The Blizzard of “75”

We just went through a blizzard earlier this month. I read several comments on X [Twitter] and Facebook reliving ‘the Blizzard of (fill in the year).’

The “Blizzard of 75” is most prominent in my memory. It hit Omaha and Sioux City hard, and the tiny western Iowa town of Vail where I was living at the time.

I was working the night shift (here is where Joe Friday would say “with my partner Bill Gannon) at Farmland Foods. There had been a recent layoff, and several of us from different departments were assigned to a belly table, the beginning of making bacon. It’s a task that removes the skin from the belly, trimmers cut off remnants the machine didn’t get, and the belly is moved through a machine that pumps pickle (a mixture of salt, water and certain chemicals) into it. A couple on the end of that machine hang them on racks before sending them to the smokehouse.

Thursday night, January 9, the workload was light. We finished early and decided to go to the Pla-Mor bar for some beers. Someone suggested that we get a twelve-pack and drive over forty miles away to wake up one of our co-workers who didn’t stop with us. We woke him up and he invited us in for another beer. He had been married less than a month and neither he nor his new bride were really fond of any of us. We made the right decision in leaving.

As we were getting closer to home, it began to snow. The prediction was for two inches. When the driver dropped me off there may have been an inch on the ground already. The wind began to pick up and it was howling like a wolf. The LP gas man was trying to get up the road to fill my 500-gallon LP tank, but he couldn’t make it. I was hoping we would have enough to get through the weekend. As the day progressed, the weather deteriorated. The wind got stronger, and the snow fell heavier.

Our crew was to begin work at 3:30 pm. There was no way I was going to get out of our driveway. And if I could have accomplished that, there would have been a growing drift of snow on the southside of the road that was already a few feet thick. I called in to work, hoping to leave a message that I couldn’t make it. Instead, the plant superintendent picked up the phone. I explained my situation to him, and he had the balls to tell me that “you only live nine miles away.” I told him I would try to make it. After I hung up the phone, I told my wife that if the plant called, tell whoever calls that I must be somewhere between work and home.

As the snow fell, the wind increased to between 30-50 mph across the area, snow began to blow around and reduced visibilities. All the while the temperature crashed, temperatures were in the mid-30s when the snow fell, by noon the temperature fell to 25, and by rush hour the temperature was 15. By the morning of January 11, the temperature had fallen to the single digits, only to fall further the next day. When you combine the wind and cold, wind chill values were near zero for much of the day, as Nebraska/Iowa residents walked home from stalled cars, the wind chill was at or below 0. It was miserable on January 10.  Source: Omaha TV Channel 3 – KMTV

Early in the afternoon, the liquid propane delivery truck was attempting to drive up the hill north of my house to fill the 500-gallon tank. It was drifting so badly he couldn’t make it close enough for his hose to reach and he had to give up. That evening, our electricity went out and we ran out of propane. Normally, it wouldn’t have been much of a big deal. We had a direct vent wall furnace located in the wall between the two bedrooms. A direct vent wall furnace does not need electricity to work. But there we were, my wife, our almost 1-year daughter, and me, in the dark and getting colder.

We slept best we could that night. The following morning, we received a call from my mom. Dick, my brother-in-law, was coming up to get us.

The heavy snow [approximately 12 inches] was accompanied by winds gusting as high as 80 mph which blew it into drifts as deep as 20 feet and paralyzed the region, stranding thousands of motorists and causing 15 deaths in northwestern Iowa. Source: Omaha TV Channel 3 – KMTV

We lived on top of a hill. Dick was three blocks away. But he trudges through snow drifts against the wind and arrived at our door, winded. He came in the house only for a minute to get his breath back. Then, he wrapped Sara, our daughter, in a quilt and headed out the door, down the hill through back yards. His footprints in the snow from his hike up the hill had all disappeared, covered in by the blowing snow. Terri and I followed him best we could, and appreciated the fact that the wind was behind us.

When we arrived at Dick and Carol’s house, mom, my stepfather, and half brother were already there with Dick and Carol’s oldest daughter. We sat in the kitchen by the gas oven, trying to stay warm. I don’t recall how long we had to stay in the crowded small area blocked off with blankets, but it was a storm I will never forget.

A few days later, one of my co-workers took me to an intersection two miles west of town. There, he showed me the remnants of a snow drift that had been over thirty-feet tall. Heavy equipment, including a dragline, was brought in to clear the intersection and corresponding roads.

My late brother, who lived in California, said he didn’t want to move back to Iowa because we had tornados and blizzards. “Ahem,” I would reply, “don’t you have earthquakes and fires that consume hundreds of square miles at a time?” Joe insisted that I was more vulnerable to an earthquake than him because I lived near the New Madrid Fault Line. “It’s right there in Missouri!” He would argue. Well, yeah. It’s in Missouri, but it’s in southeast Missouri and runs southwest into Arkansas and Oklahoma. I attempted to persuade him that he was more a target of a tornado where he lived (Temecula, CA) than I was susceptible to an earthquake in central Iowa.

Anyway, Joe left Iowa before the Blizzard of ’75 and really never experienced living through a blizzard. Lately, I discovered that a blizzard in rural Iowa is more threatening than one I lived through in the city.

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