Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Snowed in

The day began at 5:15 a.m. when the phone rang.

After receiving so many annoying middle-of-the-night "technical support" calls, we're inclined to ignore a ringing phone before 6 a.m. But this time, sleepily, I heard a neighbor's voice record something downstairs on the answering machine.

I got up and dressed, and happen to notice, across the black expanse of snow in our front yard, unusual lit-up highlights. We don't have lights out here -- no street lamps or porch lights -- so I wondered where that light came from.

Downstairs, both girls were already up, having heard the content of the message on the answering machine. "Call S.," said Older Daughter. "D. is stuck in the snow halfway down the road." (D and S are our neighbors, and D drives a snowplow for the state. He was just finishing up a ten-hour graveyard shift when he got stuck coming home. Ironically, the law does not allow him to plow his own road, since it's a private road.)

I looked out the window, and sure enough D.'s pickup truck was stalled on the road a quarter-mile away. It was his headlights which accounted for the odd highlights on the otherwise dark front lawn.

The wind had whipped snow around all night and, as it turns out, had whipped not just the road shut, but our driveway as well.

I woke up Don, who stumbled out of bed and went outside in the cold and wind to plug in the engine block heater on the tractor. Then he called D. to invite him to come in for a hot drink until he could get the tractor started, but D. said he was fine in his truck.

However as daylight eased over the land, it swiftly became apparent no one was going anywhere. The road and everyone's lengthy driveways were drifted shut. We were all snowed in, all four sets of neighbors who live beyond where D. got stuck.

Here's D.'s truck in the bottom-middle distance.

Here's a zoom-in shot. (By this point D. had abandoned the vehicle and walked home. He needed sleep after ten straight middle-of-the-night hours plowing snow.)

When the wind whips up snow around here, it whips it fast and deep. Our driveway was completely closed in with two solid feet of snow, with some higher drifts over that.

I walked down the driveway...correction, I waded down the driveway, sinking up to my knees with every step.

Here's a better view of D.'s truck. The snow in the foreground is about three feet deep.

Don climbed aboard the tractor and started bucketing out the driveway. It took him three hours of solid work to get through 300 feet.

This is what the driveway looked like when he was done. Buckets aren't plows, so it was rough but passable.

But this is the sight that greeted him at the end of the driveway -- and D.'s truck was still a quarter-mile away.

Snowdrifts can be very artistic -- unless you need to drive through them, of course.

Here's the road looking right.

Here's the road looking left, with D.'s truck in the distance.

Here's a neighbor, also snowed in, who had walked over to see how badly the truck was stuck. The dog, a half-grown lab, was having the time of her life.

Yep, no one was going anywhere for awhile.

Soon we noticed yet another neighbor (with his 10-year-old daughter) who pulled behind D. on his little ATV with a plow attachment. He started to dig D. out ... and got stuck.

So they hiked to our house and warmed themselves up for a few minutes, then Don pulled together numerous shovels and they hiked back to free the ATV.

Then Don got back on the tractor and tackled the road. He spent several hours bucketing snow as best he could.

When he got most of the snow out of the way, he came back and fetched me to help tow D.'s truck out with the tractor.

Even with the combined efforts of the ATV plow and our tractor, D. was still well and truly stuck.

I climbed into the cab (D. had left the keys in the ignition) while Don attached a tow strap between the tractor and the truck.

It took several minutes of vigorous yanking before the truck broke free.

I parked the truck opposite our driveway (since beyond our driveway, the road was still drifted shut)...

...while Don continued bucketing out snow beyond where D. got stuck. Incidentally, the reason he put so much work into clearing the road is he had an obligation in a nearby town at 5 pm.

At long last, we heard a most welcome sound: the put-put-roar of a bulldozer operated by yet another neighbor, who had come to plow everyone out.

By the time this neighbor was finished, the sun was going down with a calm innocence that belied the hectic, frenzied work that went into fighting the wind-whipped snow the blessed day long.

I tried to get into the garden to take pictures, but sank up to my thighs again and again and gave up before even getting to the gate.

But at least things were calm and peaceful in our neck of prairie by sunset.

I took Lydia walking at dusk, and you'd never guess the road had been the site of an eight-hour battle.

Country living: sometimes difficult, never dull.

But you can see why it's important for neighbors to help each other out.


  1. This got me thinking of the Corb Lund song "Truck Got Stuck". Be careful, it's a real earworm.
    Thanks for the pics and story; good times to look back on ;-)
    I live in Nova Scotia now, so it's all hills; we get tons of snow but it melts and freezes in days. Used to live in Alberta, they have winters like you folk, cold, long and snowy! Can't go much of anywhere without a four-by or skidoo.
    God Bless You!

