Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sass Writes - Worst Winter Weather

When I was sixteen, in the spring of 1978, we had a terrible blizzard sweep across north central Montana.  Spring blizzards are usually the worst because they bring with them the most moisture - and usually, the temperatures don't dip so low, but this storm was an exception.  It brought incredible moisture, hard frost, deep snow - all of it, in spades.

My family lived twenty-five miles in the country.  We rode the school bus every day, getting on at 6:45 to arrive at school at 8:15, and then home again from 3:30 to 5:00.  We were far away from everything, with plenty of gravel road between.  [As a side note, the other day, I noticed that the federal government was considering essentially labeling any population center under 500,000 'rural'.  I had to laugh.  Montana is enormous, and the entire state may have one million people.  Our definition is 'frontier'.]

As I remember it, it was a Thursday evening.  We knew there was a storm coming, and Montana in the 70's was pre-drought, not like the decades to follow.  We expected a good deal of moisture and we got it.  Fortunately, we were home from school when it started.  It snowed, and snowed, and snowed.  We woke up in the morning, with no electricity and no phone.  It continued to snow.  We were in the middle of calving, so the timing could not have been worse.  All those mamas out there in the blizzard with babies.  We had no water because our pump was electrical, so my stepdad, Glen, went to the barn and primed the old pump to water the livestock.  Fortunately, the house was heated by fuel oil.  We had one large central heater in the living room.  Only the upstairs was heated.  My sister and I slept in the unheated basement, so, as soon as we peeled back those warm heavy quilts, we were up, dashing upstairs to get warm.

The snow fell until it was about five feet deep, on the level.  In places where it had drifted, it was often twice that deep.  Although many places now have buried lines, back then, they were all strung on poles.  The frost on them was incredibly heavy, making the lines about 4-5 inches in diameter!  The frost so weighed them down, they hung like big frost garlands between each pole.  I also remember that Glen had to get to the chickens by climbing on top of the chicken coop - a full size building, maybe 12'x20' (we raised a lot of chickens) - and dig straight down off the edge of the roof to open the door.  We had baby chicks on the bathroom shelf and a calf or two that warmed up in the living room, as I recall.

The roads were all blocked.  A regular snowplow could not do the job of clearing that many miles of country roads.  Later, I found out that the state had borrowed rotary snowplows from some other states to clear the roads.

Our family was pretty dysfunctional in many ways.  While we were all home together during the summers, we always had the option to get out of doors and away from other people.  But during this storm, we had way too many hours of enforced togetherness.  Needless to say, it did not bring out the best in any of us.  

One day, the phone rang.  We'd had no idea they were back in service.  It was the school, advising us that if we kids were out of school much longer, we would have to be dropped from the enrollment and lose credit for the work we'd done for that semester.  Our folks called RussAero, a local private aviation company that generally did crop dusting.  Russ Cebulski fixed up his plane with pontoons and flew out to get us.  I remember that he landed on the snow in a field near the house and we walked out of the house, and right across the top of a completely snow-buried barbed wire fence to climb into his plane.

My mom had made arrangements for us to stay in town with Cloie Bronson, a widow with a boarding house.  We stayed for quite a while, until the aforementioned rotary snowplows did their job.  I remember, when the buses were running again, riding home and feeling like we were in a big white tunnel the whole way because the snow piled at each side of the road was so high, no one could see out.  It was weird, especially when you consider how high up you sit in a school bus.

I didn't last much longer at home after that.  That was my junior year, and when Spring came, I moved out for a short temporary stay in the home of my boyfriend's parents.  My relationship - whatever it had been - with Glen, who was the source of most of our family dysfunction, was pretty much gone.  I got a job in larger town nearby, changed schools my senior year, and was married during Christmas break, four months pregnant.  Not exactly a crowning achievement for a seventeen-year-old.  It's weird.  I see it all as a part of a chain of events, all playing their little part to create a different sort of storm - a sort of tipping point.

That snowstorm was something, though.....




  1. Wow. I cannot even imagine. Blizzards are completely outside anything I've experienced - must be so cold! I would love to see Montana one day - it look so beautiful.

  2. A calf warming up in your living room!?! What crazy memories you have growing up in Montana! I can't imagine losing power for that long!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...