Just how cold was it?

Country Roads

The recent cold snap generated a lot of “I remember when it was so cold…” comments. Most of us who have been around Iowa for a while can remember periods of sub-zero temperatures and how we coped with them.

My first few years were spent in Kossuth and Winnebago counties up on the Minnesota border. In fact, the year I was three-years-old we lived on the south side of a gravel road that was the Iowa-Minnesota state line. I am accustomed to Iowa’s cold winters.

As a kid you kind of take winter’s wrath in stride. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I became whiney about winter.

I lived in the northern half of Iowa until I was 40-years-old. Then we moved to Creston in southwest Iowa and I discovered that the difference in latitude really does make a difference.

While Southwest Iowa experiences a full range of winter weather the season is perhaps a little more bearable there.

For a time in Creston our family had four vehicles – one each for our children and my wife and an old pick-up truck for me. With only a single-car garage the kids’ cars were parked outside as was my pick-up.

To ensure the truck would start in the morning, on below zero nights I took the truck for a late night spin until the engine was heated thoroughly. I recall the first 10 minutes or so of those rides as being miserably cold. By the time I returned home the pickup’s heater was throwing out a nice stream of hot air. Unfortunately at 6 a.m. the next morning I had to start over again but my commute to work was only one mile. At least the truck started.

Subsequently I have enjoyed the luxury of a larger garage. Though my garage is unheated, the first 10 minutes of my morning rides are not as miserable as in the past.

Recalling seven decades of Iowa winters, I think the coldest I have ever been was late in 1961. At the time we lived on a farm through which a creek meandered. A friend across the road was an avid fur-trapper and he convinced me I should run a trap line.

He sold me some used traps and I staked them out along the creek. Every morning before school I walked the line looking for captured muskrats. Alas, my trapping skills were worse than my hunting skills.

Each day I had to cross the creek to get back to our house which was at least 100 yards up a steep hill. On this frigid day I stepped carefully onto the ice and began to cross. Mid-stream the ice broke and I fell on my butt in the frigid water.

Fortunately the creek was shallow; I was soaked nearly up to my arm pits. Getting up and out of the creek was more difficult than I had anticipated but I did so and headed up the hill. At the top of the hill I had to climb over a woven wire fence topped by three strands of barbed wire.

Even as a husky young teenager I had no difficulty climbing over that fence when I was warm and dry. Several layers of soaked clothing and aching limbs, however, made the crossing difficult.

From the fence to the house was less than 200 feet but it seemed like a mile. Once inside the house I headed for the radiant comfort of the corn cob-fueled cook stove. When my mother noticed my predicament she immediately ordered me to the bathroom and into a tub of warm water.

I remember discomfort as I lowered my chilled body into the warm water but within a relatively short time the pain subsided. With the school bus on its way I hurriedly got dressed and ready for school.

I don’t remember eating breakfast that day but I am rather confident that I didn’t miss a meal. I seldom do.

No matter where you live in Iowa, winter is cold. Some years it’s even colder than normal. Short of leaving the state for warmer climes, there is no escape.

Back in my teens I learned a little poem about Iowa winters: Spring has sprung; fall has fell. Winter’s here and it’s colder than usual.

My best advice for coping with an Iowa winter – don’t run a trap line.