The Blizzard A.K.A. The Toyota
I was sitting with my neighbor Wayne and he started to tell me a story of bad weather and frustration. Either of these things does not need the other. Sometimes out on a windswept Interstate highway the two meet in bone chilling deadly cold and zero visibility. The outcome is at best - not good.
Wayne’s son Lonnie was working some 400 miles away in Minneapolis. He called to tell the old man that he was coming home for the holidays. Wayne told him to stay put. The weather was bad and it was going to get a whole lot worse as the day went on. Young Lonnie does not let the weather interfere with his life. It is only an invitation to adventure. With age you learn it is also an invitation to mahem, pandemonium and misery. Wayne knew this. Lonnie did not. So off he went, heading for home with his buddy.
Back then there were 4 wheel drive pickups but that’s basically where it ended. AMC introduced the full time all-wheel drive Eagle. As cool as they were, there were expensive and brought to you by the maker of the Gremlin, the Pacer and the Matador. With a pedigree like that, they were not a ride you wanted in your stable. No, what we are talking about here is your standard one wheel drive Chevy.
As the day went on Wayne got a report they were in Fargo which is about half way. Lonnie reported the roads were bad. He had not entered the mêlée yet. Today we have a channel on TV that shows the weather radar 24/7. Moisture shows up as green, freezing rain shows up as light blue and snow shows as white. These patches are laid on a map and the green or white covers the underlying map. A couple of years ago during a particullary nasty storm I turned to that channel and thought something was wrong. The screen was white. No map. As I mentioned the moisture covers the map so the whole state was embroiled in a giant snow storm. The entire screen was white. Wayne was talking about one of those days.
Later that day Wayne got the call from town of Steele, just 40 miles from home, the Chevy had thrown in the towel. “Dad, can you come and get me?” Lonnie asked. He was told to stay put so he knew his dad wouldn’t be thrilled to see him. Wayne retorted to me, “I told that dummy not to go and now I am on a darn rescue mission."
“At that time I had a 1 ton work truck with a service box full of tools so I headed out. First thing I ran into was the gates were down on the Interstate and they were not letting cars on to the highway.” Being a local boy, Wayne knew his way around the blockade and soon he was taking the old highway to Steele. The weather was atrocious but the road is flat and straight. In North Dakota, if a roadway is elevated, the wind will keep it clear. The only thing to interfere with that was trees. Did I mention it’s North Dakota? We don’t have many trees. Grass is the order of the day.
Well Wayne made it out to the gas station in Steele and retrieved his boys. The Chevy was parked next to the building. It would be buried in snow by morning. Upon leaving, a jewelry salesman in a station wagon approached them and asked if he good tag along behind. Wayne approved. They decided to see if they could get on the Interstate at Steele. The Interstate was wider and well-traveled. With any luck a plow may have gone down the road a few hours before. No problem. They were not using the gates in Steele. Off the caravan headed, three in the pickup and one in the wagon. You must remember: the only people that had 4 door pickups at that time were the highway department and the prisons.
Visibility was horrible. You couldn’t see in front of the vehicle. You could barely see the hood of the pickup. So they creped along at 20 miles an hour, well that is until they came across the Toyota.
Normally when you abandon a truck on the interstate it is customary to pull it off the road. Well, in a blizzard, this rule gets broken. In a blizzard it is more of a guideline than a rule. WHAM! They ram into the back of a Toyota pick-up in the middle of the driving lane. “Whoa, what the heck,” Wayne exclaimed. WHAM! Did I mention the jewelry salesman in the station wagon? Well he piled right into Wayne and the boys.
The beautiful thing about a 1 ton service truck is that it has a 1 ton service bumper on the back. You can’t hurt it. The wagon on the other hand was missing more than a few front teeth. But it was running and no radiator fluid was draining out of it. If the fan was smashed, who cared! A fan in winter in North Dakota is dead weight. The salesman backed up the wagon and got out to survey the damage. He left the wagon running and unknowingly locked the door with the keys in the ignition. Rule One of the North: Once you decide to drive on a National Interstate Highway that is officially closed due to the weather, I assure you, that is only the beginning of what troubles are in store for you that day.
With everyone out of their vehicles it was time to survey the damage. Did I mention that it is usually customary to pull off the road when you stop? With that in mind the four of them looked over the Toyota. It had been pushed cockeyed into the passing lane. The front end of the Toyota was smashed. Well, they didn’t do that but obviously the Toyota had hit something it could not see. It had a topper on the box that was crushed. The bumper of the service truck had jumped the bumper of the Toyota and crushed the lift gate. Then it fell down between the body and the bumper so it appeared they were locked in a mating embrace.
When four guys look over an accident they all don’t fit on the same side of the vehicle. So when the sound of a big vehicle was heard, two of them had just enough time to scramble out of the way. They witnessed an 18 wheeler bearing down on both them and his horn. He raced toward this cockeyed mess in the driving lane.
