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winter

Bill Sniffin: Terror Tales of Winter Driving on Wyoming’s Snow-Packed Roads

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2980

By Bill Sniffin

The Summit, Elk Mountain, and The Sisters on Interstate 80. Laramie Peak on Interstate 25. Separation Flats north of Rawlins. South Pass southwest of Lander. Antelope Flats north of Jackson. The list goes on and on.

These are just a few of the places where anxious people drive during Wyoming’s often-horrible winter weather.

In the wake of what has been called The Super Storm (since it started in parts of Wyoming on the night of the Super Bowl) blanketed most of Wyoming and closed half of its roads, traveling has been treacherous.

Scary moment of pileup in Wyoming caught on live feed

No details sent with, just that it was team drivers in a Wyoming pileup..no word on how the driver is doing yet..anyone know them? Turn Volume up

Posted by Twisted Truckers on Monday, February 3, 2020

Following are some winter driving stories that I wanted to share:

Once we were driving on black ice on Interstate 25 south of Wheatland when we were passed by a one-ton pickup pulling a big horse trailer.  In all my travels, the fastest drivers in the country (maybe in the world) are Wyoming folks driving pickups pulling horse trailers. Man, they really skedaddle down the road.  Do not worry about passing one – it is impossible to keep up with them.

On this day, though, we went over a hill and there was that same pickup and its trailer jack-knifed in the center median. The people were okay and someone had already stopped. My assumption was the driver might have needed to change his pants after that hair-raising experience.

As a father of three daughters, I really enjoyed the following story by Julia Stuble of Lander, who shared with me a winter driving trip she experienced some years ago:

“I was a brand-spanking new journalist at the Pinedale Roundup and was sent to a scintillating meeting in Marbleton. A storm was brewing.

“I was in my trusty pickup with my border collie. By the time the meeting had ended, the roads were blanketed with feet of new snow and visibility was zero.

“I tried to get through to Pinedale the north way, but couldn’t even see the mile markers on the side of the road and had no clue if I was on a road. Same for the southern route across to Sand Draw.

“I turned around back to Marbleton / Big Piney. It was a boom year, so there were no motel rooms available. None of the motels even had staff around. Envelopes with room keys were taped to the doors with the names of the future—all male— occupants. I considered taking one of these keys and stealing a room, but that seemed cruel to the rig workers and maybe a little risky. I knew no one.

“So I zipped the dog into my down vest, bought candy at a gas station (fatty foods would keep us warm, I figured) and crawled into the sleeping bag my Dad insisted be kept in the truck. We spent a cramped night, occasionally clearing away the exhaust pipe to run the heater. Early in the morning, with the rig workers headed out to Jonah, there would finally be tracks to follow down the highway, so we crept home to Pinedale.

“It took hours, but remains one of those hallmark moments of my early 20s, when I figured out I could survive most anything as long as I had the dog, a truck, a sleeping bag, and gas station junk food.”

Julia suggests we all remember that great advice from her dear old dad, which is good for all of us driving these Wyoming roads in winter.

Long-time Wyoming journalist and broadcaster, Bob Bonnar of Newcastle, writes:

“I once slid slowly off the highway in the middle of a snowstorm on the Big Horn Mountains above the Medicine Wheel on my way home from the final regular season football game in Lovell. I was by myself, but fortunately the rest of the Newcastle coaching staff came along. They had a couple of hefty linemen with them. The boys pushed me out and I made it down the mountain.

“I never ended up spending the night in the car- which is lucky for the guy who wears shorts 365 days out of the year- but that was a time I sure thought I would get a chance to enjoy the igloo experience!

“Now that I’m older and wiser – and still wearing short pants – if I sniff a bad one coming, I pull over and get a room.”

Cheyenne Attorney Darin Smith recalls a harrowing experience on Interstate 80: “One January night I left my parents house in Rock Springs headed back to UW. As I was turning onto the Interstate I saw this hitchhiker freezing and clearly hoping for a ride.

“I felt compassion for him and picked him up. He had been laid off and was going to Denver to find work. He had two little kids and a wife back home in Rock Springs. They had run nearly out of food and rent money.

The weather was horrid just east of Arlington and we got in a bad accident with a flatbed semi. My truck was totaled. I walked away unscathed. The hitchhiker was hospitalized and laid up for a month.

