- Historic Sites
An astonishing saga of endurance and high courage told by a man who lived through it
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
The dairyman said, “Let me harness my team of big horses and pull the car out of that drift and get it started.”
The car was completely full of snow inside and under the hood. The snow was packed so full the fan could not turn. We dug out the snow with our sheep-skin mitts and shovel until we got the engine clean. The man put his big horses to the car with a chain, and we finally got it started, after pulling it about two hundred feet through snow twelve inches deep.
By this time it was about eight o’clock. We tried to pay this man, but even to mention pay was almost an insult to him, for he said we might have grave things ahead. So we thanked him, and off we went.
The storm at this time seemed to be letting up a bit. We still had about thirty miles to go, and getting started about eight, we had in mind getting home by twelve o’clock, which would give us about four hours to make thirty miles. But no such luck. As we started out, you could hardly see ten feet at a time. We figured taking the back road, where there was no fence, would help us, because the snow had blown off in places. We were making about five or six miles an hour to start, hitting snowdrifts four or five feet high, plowing right through them. Sometimes it would take three or four tries to get going again. All this time we were going east, which made the drifts cross our path. We fought them for four hours and got only about fifteen miles.
When we were climbing to higher country, our road turned north, so now we were facing into the storm. Visibility got worse by the minute. Under the car, around the wheels and all, snow had driven in so hard that we had to get out, take tire tools, and dig out so the wheels could turn.
Visibility was almost zero. We had trouble at times seeing the hood ornament. The car was a 1928 Chrysler Imperial four-door sedan, and it sure must have been a good one, for the punishment it took, words could never tell. As we inched along in low gear, my dad would say, “Go right,” or, “Go left,” as he noticed a fence post now and then. We were at nerve’s edge, trying to stay between two lines of fence posts. You could clear your throat and spit out, and the spit would freeze before it hit the ground.
We had kerosene in our car for anti-freeze, and by this time the stench of the motor was about to get to us, for if anyone ever abused a car, we did. It had quit snowing by now, but the wind was blowing so bad you would never know. It was whipping that snow like a sandstorm, blowing it right into our clothes. Our car by now was almost full of snow, for Dad would roll the window down, trying to see a post or something to guide us by.
As we inched north, he remarked, “Now, if we can get across the ravine”—a dry creek called Horse Creek, about a mile ahead—“we could make it home by dark.” About one o’clock we finally reached the creek, which was a deep ditch across the road. We could not see at all but could feel the car going downhill, so we stopped, left the car running, got out, locked our arms together so as not to get lost from each other, and tried to see what was ahead before we got stuck for good. We had left the lights on, but they were not visible over thirty or forty feet.
We could see a drift about sixteen feet high, almost like a knife blade, across the road. No way could we get on top or walk around it, for that would have been suicide, we knew. Only one chance left: Drive through it, punch a hole in it. This drift was about sixteen or eighteen feet through. We knew this was life or death, for if we stopped in that drift, we would soon suffocate.
So we drove up to the drift, about five or six miles an hour, and punched a good hole. We backed up and hit it again, and again. We were doing the impossible, but this was the last barrier, we thought, for this was flat country, and this creek was the only one in thirty miles. We figured the drift could not be over twenty-five feet thick at the most, so after punching a hole about ten feet, we backed up on dry road, about a hundred feet, where snow had blown off, and hit that hole wide open. Very foolish, but in desperation we tried it. It worked. The snow had blown clean on the north side of the big drift, giving us footing to keep going.
Tears almost came to our eyes, knowing we were headed home. So here we go. Dad would say, “Right.” I would go right, and then he would say, “Go left,” and I would go left. And then he’d say, “Go right,” and I would go right. So the next three miles we would go like this. As we went north, we came to a turn or correction line in the road, which was a long curve. The road was built up at this point, and we made it okay by feeling our way around the curve by the rise in the road. The wheel would get close to the edge; I would pull back. If you’re not able to see where you are going, it’s not easy. We got around that curve and headed north again.