- Historic Sites
An astonishing saga of endurance and high courage told by a man who lived through it
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
Going got a little worse, more snow, larger drifts, and by this time we were a lot more tired. Here it was 3:30 P.M., the same day we left the dairy, and we had ten miles yet to go. Because I was getting awful tired and nervous, the right and left driving got to me. Dad said, “Go left,” I went right, and off in the ditch we went, in snow four or five feet deep. In no time the car was covered over with snow. Here we sat, like in a dungeon, being buried deeper by the minute.
By this time it was about four o’clock, and all hopes of getting home were lost. So there we sat in the car, not knowing exactly where we were, the engine dead, and knowing that staying there meant freezing to death. So my dad, being an old-timer and raised in the north country, said, “Brother, did you see the big corner post back there, a quarter of a mile, on the right side of the road?” I told Dad I believed I had. That corner post was the end of a fence for us to follow, and facing a blinding storm made us wonder just where we were and just how far we had gone for sure since we sighted the corner post; but we knew the country and almost every post in the country, and a big one was a landmark. There was no timber in this country, nothing but bald flatland stretching for miles and miles, only the stars at night and wind by day to guide you. Now, as we both knew, the wind never changes directions once a man-killing storm strikes. The wind that had caused us so much hell for almost two days all at once became our guiding light, for now that fierce wind might help us to find our way. If only we could muster enough strength to endure the cold.
Words could never tell the punishment that car took. It sure must have been a good one.
The big corner post made all the decisions for us. We walked for about fifteen minutes arm in arm, for unless we had our arms linked together, we could not see each other most of the time. We knew getting separated meant only one thing, lost and dead, and when one of us fell down, we would stop right there and get our bearings again before going on. We could not see much over two to four feet. We knew we had to get somewhere pretty soon.
Now we were pretty sure that corner post was a northwest corner of Andy Reinert’s ranch and that his small frame house was about a half mile east of it. We talked about how to stay alive by breathing in through our nose and out the mouth, so as not to freeze our lungs. We also talked about keeping our blood stirred up by swinging our arms and bending over and back again, so as not to let our blood start freezing in our veins. By now the snow had driven into our clothes, making exercise a strenuous task. Our masks were frozen stiff, for our breath would freeze and make solid ice over most of our face. We would walk east or sideways to the wind for about a hundred yards, then stop, stand still, unlock arms, and swing our arms so as to get our blood going again.
Then we’d turn south with the wind to our back. That way we would be going straight south again, and by doing that, we would not miss the fence that went east from that corner post. As planned, we ran right into it. Russian thistles, or tumbleweed, some as large as a washing machine, grow in the summer, and when frost comes they break loose from the ground and the wind starts them to rolling across the prairie. If a fence happens to be in their path, it stops them, making high piles, so when snow comes blowing, they fill with snow, and you have a very high drift. So here we were behind a big pile that had built up on the fence, and snow had drifted about six feet high, so the fence was hard to follow. Thank God most of the drifts were on the south side of the fence and we were trying to go east on the north side!
But there was one catch to it. How were we going to know when we got to Andy’s ranch? We kept tapping the fence every five or six feet or so. We knew he had a gate in that fence that led to his house, but if for some reason the gate was closed, we could walk right by and not know it, so we had to keep watch and keep tapping the fence to make sure this did not happen. It was still twenty-five to thirty degrees below zero, and the wind had not let up yet, about seventy to seventy-five miles per hour. Icicles four to six inches long hung down from our mouths.
As we continued east, tapping the fence, Dad jerked my arm and stopped. He leaned over and shouted, “No fence!” So we figured we had reached the barbed-wire gate that was open and that led to Andy’s shack, but leaving that fence meant losing our security and giving us a feeling of being lost if luck did not come our way. We knew if we missed that shack by twenty feet, we could go on and on.
So now, what next? We knew that Andy’s shack was about a hundred yards or so south of that gate, so we locked arms again and went south. I could not see my dad most of the time. We walked south and felt ourselves climbing up a steep grade. We knew the ground was level, so we kept on climbing higher and higher, and all at once we both fell, about twelve feet. The snow had drifted around the shack and left about three feet all around the house, and that is where we found ourselves.