“The silver lining was that my wonderful mother, Margie Smith, was able to reach out to this man’s family and meet their needs for food and rent until they got back on their feet. She was like the Mother Theresa of Rock Springs!”  

It will be interesting to hear the amazing and horrible stories of folks driving around Wyoming in February 2020 on these snow-covered roads.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Just how wintry is it? Some of Wyoming’s coldest stories

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2609

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

An old joke about the weather:

         “My feet are cold.”

         “Well, all you have to do is go to bed and have a brick at you feet.”

         “I tried that.”

         “Did you get the brick hot?”

         “Get it hot? It took all night just to get it warm.”

As I write this, it is 1 degree out and fog has enshrouded our town. It is pretty darned nippy out there. But it has not been nearly as bad as it could be or has been here in Wyoming.

Since getting dumped on over the Thanksgiving holiday, much of Wyoming has shivered and we all took a little consolation over having a white Christmas.

This got me thinking about what were the coldest temperatures in Wyoming’s recorded history?  Many folks sent me anecdotal stories, which I will mix here with a few facts.

Personally, I recall the winter of 1978-79. Again, here in Lander, the entire month of January was below zero, according to local radio legend Joe Kenney. Amazingly dangerous and bitter conditions.

What is the official coldest temperature ever? Historian Phil Roberts of Laramie says: “I think the record is still -66 recorded Feb. 9, 1933, at Moran. I heard the temperature was actually colder, but the thermometers didn’t have the capacity to register a lower reading!”

The late Clay James, who operated Jackson Lake Lodge at Moran for decades, recalls -54 one cold winter day in the mid-1970s. “Thankfully we woke up as the power went off.  We called all of our employees to turn on the faucets and start the fireplaces.  The power was off for several days.  Never have I been so cold,” he recalled.   

Former Cheyenne, Torrington and Sundance publisher Mike Lindsey recalled the blizzard of 1949, which history generally considers the worst ever in the state.   

“Up in Sundance, cattle froze standing up. Wind blew drifts into buildings through keyholes in doors. Machinery would not start. Kids who stuck their tongues to the door handle did not get thawed until their junior year!” Not sure about that last fact, which was reminiscent of the famous scene from the movie A Christmas Story.

Jim Smail of Lander recalled snowmobiling with a group that included Charlton Heston at Togwotee Lodge in 1964 where the mercury dipped to -64.  No, they did not go snowmachining that day.

Former Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau of Gillette recalls playing Laramie in football when the wind chill was -65. 

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody recalls: “It was New Year’s weekend of 1979 when Jackson Hole went -60. Friends from Meeteetse had gone to ski there but came back with horror stories of busted pipes, bone-cold motels, blackouts, everything closed, no skiing opportunity at all. Nothing fun except sharing beds for warmth and drinking a lot. Consolation prize I suppose. Was there a spike in babies born in September-October?”

Jody Coleman of Riverton says about that same ski trip: “I was in Jackson that New Years of 1979. The power was off and we woke up at the Antler motel with the walls inside covered with frost. We went outside and started our pickup every hour. The next day we spent the day jump-starting other people’s cars. My mom bought me a ski suit. But urged me to move home to California.”

The late Ken Martinsen of Lander was also in Jackson on that cold holiday. He recalled people going to convenience stores and buying charcoal grill packs, which they would put under the engines of their pickups and SUVs and set them afire to thaw out the engines.

 Worland can get pretty cold. Former resident Debbie Hammons recalled: “That super-duper cold winter of 1978-79 was when the weather was sub-zero.  I moved home to Wyoming in September 1978.  Best New Year’s Eve ever was Jan. 1, 1979.  All the young singles in town packed into the Three Bears Bar downtown and kept their cars running into the New Year. We knew if we shut off our vehicles, we might not be able to start them again until March!”

When Pat Schmidt was publisher of The Lovell Chronicle, folks there arranged a hay bale mission to rescue the poor wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. “The BLM and others organized a hay drop from a helicopter to bands of horses stuck on mountain ridges. I recall taking a picture with one hand as I was dropping a bale with the other. The effort only compounded the problems, we learned later, as the horses’ digestive systems were not used to the protein in the hay. Their systems compacted, causing death. Only 75 survived.”

These are some of my favorite “how cold is it” stories. What about yours?

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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