Corson County News March 10, 1966
Wednesday to Saturday Storm May be Worst
The most destructive storm in the memory of people who have been in this area all of their lives raged from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday morning. Hundreds of livestock are dead and at least one man perished in the storm in Corson County.
Clarence Grate who lived about 24 miles south of Morristown was found dead in his yard after the storm. He lived alone.
The complete story of the storm will not be told until snow removal equipment and the spring thaw rolls back the white blanket that now covers the northwest part of South Dakota and the southwestern part of North Dakota. Some livestock will not be found until spring.
For some people the loss was not as heavy as they thought immediately after the storm. Cattle thought lost were found many miles from home. Almost all farmers and ranchers lost some cattle. A few lost their whole herds.
The sun was shining Wednesday morning and there was a little breeze. The weather had been mild over the first two days of the week and there was little snow. A storm was the farthest thing from the minds of most people.
By 10 a light, fine snow was falling and the wind was picking up. At noon the schools started to round up drivers to send the buses home. At 1:30 the buses left and it was obvious a real storm was in progress.
The storm gained in intensity through the afternoon but traffic continued to move on the roads until about 4 p.m. when a full scale blizzard was in progress.
The fine snow driven by winds up to 60 miles an hour stung like driven sand. People who were outside had their clothing soaked through in minutes and found they had to wipe wet snow and water from their faces to see at all.
By 5:00 p.m. the streets and roads were clogging up and people were getting stuck. Visibility was cut to almost nothing. Banks of snow were waist deep. It was impossible to face the storm for more than a few minutes at a time.
The storm howled through the night and on Thursday it was almost impossible to move outside. At times people could not see across the street. Driving snow blinded people forced to move out doors.
Still the storm did not subside and howled and tore at buildings through Thursday and Friday night. Friday morning just before 7 the power went out in the towns. The juice came on and off for a few minutes at a time and at 10 a.m. failed completely.
Power company officials said the heavy transmission line of the bureau of reclamation east of the river, went dead. Montana-Dakota Utilities could not get to switches to separate themselves from the transmission line so they could run in power from another source.
Most houses started to get cold as the electricity controlled heating systems would no longer operate. Some people moved in with neighbors who had heat. Others went to bed to keep warm.
The storm started to let up a little just before midnight Friday night but it was still a vicious storm. About 1:30 Saturday morning the electricity came back on. It was on and off a few times but by daylight there was steady current. Visibility improved steadily and people started shoveling out to see what the storm had left. The big blizzard of 1966 was over. The big job of getting through the drifts was started.
Milwaukee Road Still Blocked
Traffic is still stalled on the Milwaukee line with tracks blocked from McLaughlin to Lemmon.
The last of 121 freight cars stuck in the snow near Mahto were pulled out after midnight Monday night. The coast to coast freight slammed into a snow filled cut Wednesday night where it got stuck.
The four engines were unhooked and they pulled into McLaughlin. An engine came out from the east and pulled the caboose back into Mobridge.
The engine crew of a train trying to clear the way to the stalled freight nearly lost their lives Saturday night. The engines with a v-plow in front slammed so far into a bank of snow that the engine was completely covered and could not back out. The cab of the engine filled with diesel fumes and the men were nearly unconscious. Shovelers in the caboose dug down to the engine and opened a window through which the men in the cab were rescued.
Snow shovelers were hired from as far away as Chicago and brought in to help shovel out the train.
The railroad found themselves in somewhat the same shape as others who have not been confronted with a snow problem for so many years, they were no longer properly equipped. They had a rotary plow that used to work with steam. The plow had been converted to burn oil but the railroad found they no longer have adequate water supplies to keep the boiler working. They tried to borrow water at Bowdle from the city but the city had none to spare. The rotary finally got as far as Mobridge where more trouble developed.
