Friday, March 15, 2013

Winter of 1978

We all have certain dates melded into our memories that when that date arises or makes it way back via the following calendar year, we spin dizzily back down that memory lane impacted with sights, sound, smells and vision recalls that are so strong they rock the body or at least cause a pause in what you are doing at the moment. Remember those?

The year of 1978 found the three of us in Big Piney, Wyoming. Big Piney is in the southwest corner of the wonderful bitter cold winters of Wyoming. It remains there through the short summers that Wyoming has too. As usual in these small western towns, the bars far outnumber the restaurants and the church brings itself into third place.

Our summer had consisted of living at the base of a mountain in Golden Colorado beside a river watching the hang gliders run to the edge of that cliff and launch themselves into the air where we had a front row seat from where our camper was parked below them. Books and lazy summer days. What a combination.

Winter was bearing down on us and we knew we would have to find jobs and prepare for what the Rockies shoved at us. We contacted Floyd, the supervisor for an exploration company in Denver and the husband was hired back as a surveyor. We hitched up that trailer to the big white Scottsdale pickup and headed to Alpine Junction.

Alpine Junction is just that. A junction in the road south of Jackson Hole and at the mouth of the Snake River. One right turn and you would be heading for Idaho Falls and out of the state of Wyoming.

The library was the small box just inside the door of the small grocery store. It was a read and trade type of operation. No librarian nor check out system. You bought some, left some and took some. It worked out really well. This was before the days of people with guns and face stockings that were intend on robbing the cash register person. It was called an honor system in those days. I'm not sure it would work today.

We stayed in Alpine Junction until mid fall. It was time to move. To follow a rig and that's how we ended up in Big Piney, or more commonly known in those parts as "The Ice Box of The Nation".

Our little travel trailer was 23 ft long and constructed in Arkansas. What did Arkansas know about building a travel trailer to survive in 50 below zero temps? Not much.

The winter of '78 found us very cold in that trailer. The water pipes were made of PVC. Many nights we would wake to find water fountains shooting straight up through the vents in the floors or the pipes frozen solid and ourselves laying on the ground beneath that trailor trying to thaw them out. This wasn't just a task for the man of the house. He was usually on a rig trying to make a dollar to support us. I too worked. The local diner was owned by the Sheriffs wife Grace. Every morning the walls were bursting with the oil field workers in for a hot breakfast and to have their thermos filled with hot coffee. We were a busy crew and a busy town. The boom was on.

Livinng in a boom town has it's own set of stories and drama. A tremendous amount of people invade a once quiet, small town where all the locals were as close to a family unit as you could get.

BOOM! People from all over the USA descend upon them like a swarm of locust. People with different values and moral upbringings and now cavorting with your children who were once protected by any outside influences. The party was on.

We aren't going to get into the party part of this stay. That would be a whole 'nuther blog.

The little travel trailer from Arkansas had to go. It was not a shelter from the elements. We were wearing the elements and that wasn't going to help us survive one of the coldest winters on record in Wyoming. We exchanged that trailer for one built for the frigid weather  that Wyoming can dish out. Special pipes that expanded with the cold, extra insulation in the walls and a heavy duty furnace to heat the place requiring propane tanks. The propane tanks still had to be bought in one by one to warm them up. Propane jells in extremely cold temperatures and it was getting to 60 below zero at night.

Supplies were needed. A blizzard had been forecast. It was a race to beat the blizzard and another round of temperatures the like I had never encountered.

Loading up April, the ex hooker and her child (the ex hooker story may follow in another post at another time) we headed for Pinedale.

Pinedale, another small town about 20 miles away had a little bigger selection of stores. Not by many did it beat Big Piney, but it  did have a hardware store and that's where I needed to shop.

The temperatures were dropping. April, Rachel and baby were in the cab of the truck with me. The hardware store was out of the city limits, off the main road. A winding snow packed road lead up  the mountain to it's front doors. I suppose we made it to that store, closing time, late and the temperatures plummeting. The store had already been shut down due to the bad weather coming in.

We headed back. The truck slid off that mountain road. Terror was now the main emotion and you could see it on Rachel's face and mine. We knew we were in trouble. Dusk had dimmed down the glare of all that snow surrounding us. The temperatures were noticeably worse now. What to do? What to do?

"Come on. Let's walk!" I was formulating an idea but I didn't know if it was possible but I did know it was our only chance.

We walked down that snow packed road. April took a hard spill and banged her head. I should have paid more attention to her but I was too frightened. She was hauled to her feet and we kept moving.

At the next turn, there was a turn out space...a leveled space that was used as a mini parking lot for the huge orange snow plows that were used to clear the roads. I remembered passing them on the way up.

"Come on, hurry!" and with those instructions hurled over my shoulder to my little group of followers, I swung open the door and climbed into the driver's seat.

Rachel wasn't going for this. As she hoisted April and her baby aboard, she crawled in and said "We can't do this. We will be put in jail!"  Rachel, her past dictating the rules she had to follow there in Deadwood, S.D. to assure she didn't go to jail was ever vigilant of avoiding jail time.

"Rachel, think about it. It's gonna be warmer in jail then it's gonna be out on this mountain tonight!"

Starting this behemoth wasn't the issue. Getting that 12 foot blade lifted off the ground so I wouldn't be plowing my way to town was. With two screamng kids, and Rachel babbling about jail, my concentration on all the strange levers was zeroed in on one thing.

Finally! The blade is up and this thing is moving. We rolled into Pinedale slowly and passing through town bought lots of looks from the locals. Seldom does the big blade carry two women and two children.

I parked that thing in front of the Sheriff's office, climbed down and went in to confess while Rachel hid in the cab with the kids.

I don't remember much more of that afternoon. I know someone was sent to pull my truck back up on the road and I know we eventually made it back to Big Piney and I do remember the temperatures. That was the night it hit 60 below zero and that was without the wind chill factor.

Rachel declined any more trips with me that winter.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating story. You really should think about a write so well.

    Looking forward to hearing the ex-hooker story.


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