25 Stories About Work – Plains Blizzard

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

Somewhere in Iowa, the ’90s…

I was an auditor for a long since merged together utility. We used to fly in and out every week, leaving Sunday night (in your suit, in case your luggage was lost by the airlines) and leaving the office at 5pm Friday and driving to an airport 3 hours away to arrive home about 10pm Friday. We did this every week for the “busy season” which lasted about 3 months or so.

For Thanksgiving weekend one time we left on a Wednesday. A giant storm was coming up over the plains as we drove across Iowa into Nebraska where the airport was for flights into Chicago. At the time we didn’t really have cold weather gear, we just had long wool coats and leather gloves to go over our suits. We didn’t even have boots, just work shoes.

We stopped at a gas station and the wind was really whipping across the plains. When I got out to pump gas I was almost knocked flat on my back. While shivering in the car after pumping gas I told them we ought to turn back and just give up for the night and stay in Iowa.

I was the lowest ranking guy so I was overruled. There were obvious reasons why everyone wanted to get home for Thanksgiving and away from work in Iowa.

As we started driving, I could see in my rear view mirror that they were closing the interstate behind us. There was a single car behind us and then there was no one on the road.

Up ahead there was a snowplow on the interstate. He was carving out a path through the snow on the right side of the road and I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Then I realized that he was really just trying to make the right yellow painted line of the highway visible. They did this because otherwise it was just an infinite white flat sheet on the plains and you could not see at all where the road began and the fields ended. It was just a flat view of a white-out.

While we drove blindly along the interstate the car behind us followed, slowly. He was looking at our rear lights. He was following us to stay on the highway. If we slowed down to 20 mph he did the same. We cursed him for being a wuss and using us as an informal guiding light.

The weather got even worse. At one point we could barely see beyond the hood of the car. All around us were people that were stuck in the ditch but had been rescued previously and left their vehicles behind for a break in the weather, whenever that occurred.

As we neared the airport, the weather was better in that we could see several car lengths ahead and we finally made it into the Omaha airport. Our flight was delayed a bit and we had a few drinks at the Omaha airport bar. As we put our luggage through the scanner I think I even made some sort of dumb joke about a weapon or something and my manager gave me a baleful glare. We didn’t come all this way to get held up for saying something stupid. This was a long time ago, long before 9/11, and no one gave airport security a second thought.

Finally we all arrived home in Chicago for Thanksgiving. It was incredibly stupid to drive across a featureless plain in whiteout conditions without winter clothing just to get home for Thanksgiving. Plus, we were lucky that the flight wasn’t canceled anyways. But this was in the days before “telecommuting” or “working from home” and we barely even had computers – if you wanted to get work done, it was on site, and our on-site was in the middle of Iowa. Consultants / accountants probably wouldn’t even travel Thanksgiving week – they would just work from home a couple days and call it done.

Nowadays I would never let someone push me into doing something as stupid as driving across Iowa in those conditions. Live and learn.

Cross posted at LITGM

10 thoughts on “25 Stories About Work – Plains Blizzard”

  1. Road warriors. One finds them in 18 wheelers, whose drivers do 100K miles per year, having to take on and conquer whatever would keep them from making pick ups and deliveries. Traveling sales means miles, too, with perhaps a little more flexibility in confronting random obstacles such as weather and traffic and revenue agents operating under the guise of public safety. Field service tech/engineers see a variety of countryside while solving problems for a huge spectrum of production facilities, from small one family shops in a backyard garage deep in rural farm country to several city block sized factories in the center of a major city. (I have retired from full time work to do this on a part time basis.) But I’d not thought of accountants as among this group of adventurers…

    Looking forward to reading your stories, Carl.

  2. Good story, Carl.

    Worst driving conditions I’ve ever faced, oddly enough, were on State Road 37 driving north from Bloomington Indiana to Indianapolis. I was driving to see Joan Jett at the Vogue in Indianapolis. The worst of the storm blew in very quickly, after I was at least halfway there, and I decided it was better to press on rather than turn around. I was driving very slowly, in part to make sure I didn’t lose track of where the road actually was, and after a while I was the only vehicle in sight in either direction. The wind was very strong, and weirdly enough, the street signs and even the highway signs were covered with snow and ice and unreadable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that phenomenon occur before or since. This is before GPS, cell phones, computerized directions, etc. I sort of navigated to the club by instinct. It was a small crowd but a terrific show. When it was over, the skies were completely clear and everything was covered with snow, but nothing was being added to the existing mess.

