The Cold Winter
Today is a snowy and cool day and it reminded us of a real cold day in our history. Since it is cool and snowy it seemed like a good time to relate the story of that day and that winter.
It was the winter of 1977-1978. We don’t recall the exact date after over 40 years. The entire winter was brutally cold. The fact that our hero was working as a cow man in northeast Ohio at the time made it multiple times worse. The mother in law and her sister had flown in for Christmas and while they were there, the airports were closed for nearly two weeks in both Akron and Pittsburgh or the roads were so bad we could not get them to the airport. Forty or fifty miles to either one
That year Baby Jim’s mama…..yes he had a mama….related to him that the Cheapeake Bay froze over…..It was several magnitudes of colder in Northeast Ohio just outside the snow belt. Baby Jim could not believe that he was outside the snow belt as it snowed every day….that is until he saw images of snow in Buffalo and Cleveland.
Now the job at hand was as a cow herd manager for a 300 head registered cow herd. It included all manner of care to insure the successful care, feeding, breeding and calving of these valuable animals. Baby Jim had assistant herdsmen but it was pretty much a 365 day a year job. Always on call. Many late winter nights were spent in the calving barn sleeping under the heat lamps with the new born calves. Our hero opined out loud once about the wisdom of calving cows in February winter weather and the boss pointed out that when Baby Jim had his own cows he could calve them out whenever he wanted to…..until then how about caring for these.
The normal routine was to go out pretty early and do the chores to fit the season…go back home for breakfast and then return to work at about 8:00 am….in the winter the early morning chores were mostly feeding and general checking on stock.
One particular morning our hero awakened to find a couple of feet of new snow. As he drank a cup of coffee before venturing out he heard the wind howling and the snow was blowing fiercely horizontally which meant drifts everywhere. He glanced at the Thermometer fixed outside the kitchen window and could not see the mercury. Securing a flashlight he leaned on the counter and the actual temperature was minus 22 degrees. Time to find more clothes….wrapped in all the winter garments that a Virginia boy would have he ventured out…
Now near the house where he lived there was a winter lot designed to house 100 cows….it had about 120 in it. There was a set of silos and feed bunk and a pipe hay rack to handle three ton hay stacks. The cows could sleep in the barn, eat silage from the bunk and hay from the rack.
There was another such lot three or four miles away with a similar number of cows. The rest of the cows were later calving cows and they wintered in a lot with a lot of woods another few miles away and wintered on hay….again in the three ton stacks.
Baby Jim did his morning chores and returned to the house to find the phone ringing….the common theme was did your truck start….At that time he was driving a Ford 1/2 ton four wheel drive. It was the only vehicle on the farm that started that morning. So the next couple of hours were spent trying to get thru drifted snow to jump start other vehicles so the days work could get done. To enable road clearing he had to jump start a couple of tractors. Did we mention that it was cold?
The three ton hay stacks previously mentioned were handled by a big John Deere cabbed tractor with a dedicated stack hand machine to move the stacks.
About mid morning there was a radio call….back then we used Citizen Band Radios in the trucks and tractors…..the call was to ask for assistance in finding the town motor grader as the road to the cows in the big wooded pasture was blocked with snow and the big tractor was not able to get thru it..
After a bit of looking the motor grader was located and after a little pleading and cajoling was redirected to the site of the problem. Fortunately the grader was able to get thru the snow and open the road for the couple of miles to access the gate to the cow field. There was a temporary feeling of success as the tractor was going thru the gate. Baby jim was keeping hungry cows back while the tractor was forcing its way in. Until the tractor motor shut off suddenly. Would not turn over again.
Cropping manager said he had to go get another tractor and figure out how to get things moving. He needed the truck to go back to the shop….But somebody had to keep the cows from coming out the gate. Those cows wanted that hay but if they came out that gate they could drift for miles…As cow man our hero was elected to stay with the cows and try to control them.
Now it is 20 below zero and wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph. 40 hungry cows and one southern boy so country that the local vet had nick named him Rebel. Rebel, heretofore known as Baby Jim, was so cold that he had prayerfully offered a deal to the good lord. He said, “Lord, if you give me the strength to get thru this day, you will not have to worry about me being in Ohio for another winter ever.”
Two and a half hours later they got back with the things needed to remedy the situation.
By then hands and feet were numb beyond feeling. Our hero was so cold that there is no memory of how they got the second tractor around the gate blockage or how they got the cows fed….
There was a lot of yankee teasing about how it was not that cold…but none of those doing the teasing had stood out there for 2 and a half hours.
There are other tales of other days that winter, but this one was nearly life threatening and is etched into the memory forever.