temperature had been just above zero all day, with a stuff
southeasterly breeze. It was December 16, 1964. About dark the
wind switched to the north and picked up speed. The temperature
started to drop and it began to snow.
About 7 p.m. the
young teacher, who lived at the school about a mile and a half
from our ranch, called to ask my husband how dangerous it would be
to turn up the oil heater to the highest setting. He told her to
turn it up, but if the burner pot or the stove pipe got red hot,
she'd better turn it down some.
The school house
and attached teacherage was quite old and had been moved a few
times so they were drafty when it blew so hard. They were hated
with a large oil heater in the school house and a small one in the
teacherage. Cooking and baking were done on a small electric
Feeling sorry for
anything that had to be outdoors, we went to bed about 10 p.m. The
temperature was already 30 below and the wind was terrible.
Goodness knows what the wind chill factor was and it was snowing
In about an hour
the phone rang. It was the teacher. The oil heater had quit
burning so she had wrapped herself in her electric blanket (turned
on high) and turned the oven on. Now she was totally dependent on
electricity to keep her from freezing to death and we all knew
that it could fail any time. My husband told her to keep wrapped
up and that he and our eldest son would try to get over there.
None of the
head-bold heaters in our vehicles had been plugged in, but one of
the pickups had come home from Miles City about 6:30 that evening
so we thought it would start -- it wouldn't. Neither would
anything else, so the men plugged in heaters and kept trying until
one pickup started. It seemed to take forever.
The air was so
thick with snow that my husband was afraid of driving off the
road. He would stop when there was no visibility and move ahead
slowly. It was more than half an hour when he called to say they
had made it to the school. The phone there was so cold that he had
to turn the dial back by hand before he could dial the next
It was 45 minutes
later that I saw their headlights coming into the yard.
All through that
night and the next day that crazy, cold wind howled, buy
miraculously, the electrical lines managed to stay up.
checked the stove the next day. A little water in the carburetor
(just a few inches up from the burner pot) had frozen, cutting off
the fuel supply.
I think the good
old-fashioned pot-bellied stove that had previously heated the
school would have been very welcome that night.
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