Old age and Iowa winters

At the risk of appearing to be a geezer, I confess that (having been born in January) I am currently experiencing my 73rd winter in Iowa. Well, it won’t officially be winter in Iowa until 11:19 p.m. on December 21 but when it snows and it’s cold outside it’s winter. To heck with the calendar.

I was born in Algona in Kossuth County which is as far north as you can go in Iowa and where winters are serious. Minnesota serious.

In January 1952 we lived on the Iowa side of the state line road. On my birthday my mother took a picture of me showing off my birthday cake in front of our house. I was tall for my age and the snow was up to my… well, it was really deep.

We moved to north central Iowa’s Hamilton County a month later and I remember some nasty winters there.

School superintendents were tough back then and it was a hard winter storm before classes were canceled. In March 1965 classes were held for only two weeks; we were snowed out the rest of the month.

We had some dandy blizzards in Hamilton County in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The local radio station plays an important role in a community during blizzards and I was the guy who had to be at the radio station at 5 a.m. to be sure we signed on at 6 a.m. Regardless of the weather.

My work car was a ’54 Ford with a straight stick, studded oversized snow tires and two large bags of oyster shell in the trunk. That Ford never got stuck.

One blizzard forecast eroded my confidence though. The local police department offered to help and at 5 a.m. the next morning an officer on a snowmobile took me to work. The radio station signed on at 6 a.m.

We moved to Sioux City in January 1974 and I quickly learned that winters can be even more severe in Siouxland. In January 1975 a blizzard hit with minimal warning and brought the city to a standstill. I was still working in the office when I-29, my best route home, was closed. City streets were blocked. I finally got home 24 hours later.

In the late ’70s a blizzard hit Siouxland on an early November Sunday. My parents were visiting and the storm extended their weekend stay until Tuesday when U.S. Hwy. 20 was finally opened 50 miles east of Sioux City.

Built into the Loess Hills of western Iowa, Sioux City’s topography is, in layman’s terms, hilly! Four-wheel drive was not common in those days and most cars were still rear-wheel driven. There are a few downtown intersections where you prayed the light stayed green because you knew you couldn’t stop.

To make things worse the north wind swept in from South Dakota and the taller buildings in the downtown area formed a wind tunnel. As a young advertising salesman, making downtown sales calls could be a frigid experience.

Sioux City covers a lot of geography for a city of its population. Consequently the city snow plows sometimes didn’t get to our street for a few days. This made winter even more frustrating.

My family moved to Creston in southwest Iowa in 1988. Southern Iowa winters were a little milder, we learned, but winter in Iowa is still winter.

When we moved I brought along my 5 h.p. two-stage “Siouxland” snowblower. My neighbor had little two-stroke “snow pup” and good naturedly teased me about overkill. That continued until snowplows pushed a larger than normal pile of snow into the end of his driveway. His little snowblower choked on the stuff. My Siouxland snowblower handed it!

Working in the news business – radio and then newspaper – meant I never got a snow-day. Regardless of the weather, I had to go to work.

This changed when I took a job in Des Moines in early 2000. Our office closed whenever Des Moines schools were closed and in 2001 I enjoyed the first snow day of my adult life.

While I’m still not a fan of winter weather, retirement does make it more bearable. On a nasty winter day I can look out the window, watch the snow plow go by, recall the crappy winters I have survived and enjoy another cup of coffee.

Age has its privileges.


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