Body Of Rancher Found After Storm
Neighbors found the body of Clarence Grate in the yard of his farm south of Morristown about 11 p.m. Sunday morning. He apparently died some time during the preceding afternoon or evening. Corson County Coroner Cecil Hanson said the rancher who was in his late 50s died of a heart attack.
Grate was shoveling corn into his pickup when he apparently was stricken. The pickup was still running the next morning when men from the Zentner farm went to check on their neighbor. The body was flown out by J.D. Kessling.
Grates wife died three years ago. Sons are living in Isabel. His ranch is 24 miles south of Morristown.
Two Young People Save Cattle Herd.
Two teenagers on a farm northeast of McIntosh are credited by their parents with saving their herd of cattle.
Alvin Jacobs was stranded in Selfridge when the storm broke and could not get home. His son Larry, 20 who works at a garage in McIntosh and daughter Mary Ann, a senior at McIntosh high school went out into the storm and shoveled a narrow path into the barn. They then beat the cattle with shovels and some way got them into shelter.
I dont know how they did it said Mrs. Jacobs. The cattle survived the storm.
Bulldozers Trying to Open County Roads.
Work started in earnest Tuesday on the gigantic task of breaking open roads in Corson county. Six bulldozers were working in the county. One was going south from Morristown, one south of Watauga, two northeast of Wakpala and the other two were supposed to be starting to move in from the south end of Corson County
By Wednesday morning there was eight bulldozers in Corson county but it was obvious work will be long and slow without more help. Drifts are getting harder and equipment is starting to break down. Three Civil Defense Bulldozers were supposed to be working in the McIntosh area, three north of Timber Lake and Trail City and two north and east of McLaughlin.
The bulldozers are made available from contractors under the Operation Bull Dozer of the Associated General Contractors of South Dakota. contractors in the state have pledged under this plan to make their equipment available to the state in emergencies. The contractors agree to charge only actual costs of operating the machinery while it is working in a disaster area.
County Agent John Powell,Road Superintendent Mike Braun were coordinating activities on the county level and manning the civil defense radio at the county seat.
Many Livestock Die During Storm
Numbers of livestock lost in the blizzard just past is at this point at best a guess. Many farmers and ranchers have not been contacted since the beginning of the storm. Cattle have drifted. Some are being found alive thought dead.
But here and there over the prairie bodies of cattle and sheep are showing up through the snow. Corson County Agent John Powell estimates 20 percent of the stock in the county perished in the storm.
A large area north of Trail City has not been reached by bulldozers and has been out of contact with the rest of the world. Planes flying over the area have seen dead cattle but there is no way of telling from the air how many were lost.
Almost every person who had cattle lost some. Sheep losses were even greater.
Some cattle smothered in sheds. Others left shelter as the snow piled up forcing them out into the wind where they drifted into fences and died.
There are dead cattle all along the roads. This reporter drove west of McIntosh Tuesday. There were four dead cattle along the highway fence in a mile. One of them died and froze laying on its haunches and the snow propped up its head so it still looked alive. Others were partly under the fence with their legs sticking in the air.
Southwest of McIntosh Bill Baumberger has a feed lot. Snow covered the lot and forced the cattle into a fence where some died. Others broke the fence and spilled out across the prairie. A mound here and there tells where one of the calves is dead. They drifted for a mile south, some dropping and dying all the way way until the last bodies were sprawled against the railroad grade. I counted 40 dead but there are probably more. His loss was reported at 57 and not all of his cows have been located.
Joe Riehl reported on losses south of Watauga. He said he had lost 53 cows and 18 are missing and presumed dead. Francis Bohnenkamp and Marvin Baumeister lost 150 cattle and 150 are missing from the farm south of Watauga about 6 miles.
Robert Baumeister lost his entire flock of sheep, 300 head. Findley Creighton lost most of his sheep and 15 cows. Bill Gannons cattle loss was placed at 50 to 60. Hookers had a heavy loss and some cattle were lost on the Gannon Ranch.
