More winter storm memories


Little Creek during the last few hours of winter. The stream is fed by dozens of springs along the valley on Chris Hardie’s farm. (Chris Hardie photo)

Chris Hardie, Contributer

Can anyone honestly say they are really surprised that Old Man Winter isn’t quite done?

As of this writing on the morning of April 17, there are 14 inches of snow outside driven by a strong northwest wind and we’ve been without power for several hours. Laptop is on battery power.

That’s a Wisconsin spring for you, where in the span of a few days you can go from applying sunscreen while digging flower beds with temperatures in the upper 80s to wearing mittens while digging out snow with temperatures in the 30s. I guess SPF stands for Snow Plowing Fun.

That’s why I always wait until we’re well into May before I take the plow off my truck and the winter coat stays well within reach. Yes, it does sometimes pay to procrastinate.

Recently I wrote about a late spring storm that ended up with a late-night visit to my grandparents for shelter. That story struck a chord with two readers who have similar stories.

Greg Koelker of Stoddard said he got stuck in his grandparents driveway about a half-mile from their house on a winter night in 1971.

Koelker said he was heading home on Far Nuf Road (yes, that’s the real name of the road in rural Cassville) after some celebrating at the Far Nuf tavern. It was snowing and as he passed his grandparent’s driveway, he decided it would be a good place for a bathroom pit spot.

Koelker backed his 1962 Chevy into the driveway. After he accomplished his task, the rear tires skidded and the car slid sideways over the edge of the road next to a 10-foot drop.

Like my brother and I in 1979, Koelker abandoned his car and hiked to his grandparent’s house where he pounded on the door. He spent the night and the next morning his father arrived about the same time as the plow truck. Koelker – along with his father, grandfather and uncle – shoveled the snow and the car was pulled out by the truck.

“I caught HE double-hockey sticks at home,” Koelker recalled. But worse was his grandfather was hurting after the shoveling and later that month was discovered to have had broken bones in his shoulder and chest “most likely attributed to shoveling,” Koelker said, along with a diagnosis of bone cancer.

Similar to my grandmother – who died a few months later after our snowed-in night – Koelker said his grandfather did not last long after. He called it “an event in my life that left a scar on my memories.”

Doug Bakken of Onalaska remembered the same snowstorm that I wrote about on March 23 and 24 of 1979. Bakken said my story hit him “right between the eyes like a snowball I never saw coming.”

Bakken lived in Rochester, MN at the time and was heading to Coon Valley, WI on that Friday night for his grandmother’s visitation. She had died three days prior on her 85th birthday.

Bakken said the snow hampered their travels and they made it as far as his parent’s house in Onalaska, but missed the visitation. After the snow was cleared Saturday morning, they did make it to the funeral in Chaseburg.

“This snowstorm and these dates live on in our family,” Bakken said. “Not only did my grandmother die on her birthday, but one year later we gave birth to our daughter on March 20, 1980. Then, 29 years later our son and daughter-in-law gave birth to our granddaughter on March 20, 2009.”

“We both experienced that major spring snowstorm,” Bakken told me. “Your grandmother saw it, mine just missed and we both saw our grandmothers leave this earth that same year. Thanks so much for sharing this story.”

It’s much more fun to uncover memories than it is shoveling snow.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].