Column: Miss big snowstorms? Think back to '75WORTHINGTON — Residents of southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa do not make light of blizzards, nor do they mock stories from people who are overtaken by blizzards.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Residents of southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa do not make light of blizzards, nor do they mock stories from people who are overtaken by blizzards. The national news media, which have cast about rather futilely for major stories ever since the November elections, might be faulted for their reporting of the blizzard which swept New York and New England last weekend. Reporters talked of an “epic storm” and a storm “of a kind we rarely see” two days before the storm even developed.
Well — there most certainly was a blizzard. Two feet of snow and even more in some places. Wind lifting to 60 mph. Still, reporters seemed disappointed. There wasn’t much to report. People shoveling and plows clearing streets.
The advance hype brought to mind what we called the Arctic Hurricane which swept over the local region in January 1975. It was one of the last of the overwhelming winter storms we have experienced.
That was the storm — two elderly couples in a stalled car were invited into a truck cab by a driver: “I had plenty of gas and the truck was warm.” One of the women later reported, “It was a horror. We just couldn’t see. The wind was blowing so hard, it blew my shoes off. They just blew away when I was climbing in the truck.”
A young father set off on foot along Highway 60 seeking help. He left behind his wife, a year-old son and a 3-week-old baby. They had no food. There was canned milk for the baby, but no can opener. A snow plow with a rescue team made its way to the car. The mother, the infant and the baby spent 48 hours in the Worthington hospital.
Worthington veterinarian Ross DeWitt was in a pickup on Highway 60 returning from Mankato with his co-ed daughter and a young man attempting to get to Sioux Falls where his mother was seriously ill. The three of them spent 36 hours in the pickup cab, which was frigid after the gas tank emptied.
There were cars and pickups helter-skelter on roads and highways in every direction from Worthington. LeRoy Heeren was Worthington’s police captain. He had a plan.
Heeren went to the railyard and enlisted an engineer to roll a locomotive south along Highways 59-60. He brought a long rope with him. Whenever one of them spotted a stalled car or truck, the engineer stopped. Heeren pressed through snow more than waist deep in the railroad ditch, hanging on to one end of this rope. The other end was tied to the locomotive. He helped lead two women to the engine, and then an elderly man. When the engineer put the locomotive in reverse and started back for the depot, there were 12 people aboard who had spent the night in chill cars and trucks along the highway.
The Worthington National Guard Armory was opened to stranded travelers. Cots were set up.
A Sioux City man, propped on the edge of a cot, told a Daily Globe reporter, “First you wonder when someone is going to come. Then, after about 24 hours, you start to wonder IF someone is going to come …”
The man went on to tell a troubling story. He stopped at Miloma to assist a man in a red van who was having trouble keeping his windshield clear. “Follow right behind me,” the Sioux City man called out. “I won’t be going fast — I’ll lead the way for you.”
The car and the red van proceeded in tandem from Miloma to Brewster. The plan was to stop at Brewster but, “We never saw Brewster,” the Sioux City man said. They proceeded for perhaps another mile. “My car just ‘bottomed out,’” the man said. “There was just so much snow that I was suddenly hung up.”
The red van which Mr. Sioux City had been guiding passed in the opposite lane and continued on its way.
The Gobbler Cafe opened for storm refugees but cafe workers could not get to 10th Street. Some of the people who had been stranded went from booth to booth and table to table taking orders.
The Arctic Hurricane of 1975. You remember that one?
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.