The semi misses the wagon and barely misses the service truck. BAM! It smacks into the left side of the Toyota. With a colossal jerk the service truck gets pulled ahead and the Toyota gets smacked into the right shoulder. “Holy (Crap), everyone off the road!” yells Wayne. The semi does not even stop. Is everyone okay? Everyone spoke up and new safety protocols were set in place. No standing in the driving lane. No standing in the passing lane. This was far too late but fortunately before any fatalities. It is not uncommon to have fatalities of drivers milling around vehicles during a low visibility event. The most heinous event is a pedestrian standing between two vehicles when the rear vehicle gets hit from behind by the next victim coming onto the scene. Well now it was evident the two vehicles were really hooked together.
Next on the scene was a cautious 18 wheeler pilot. He slowly came along side and asked if everything is okay. The response was affirmative but Wayne asked the driver if he might lend a hand with his truck. “Would you mind pulling our vehicle out of the ditch?” Wayne asked. The driver says, “Knock yourself out but I’m not getting out of the truck.” Not a problem says the crew. He pulls ahead then backs up to the Toyota. Without getting out of his truck the guys attach a chain to his trailer and onto the bumper of the Toyota. With instructions from Lonnie he was asked to pull ahead. And so he did. Well the first thing to move was neither the Toyota nor the service truck. It was the bumper on the trailer. It bent straight back and started to tear off the trailer. But before it did, the bumper on the Toyota gave way and flew into the ditch. Wayne removed the chain and Lonnie went up to the cab of the truck. The driver asked, “How ‘d we do?” Without hesitation Lonnie said, “Great! Thanks a lot!” With a grin you can only see when you have truly helped someone in need, that teamster headed west.
As the truck drove off Lonnie came back and Wayne asked,”Whadya tell him?” Lonnie responded with a big grin, “I thanked him for his help.” Rule Two of the North – get out and survey the situation with your own eyeballs before doing anything to help. I’ve seen people asking to jump start their car off my battery holding two pieces of wire that were insufficient to power a flash light. I’ve seen people asking for a tow holding an extension cord. Although desperate times require desperate measures, some people just start out desperate!
“Damn its cold out here! Lets hop in the wagon and warm up,” said Lonnie. So they all scampered off to the the wagon to discover the running car was locked. Their only ride as idling but no one could hop in to enjoy the warm benefits. Wayne said, ”We need a coat hanger to get this thing open.” Lonnie walked over to the Toyota and broke off the antennae. It worked great. Into the warm wagon everyone went. “Oh this feels good” someone said. A ”Family Truckster” with a big V-8 really puts out heat, even at idle. Not like the plethora of puny four cylinders running around today. Those beasts made heat. If Han Solo would have had a Mercury Wagon in the first Star Wars movie he wouldn’t of had to stuff Luke into that stinky Tauntaun. They could have even stuffed the Tauntaun into the wagon and saved it.
While warming up, Wayne had an idea. We’ll back up the service truck with the Toyota then drive off the road. When the Toyota goes over the edge, it will fall off into the ditch separating the bumpers. Genius! Now we all know how those genius ideas can work out – not so well. But it was a great idea. It had merit. What do we have to loose. As he pushed the Toyota over the prepuce the bumbers fused together and you knew they were not coming apart. With all ideas exhausted the crew scrambled into the station wagon and it crawled home with its four occupants.
This story could end here but we got a service truck that belongs to Wayne’s employer to recover. They might not be so happy their service truck was left on the Interstate. Early the next morning Wayne and Lonnie headed out to the site to survey the situation. One could only guess what collided into the vehicles during the night. This time they were prepared. They brought a cutting torch. As they arrived on scene all was as it was left. The Toyota: Front bumper – gone. Front end – smashed. Left side cab – smashed. Aerial – gone. Topper- smashed. The service truck: locked on the back in mating position. The next thing you knew was the torch was lit and the frame of the Toyota was cut in two. Free at last, Free at last, Free at last. (MLK)
Wayne hopped into the service truck and Lonnie followed in the car. The best thing about driving down the Interstate after a blizzard is you get to see all the carnage from the day or days before. Once I came across a drift that was 30 feet high and on the very top was a giant snow plow standing on its tail. It had blasted up the drift until it was vertical and stopped. I can’t imagine how the driver felt particularly when he had to jump from the cab into a snowbank holding up his truck. Isn’t that when the truck tips over on Wile E Coyote.
Several miles down the road they came upon a highway patrolman sitting next to an abandoned car with the back smashed in. They stopped and talked to the officer. He told them the car was stopped on the highway when a Toyota pickup truck hit them from behind. "The guy in the pickup truck didn't even own it. It belonged to his sister. The Toyota wouldn’t start so they left it behind and proceeded in the car. The car made it to here when it ran out of gas because the fuel take was ruptured in the accident. Highway patrol picked them all up and took them to Bismarck. As we speak they are on their way out here to pick up their cars,” he said.
Wayne, knowing there was no point to giving up his story here said, “Well I’m glad no one was hurt. Lonnie, let’s get going……”
Later that day the brother of the owner of the Toyota arrived at the truck.
How did he put together what he was looking at? What was he thinking? I for one would like to know.