Snow So Deep

     My son Aaron manages an ethanol plant in eastern South Dakota, a job with a lot of responsibility and stress. He goes hunting which affords his some relief from work. This year he went out to the western part of the state to hunt antelope, at a ranch northwest of the Badlands and northeast of Rapid City.

     Antelope have keen eyesight, and as I understand it, keep to the open range for their protection. That way they can see danger approaching from a distance.

     Aaron came upon a herd, some of which bolted, running around a hill, a rise in the ground he was upon. He crossed over the hill to try to head them off, as he anticipated their move. They came around running at full speed. It wasn't an easy shot, but he was able to bring one down and dispatch him.

     Within days, after he returned home, a heavy snowstorm dumped three feet of snow on the ranch. Snow so deep it was like an avalanche in the draws where cattle sought shelter. Some cattle and antelope perished in the snow. And there was the need to get feed to those surviving.

     It reminds me of the time when my brother Francie was in the Air Force, during the winter of 1948-49. He was traveling back to base by train, when their train became snowbound on the tracks. They were stranded out in the open, 16 miles from the nearest town and were hungry. Francie and a companion saw a shack in the distance, about a mile away. They got off the train and trekked to it. The occupants welcomed them and Francie said they were so good to them. They made them a kind of pancake which they took back to the train to share with others aboard, who probably were watching them from the train windows as they walked the distance across the snow. In trade, they had given the people in the shack some cigarettes.

     When train was dug out and able to move again, they continued on their trip, and he reached his base.  He was stationed at Las Vegas Air Force Base. After he got back, he was assigned to a military food operation. Cattle in northern Nevada were in snow too deep to get feed to them. So the Air Force flew it to them.

     Hay bales were trucked onto the base, and they loaded them onto C-54 "flying box cars," and C-47, two-engine transports. The planes took off with their cargo of hay, and the airman dropped the bales to the cattle below. Sometimes the bales would break apart as they fell. For their safety, he says they were tethered inside so they wouldn't fall out . They had to unload their cargo in such a way that it wouldn't unbalance the aircraft.

     From the C-47's they would push the hay out a side door. The flying box cars had doors which opened in back, and they would shove the hay out the back. Sometimes the force of the wind aloft would rip the doors off. He says they lost a lot of doors that way. Of course that left him and other airmen inside exposed to the chill of the elements.

     My brother was used to handling hay from having grown up on a farm in Iowa. In remembering back, he thinks it could have been a type of hay called alfalfa, a hay we put up for winter on the farm. At times we had snow so deep in Iowa that it drifted and blocked the road to the south, the usual and shortest way we got to town. They even cut fence to get around the drifted roadway. My brothers harnessed up a horse to a buggy, bundled up themselves and took cream to town, which had been separated from the milk of our dairy herd. They went to town by road, the long way around the square-mile section of land that our farm was on. They painted a sign on the buggy: “Speedy Cry”, for Speedy Creamery.

     The horse was one we called Dolly, white and gray. Dolly was blind but my brother said she knew the way. He said if you let Dolly loose within a couple miles of home, she would be able to find her way back.  When the train was stranded, he might've wished he had her to use that snowy winter out West.

                                                                                                                                    John Riedell


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