COLD WEATHER INCIDENT
By Steve Moreland, December 29, 2017
As I am writing this, the thermometer is hovering near the zero degree mark. It is supposed to get well below zero tonight, and nearly 20 below for the next two nights. Highs for a couple days will not get up to zero. This bitter cold weather at the end of December conjured up a memory from about 35 years ago.
Carol and I got married in the summer of 1979. It was New Year’s Eve in either 1979 or 1980. We had spent the evening at John and Ingrid Fairhead’s house north of Merriman, playing cards, visiting, and seeing in the new year at midnight. The temperature was 20 below zero when we headed for home, but there was a pretty bright moon lighting the snowy landscape. Highway 61 was a noticeably lonesome road that night as we traversed the 18 miles south of Merriman to get to the ETV tower, where we would turn to go another mile west to where we lived.
We were within about four miles of our ranch when we happened upon a car in the middle of the highway. The engine was off, but there was a lone occupant sleeping face-down on the steering wheel. I recognized the man as Red Dunn. Red was the cook at the Minor Ranch, which was another 15 or 20 miles further south. Red was a good cook, and he had even concocted a specialty product called Red Dunn’s salad dressing, which was sold in some local stores. Red was also a fairly proficient drinking man. He had celebrated the coming of the New Year quite rambunctiously before heading back home. Now his car had conked out, and all he was wearing was a light jacket.
I got Red shook awake. He said his car had stalled out, and so had he. The car wouldn’t start, but I had some jumper cables along. We turned our pickup around, and jump started his car. Red took off driving, but the car killed out within a hundred yards. We jumped it again, and I told Red to move over, that I would drive his car and him on to the Minor Ranch. Carol followed along in our pickup.
By the time we arrived at the Minor Ranch cookhouse, Red had sobered up a little bit and was becoming more coherent with his speech. By then he realized the direness of his situation, and was very grateful for Carol and me seeing that he got home. He mumbled that we had quite possibly saved his life, and then invited us in. He said he would cook up the biggest steaks in the house to feed us in payment for our efforts. We politely declined, saying that we had been snacking all evening and would now probably make it until time for breakfast. We also figured it would be the Minor Ranch that would be supplying those tasty steaks.
As we traveled back along Highway 61 to our turn-off, we didn’t meet a single vehicle. Poor old Red might not have fared so well if we hadn’t happened to come along.
Here is another story that combines drinking and cold weather. It is from the book TRAILS OF A WILDERNESS WANDERER, by Andy Russell--Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, New York, 1971
These are the words of Andy Russell:
“When my grandfather first came to Fort Macleod in 1882 while working on the survey, he made the acquaintance of the local blacksmith, a man known as Smiley. The biggest part of Smiley’s business was shoeing police mounts and repairing the ironwork and chains that went with the freight wagons and bull teams owned by the I.J. Baker Company. This company hauled all the freight from the steamboats on the Missouri at Fort Benton in Montana, which was the main source of goods coming into the country at that time. Smiley prevailed on my grandfather for a loan, which was given to him upon transfer of a note. When the loan came due, Grandfather went to see him one snappy cold morning in November. He found the blacksmith asleep in his shop, snoring and dead to the world on a work bench. It turned out Smiley had a drinking problem. Heading for his shack the previous evening very drunk, he apparently became a little confused and went instead to his shop. There, in lieu of going to bed, he lay down on the bench beside a pile of chains. It was near zero, and as the cold penetrated, he began hauling chains across his middle. When Grandfather found him, he was snoring under enough chains to load down a big mule and blue with cold.”
Stay warm everyone, and if you go out in the cold, wear a big coat.
Last edited by Soapweed
on Sat Dec 30, 2017 9:24 am, edited 1 time in total.