long, long time. Somehow tunnels were cut through the snow creating canyons and we drove to and from work on cobblestone of packed snow/ice for more than a week until it wore smooth.
Of course the old timers who remembered the November 1943 storm argued that this one hadn’t beaten the record. I don’t know the criteria for the superlative award, but this one exceeded in wind and the other exceeded in snow depth. Does it matter? Which had the highest death toll? That’s a wonderful goal. I know that in 1975 there were people in the country who didn’t have enough insulin on hand to get them through any storm let alone this one. They put a few officials in harm’s way who were obligated to deliver their meds via snowmobile in sub zero conditions. Helloooo, this is Minnesota, in Jaaanuary! You don’t have enough life sustaining supplies??? (Sheesh) I came to find out later that certain meds aren’t dispensed in enough quantity to stockpile for weather events like this. So now I say WHY NOT you pharma morons?!!
We got snow every year in Minnesota. Figure the odds against getting snow in winter. Thanksgiving was the usual starting point but other years, even in Minnesota, you weren’t guaranteed a white Christmas. 1979 was “green”. It turned out pretty special in its own right. More pics of that later.
This post is about being there through the extremes. It gives you something to write home about.