Vernon Dickenson lost a couple of cows and thought another will die. Mike Volk had his cattle in a shed and lost none. George Jr. and Jim Seiler had light losses. Edwin Moser south of McIntosh said he lost none. Allen Glines lost a couple of cows but said several have badly frozen udders.
Pneumonia is showing up in some herds, especially among cattle that were kept in sheds where it is warm. Charles Pearson brought his herd safely through the storm in a shed and many of them became sick after they were turned out.
North of Firesteel Pat Maher is said to have lost most of his cows, about 75 head, but his sheep survived.
Lloyd Knudson put his loss at about five after he had found many animals feared lost in the rough country away from home.
John Leidenix is reported to have lost 40 registered cattle but that report has not been confirmed.
Maynard Hier and his two boys fought desperately as the storm closed in Wednesday night to save their feeder cattle. They took the pickup to the feed lot a couple of miles southeast of McLaughlin and got the animals into a shed. The pickup got stuck in a draw as they tried to drive back to the highway. They stopped in Melvin Schanzenbachs barn and the oldest boy ran home while the father stayed with the youngest boy in the barn. The oldest boy said he could not see their yard lights from the highway but found the approach and went to the house. He and his mother, with the mother driving, drove back in the storm in their station wagon to get the other two. Maynard said he regretted letting the boy go as soon as he was out of sight.
The shed and the corral filled with snow and some of the fat cattle perished. When the storm cleared they could not even find the pickup under the snow.
Clarence Senftner lost three milk cows and counted 21 dead cattle in his yard when the storm cleared. Snow filled the sheltered area behind the barn and the snow in the corral rose higher than the fences and cattle walked over the fences to die on the fields.
Lyle Maxon was in McLaughlin in the hospital. Before he left home he nailed the barn door open so it would not swing in the wind. His cattle got into the shelter and his loss was light. Milo Maxon Jr., did not think he would lose any cattle.
Ben Kramer had light losses even though his cattle were out in the storm. John Kramer thought he would not have a heavy loss and a plane flying over Julius Dietrichs big ranch saw cattle alive and safe in the brushy draws with no apparent big loss.
Clarence Buchelers who lives on the Bullhead road is reported to have lost 35 head. Mrs. John Keller said Wednesday morning they have lost about 8.
Many more cattle may die unless they get feed and water in the next 24 hours. Some of them will not last that long. Ranchers are carrying bales of hay across the snow to individual animals and giving them penicillin. Some bunches are stranded far from home and hay and some way must be found to get them feed.
Still more of the loss will show up in the spring in the calf crop from the cows weakened and starved in the storm.
Fuel, Food Getting Low
Food and fuel are getting low for some rural families. Isolated farms and ranches may take several more days to reach.
The White Bull family who live northeast of McLaughlin were out of food and fuel Tuesday. Their said to have had burned their furniture and all the posts they could dig out of fences.
Two members of the family walked over to the Otto Mettler farm Tuesday night and Mettlers gave them a sack of food.
Strange Reactions After Big Blizzard
There are strange reactions after a storm
A lot of ranchers went out to beat the snow and ice from the face of the cattle. Many of them had so much ice and snow hanging from the hair on their faces they could not see.
Several ranchers said as soon as the animals could see they would charge the person who freed them from the ice.
The most beautiful sight I have ever seen, said Louie Merkel who lives south of Trail City. He was describing his cattle coming up out of the badlands after the storm. He drove to the edge of the hills and honked the horn, a signal for the cows to come and feed. Pretty soon the cattle he feared lost were stringing up out of the bottoms.
Then there were the Dickensons from south of Watauga. They were snowed in from Wednesday until Sunday when they took a tractor to go to Watauga. The first people they saw were Mr. and Mrs. Glen Hendrickson. See Vernon told his wife, Those things are people, I have been telling you about.
At the time Vern was on a rather strange mission. He was going to McIntosh to get a hoist or something to get a cow out of the rafters of his barn. The snow got so high in the shed she was able to get hung up over a rafter. The cow died after he got her down.
