Trapped inside a Nebraska blizzard
February 5, 2010
Our recent Christmas blizzard reminds me of the blizzard I battled 26 years ago. It was Saturday, Feb. 18, 1984. My husband Duane had just started a new job in Omaha earlier in the month. Friday was a lovely day, and I drove to Omaha after work to see the apartment he had rented. We had a nice Chinese dinner that night and spent the evening relaxing. I had intended to take a leisurely drive home on Saturday afternoon, but my plans were changed when we got up early the next morning.
To our surprise there was snow on the ground. We listened to the radio and heard it had snowed quite heavily in the Grand Island area. I decided to start on my way immediately. It would be a snowy drive, but I knew I could handle it if I took it slow. As I drove west on Dodge out of Omaha, large flakes were falling and I was enjoying the beauty of it.
Later I realized I should have listened to Duane when he tried to talk me out of going. As I swung onto Hwy. 92, my usual route home, I noticed no snow removal equipment had been out yet. It was starting to get light outside by the time I crossed the Platte River bridge and was faced with the long hill just beyond. The car coming toward me seemed to be in the middle of the road, and I saw a sign I had never noticed before: “Icy Surface Possible Next 1,000 Feet.” Well, I made it to the top and thought that was probably the worst one I’d hit.
But no-o-o. From there on, it was white-knuckle driving most of the way. In many places the highway had not been cleared at all. Besides, the wind was blowing ferociously and visibility was terrible nearly the whole time. By the time I got to Wahoo it had stopped snowing and my hopes rose for smooth driving the rest of the way. I did wish some of those oncoming cars would slow down a little. There are always fools who don’t drive for road conditions. It was full daylight by now and I came to a nice clear area west of Mead. Good! There must be a snowplow up ahead. I could actually drive 30 miles an hour here.
Then I saw the snow plow pulled off the road waiting to go back. This was the end of that guy’s maintenance area. From that point no plow had touched the highway, but some vehicle had made a track in my lane for me to follow. I wondered where the edge of the road was, and eventually there was only a single track to follow. I didn’t know whether it was meant to be eastbound or westbound. I wondered if I had passed by Rising City without seeing it. Sure enough, the first town I saw was Shelby. I stopped there for a cup of tea and to finally use a restroom. I got stuck on the way into the parking lot, but there seemed to be plenty of people around to push me out. When I was ready to go, two gentlemen accompanied me to the car to push, and the car wouldn’t start! Someone with jumper cables got me going again, and the road to Osceola was relatively good.
A few minutes later, it either began snowing harder or blowing more, I couldn’t tell which. No traffic though. I was glad everybody else had sense enough to stay off the road even if I didn’t. Every muscle in my body was tensed up. I could hardly stay in the track, and dreaded every hill. I appreciated the shelterbelts. It wasn’t so bad behind them. Finally, what joy! I was coming down the last hill into the Platte Valley. I crossed the bridges without incident, but on the curve that leads west to Hwy. 30, it happened. I was stuck. I got out and scooped snow away from the wheels with my hands. I had kitty litter in the trunk and tried sprinkling that in front of the wheels for traction. I couldn’t budge the car, and just sat there while a big truck roared around me without stopping to help. Then a young man with a pickup stopped. He said he’d go into Clarks and get a chain to pull me out. While I was waiting for him to return, a snow plow came by with several cars behind it. My rescuer came back and hooked onto my car to pull me out, but we both just spun our wheels. Finally, on another try, I was out! I thanked the man and tried to give him money, but he wouldn’t take it.
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I followed the snowplow path to the intersection, but at the stop sign there was no westbound track. The plow had gone east instead. I decided not to break trail myself, but to go on east into Clarks. There I waited at Shorty’s Bar for a couple of hours. This was really funny. Normally I don’t set foot into a bar, but was so thankful for Shorty’s hospitality. I talked with other people. The snowplow crew said they were going as far as the viaduct and a bread truck driver from Grand Island assured me the road on to Central City was passable. When I went out to the car, it wouldn’t start again. Someone had jumper cables and they got me going.
My troubles were still not over. At the viaduct, the unplowed snow was too deep to handle. I came to an immediate halt and the car died. This time, thankfully, I didn’t have a very long wait. Some young men on their way east to Schuyler stopped and pushed my car off the road onto the wayside area. Then they flagged down a Kearney family headed west, and those folks were glad to take me to Central City. They dropped me off at a place where I could catch a ride on home in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and at last I was back in my own snug house. It had taken me from 6:30 a.m. until about 4:00 p.m. to make what is normally about a two-hour trip.
The next day Duane’s brother Dale took me out to get my car. When we got there, a huge wall of snow had been thrown up by snowplows between the car and the highway. But some good Central City guys came to our aid. Allen Nelson came along in his state truck and bladed most of the snow pile aside. Then Leo Haith came by with his tow truck and pulled me back onto the road where he and Dale jump-started my car.
End of story. I was left with some awesome memories plus the reminder that in Nebraska a blizzard can come up suddenly out of nowhere. Most of all, I felt a deep gratitude for the many kind, neighborly people who went out of their way to help me. God bless them all.