  2. Looks like our roads - except too many trees in the back ground. We have spent the last 3 days blowing, shoveling and digging. It is midway between knees and shoulder LEVEL in the pastures - all over for the horses. We blow some several hundred foot paths and roll hay out for them. We have drifts that are 6 to 10 feet due to the wind. Today, after replacing the thermostat on the tractor - in a metal shed - I headed for town to get another 96 gallons of diesel. There was a highway patrol buried just this side of the highway - he slid right off the icy gravel road. Hard enough to damage his vehicle. Main street in the town (pop. 17,000) had 2-1/2 to 3 of 5 lanes open. I waited in line 20 minutes to get fuel. On the way home it was getting dark. They were just pulling out the patrol officer. Another neighbor had 2 4 x 4 pickups, (one hooked to about a 25' gooseneck trailer), and a skid steer - all stuck in/next to his driveway. The trailer stuck out into the road a little ways. They really have a mess.(You learn to mark your driveway with tall reflectors for winters like this if you do not have any close landmarks.) We have been blowing for ourselves, a neighbor's cattle so he can feed,and then driving the tractor to town to clean out two elderly relatives. When I was coming home from town with my load a fuel the road was blocking with pillow drifts - just like your photos. The wind is currently gusting to 35. Another long day of moving snow tomorrow. I pray nothing else breaks of fails! Good luck to you. I totally understand - both the mess and the beauty! Natokadn

  3. One of the few bad things about country living!

  4. I'm guessing where you are that it isn't customary to install tall (2+ metre) reflective road delineators or pylons so you can still find the roads during winter.

    The ones I'm thinking of for you are simply durable rods with permanent reflectors on them that will break away if you hit them directly -- a good enough and cheap enough solution compared to official-looking delineators and bollards.

    Mount a multi-directional cat's eye reflector on top of each and you'd be able to find your way through with headlights as far as the nearest paved road ...

    1. My thought(looking at the pictures) is that D is stuck in the middle of the road. The pickup is level and the fence running along side marks the path. (That only fails when you can't see the fence - and that happens, too.) The snow is deep enough to high center it - been there, done that - With a lighter, but tall 4x4 on tall tires. Natokadn

    2. I think I'm simply used to more snow ...

      110 km/h on half-frozen slushy roads? Sounds perfectly normal to me! :-)

  5. I move snow with a pickup mounted Fisher snow plow that works nicely. About 30 years ago I bought a used 7 ft. snowblower that I put on my 70 hp tractor and park it in the equipment barn for the winter with the snowblower heading out. I only use it about twice a year for events like yours, but it sure is one of my best buys.--ken

  6. No more floundering through drifts for me: In keeping with the preparedness mindset, once winter starts, I add a small collapsible snow shovel, gardener's kneeling pad (for use while putting on tire chains), and a pair of snowshoes to the gear in my pickup and SUV, and keep a pair of bearpaws at the house back door to go to the barn for chores. Did some research, and found lots of used ones on eBay once I knew what I needed. They don't get a lot of use, but when you do need them they're worth their weight in gold for safety and feeling more confident about handling adverse conditions.

  7. I am originally from northern Ill. I can vividly remember 10 ft. piles of snow on the sides of the road and that drifting level with the top. They had to use a D8 Cat to open the road to the farm those times. I spent 3 days at a friends house one time, he lived on a main highway, there were 2 snow plows stuck about 1/4 mile from his house. Again it took a D8 Cat to open up that highway. Thanks for the memories.

  8. Wow! What an adventure. I spent Christmas stuck in bed with pleurisy. I know where I would have preferred to be. Blessings to you and your family for the New year

  9. Now that was a real snow fall. I got exhausted just reading about clearing the road. Good neighbors are truly a blessing.
    Montana Guy

  10. Used to live in Wisconsin growing up...Was born in the UP of Mich...Yep, I'm a Yooper by birth....Have liven in the south for the last 25 1/2 years....We get cold and sonw and ice here in the Triad of NC(but it isn't every winter and it doesn't stay for long) I do miss neighbors from Wis who were always there to help in times of need....Living here the neighbors don't ever talk to one another...Very hard sometimes...
    Love the pictures but BRR not the cold....
    Anyway....stay warm....
    Love from NC

  11. I spent Christmas at my daughter's house in North Dakota, a huge blizzard came through and things came to a halt. We watched the weather report closely so we could pick a day to come home. We elected to head home today, just as wind picked up pretty bad. My son-in-law had a heck of a time getting home from work due to the blowing snow. After watching the town loading snow into trucks to take it away, I think they need to invest in a snow blower.

  12. That's what I love about becoming an Idaho Resident. The people are so awesome when it comes to helping each other. We just bought a home in Rathdrum and got hit with all that Snow also. our Neighbor was kind enough to come over with his tractor and clear the entrance to our property where snow plows had a 4 foot berm blocking us in.I love these old fashioned values that are sadly missing in California, even in the rural conservative area we lived. Neighbors looking out for Neighbors is something God expects from us.Idaho is truly God's Country not only in its beauty but also its people.