  3. The best driving conditions I’ve ever had saw us belting along the edge of a dried lake in South Australia, the sky pure blue, the sun beating down, the A/C on full, and a tape of Rossini overtures belting out. Very heaven.

  4. I came home from Christmas in So Cal, in one of the years that we lived in Utah. We spent the night in Los Vegas, where the news had it that a storm was rolling in, due to hit in the next 12-18 hours. We got up at 4 AM, and headed north on IH15, and everything was OK – wet and overcast and dreary, with a flurry of wet snowflakes as we topped the pass between each valley that the IH 15 followed. Got as far as (IIRC, Scipio) and came down the hill above that little town, and that’s when it turned very, very wintery. There was a fair amount of traffic on the road, though – but I gassed up at Scipio and got back on the highway before they made any effort to close it. By the time we got to Point of the Mountain, it was near to white-out. I could see the tracks in the snow just in front of my hood, the tail lights on the car ahead and the headlights on the car behind. Some guy in a tiny red compact, with a ski rack on top, who pulled over to the right lane verging on the shoulder and crawled along at about 20MPH. They marked the edge of road in Utah with slender poles, about three or four feet long, with a bit of reflective paint on the tips … and about a whole line of cars behind that little red compact hugged that row of little poles as if they were our hope – if not of heaven – of getting where we were going. I don’t know how many cars passed us in that time, but I did see some of the later on, off the road in the median. I was quite certain we would wind up there, eventually – but at least we had winter clothes, blankets and food. At least, when we got into Provo, they were plowing and sanding the highway. Eventually, we did get stuck in deep snow, turning into the street that we lived on then, but my daughter got out and pushed on the rear bumper. I swear, I did not take my hands off that wheel for the three hours that it took to get from Scipio to North Ogden.

  5. Worst winter driving I’ve experienced was in the Fall, driving from Illinois to Utah, when we got caught by a blizzard between Cheyenne and Laramie. Wyoming is windy, the snow drifts, and it gets cold. I was staring through a half dollar size spot in the window, which was all we could keep frost free, while following a truck’s tail lights and trying to stay on the road. Come the first exit in Laramie, we exited and found a Motel. Bad weather in Wyoming is not to be taken lightly.

  6. We were once edging forward through a snowstorm in the Central Highlands when a police Land Rover crawled past. It’s load was obviously the kit they were about to use to mark the road as closed, so we took the hint and turned back. Even getting home was a bit of a trial. Pity: the West Coast apparently had a weekend bathed in sunshine. Sunny but inaccessible.

  7. A friend of mine bought a country cottage in the Borders. He explained that he would weekend there. He further explained that if winter snow blocked Soutra, the pass on the main road north to Edinburgh, he’d be unable to guarantee getting to work before noon. He was thus exempted from lecturing on Mondays in winter. Ah, the academic life!

  8. New Year’s eve 1978. I and my girlfriend at the time had been at the wedding in Childress, TX of my best friend from high school. I woke up that morning and looked out the motel room window and saw there was already over an inch of ice on the ground and ice/snow were coming down hard. Visibility was less than 50 feet and it took over 8 hours to make it to Dallas. The wipers and defroster could not keep up and I went through 3 cans of de-icer. We went off the road several times. Until we got out of the storm about 30 miles north of Dallas, we averaged about 10-15 mph.

  9. I wonder how many people in the Midwest have frozen to death driving in a blizzard – then, once stuck, get out of their cars looking for help

    I worked for Cessna in Wichita for all of 6 months. We had a blizzard and I volunteered to take a couple of older women home – they were afraid to drive.

    I was struck by 2 things – one – they complimented me on my driving – they thought CA was all palm trees and beach – had to tell them about our Sierra storms.

    Ever hear of the Donner Party?

    second – I couldn’t get over how dumb people drove back there in the snow – tail gating me – and too fast

    We saw 3-4 accidents that eventing

  10. Bill, every year the worst spate of snow-and-ice-caused accidents in South Ogden happened just around the time of the first serious winter storm. It seemed that people had forgotten their winter driving skilz over the summer, and it took the first hard freeze and heavy snowstorm to remind them that – oh, yeah, you had to start slowing down about half a block away from that traffic light, and do NOTHING suddenly …

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