Plight of Three Lost in Storm Main concern of People 2 Days and Nights.
It was almost like hearing a voice from another world for Mrs. Don Howe Sr. of rural McLaughlin when she tried to call her son in rural Mahto Saturday and hear the voice of Mrs. Otto Mettler on the line. Mrs. Mettler with her husband and 6 year old son Lyle, had been missing since about 4 p.m. Wednesday and had not been heard from after that time, until Mrs. Howe heard Mrs. Mettler on the line. The Mettlers had walked home earlier that morning but were unable to call out on their phone.
People all over the nation had heard of the missing Mettlers on radio and television. The nearest help, their neighbors and the people at McLaughlin, had born the burden of having to sit helpless through 70 hours of storm without being able to do anything to help. Many people had given up hope the three would be found alive.
Mr. and Mrs. Mettler had gone to a birthday party in Lemmon during the day and stopped at McLaughlin at 3 to pick up Lyle who attends school there. They filled their new car with gas at the Farmers Union Oil Station and set out for home.
Another son, Earl and a neighbor boy Bob Kramer, were in McLaughlin with the Mettlers pickup for some repairs.
There are several roads Mettlers use from time to time to get to their ranch 13 miles northeast of McLaughlin. They could go through Mahto. They also turn east a mile north of McLaughlin and go south on one of two roads. There was no way of knowing for sure which road they took.
Earl and Bob got to the Mettler ranch and found the car was not there so they went to look. They got stuck at the Elmer Hertel farm. From there they called back to McLaughlin and concern grew. Phone calls were made to the farmers who live along the road and Clifford Plank and several other farmers walked along the road as far as they could but could see no car off the road.
The state highway crew with foreman Dave Babbit tried to organize a rescue party but it became obvious they could not get vehicles started and into the storm.
At the Hertel farm they had tore gears out of Mettlers pickup trying to force it through the snow. Small tractors were started but got stuck. They went the next morning to the Elmer Hertel farm and started a big tractor but it got stuck as they could not see to avoid the huge drifts.
At 11 p.m. Friday night a rescue party started making up in the blinding blizzard at McLaughlin. A county blade with a plow on front was put into service. The crew and volunteers helped work in the blinding snow and blizzard digging equipment out of the snow and getting it out into the open. They started out with the patrol, a front end loader with four wheel drive, two trucks with plows and a pickup.
Mr. and Mrs. Otto Mettler and their boy took the road home people for some reason guessed they would be least likely to use. They went east on the Kenel road and then south to the old Ehnese place. From there they turned east. The car started to get stuck and tore up a chain and finally slid into the ditch just about two miles from home.
They had eaten at the birthday party and had fifty cents worth of candy with them. They had some blankets in the car which Mrs. Mettler had put there for such emergencies. They also had a shovel. These items did a lot to save their lives.
During the night Wednesday the car covered over with snow. They opened a window and poked holes in the snow with the shovel to get air into the car. The motor had stopped about an hour after they got stuck.
Five times while they were stuck they shoveled their way out by dragging snow into the back seat and Mr. Mettler thought of trying to walk home but each time the storm was too violent and they settled down to wait some more.
The candy was rationed to the little boy and they all ate snow. They said they were neither very hungry or very cold. Lyle did not complain through most of the long, cramped wait, except the last night when he said he thought they should go home the next morning and get something to eat.
There is no radio in the new car. Mrs. Mettler said she and Lyle sang a Sunday School song, Jesus Loves Me.
Early Saturday morning they started to walk home. Mrs. Mettler and Otto each held the corner of a quilt and Lyle walked between them.
Bob and Earl came along after Mr. and Mrs. Mettler and Lyle left and saw their tracks going for home so they went on to the farm.
The next day Lyle had a little fever but the three who were storm bound in a car for about 70 hours show no ill effect of their long entombment in the snow.