The Blizzard of '96.
Friday, January 12, 1996
This was ummmm, the dumbest thing I've ever done.
On Sunday, January 7th it began to snow. Really snow. Everyone knew it was coming from the weather reports. It was simple; there wasn't any bread or milk left on any store's shelves anywhere. Cleaned out. I'm used to 7-11s, but here in Pennsylvania, they've got Rutters convenience stores.
Basically the same thing, just a name change.
When I got up early Monday morning, we had over 30 inches and it was still coming down. After a shower and feeding my two cats, Murphy and Mama, I began to shovel my condo's driveway. Two hours later, I was exhausted and sweating like it was a July afternoon and I had just landscaped the Pentagon. By myself. Another shower and fresh clothes. I waded out into the street, which was still unplowed and knew that my Jeep Grand Cherokee LTD V-8 could handle it, no problem.
For years, I've said that, "Mother Nature's in charge; we're just along for the ride." So true, when it comes to a blizzard, hurricane, tornado or flood. We're totally powerless.
Deeper Than I Thought!
I got through three foot drifts easily, until I hit the five foot ones. The Jeep tried to go but it was beached. So I waded back to the condo to get a shovel, cursing the road crews for not getting their jobs done early enough. Little did I know that the governor had implemented a state of emergency and there was a travel ban in effect. Nothing but road crews and emergency vehicles were to be out, with severe fines and jail as penalty.
After getting the Jeep dug out and onto the plowed road, I headed to my Garden Center, some 14 miles south
of where I live. Through the four or five towns that I pass, everyone was on foot, waving to me. Little did I know that I had burned out reverse gear getting out of the snowbank. So after getting coffee at a Rutters store, I couldn't back out of the parking space; I had to ask two guys to push me out.
I arrived at the Garden Center almost two hours later; the roads kept drifting shut and Rt 24 south of Winterstown is always a bad one, what with the winds and drifts. Seems that they need snowfences or something more permanent; plowing is only a temporary fix. After parking the Jeep at the bottom of the driveway and seeing how much snow was on the 1,000ft drive, I decided that I could make it to the main retail building, then get to the storage building where my skidloader was parked and begin to plow. No problem.
Halfway up the hill, I knew I was in trouble. There wasn't a drift
under five feet or anywhere I could stand out of the snow! I was getting very exhausted, sweating under the strain of lifting each leg out of the snow and then back down into it again. I had to stop every 10-15 feet to rest and catch my breath. The wind was fierce and it was bitter cold. It was also getting dark and I thought maybe I'd pass out, freeze to death and be found a week or so later. Perhaps the snowplow would uncover me. What a mess that would have been. Finally I made it near the retail building and saw a 30ft drift covering the front entrance. Oh Jeeez!
I jumped up onto the snow and rolled the last 50ft or so to the edge of the big drift. After tunnelling through the side of the drift to reach the front door, I started to feel very sick and threw up. Nice. Somehow I got into the door and passed out on the cold cement floor. About two hours later I regained consciousness and still felt sick. I was soaked from the snow and sweat. Chest pains. And very cold.
Damn, it was cold! And the gas heaters weren't working. I staggered to my office and got some water; snow just doesn't quench thirst. Then I discovered the pilot lights were off to all three main gas heaters. No wonder; the snow drifts had covered the exhaust vent stacks completely. So back outside I went to dig them out. After re-lighting the pilots, I got the heaters working again. Then I went into the main retail greenhouse to see if my one-eyed cat, Pickles, was allright. He was glad to see me. I brought him into my office, took off my wet clothes and put on some dry stuff. The heat felt good and I was beginning to thaw out.
Another problem. The modern main retail greenhouse is also heated by gas, using infared radiant heating tubes hung from the structure's trusses; via special continuous reflectors, it radiates heat down on the plants on the steel benches and on the concrete floor, which re-radiates the heat up underneath the benches and keeps the plants toasty warm. There are four electronic burners in the 200ft long sections. Two of the burners had stopped on the left side, so the greenhouse was getting cold. We usually keep it in the 60 degree range at night. Now it was into the 40s and dropping, so I tried to re-fire the burners but they wouldn't cooperate. I started moving all the plants from one side to the other where it was still warm. When the temperature reached 29, I closed up and left. When plants freeze, they die and turn black. Gonners, for sure. I slept on the retail counter next to the cash register with Pickles. The snow continued.
I got on The Web right away. Wanted to find out how bad the storm really was through the on line weather services. It was bad. Real bad. Everything was paralyzed and emergency situations were in place in more than eight states. God. I checked my cigarette and food supplies. OK for a day or so. Cat's got plenty of food; wonder if anybody ever died from eating Nine Lives? Naaaah.
I emailed everyone, letting them know I was trapped, just in case I did die and they found my skeleton hunched over the computer doing HTML, I wanted it on the record. The chicken noodle soup tasted good; so did the potato chips, leftover New Year's ham dinner and lunch meat (we keep a pretty well stocked fridge here) and Pickles was appreciative of his dining fare too.
Upon finding the York Daily Record's Page, I emailed the newsdesk editor and told them it was a nice job, created by our gracious ISP provider, Adam Viener of Cyberia Communications, Inc., in York, PA. Dennis Hetzel emailed back to see how I was doing and said he wanted to do a story about my predicament; he'd have a reporter call to interview soon. He remembered me from when we were an advertiser; really complimented me on our unusual style of advertising (read about it on my Advertising Page) and wished we'd come back into the Daily Record family. He said he still follows my ads. I was very flattered.
Tom Barstow from the Daily Record called back in about an hour and we had a nice interview.
The Web is a great place to lose your place in time. I spend way too much time on it making the phone company rich. I should be getting a personally-signed Christmas Card from the president of GTE this year.
I fell asleep at the computer sometime about 4am and awoke to more snow, just what we all needed. The front door wasn't drifted shut too badly, and I went out again to clear a path for escape, sometime soon I hoped. I
called a couple of people about getting in here with their snowmobiles, but because the snow wasn't packed down, snowmobiles would just sink when they stopped. I called a local snowplowing company, but they were busy on contract getting the town's streets opened up. I was truly alone. Except for the local towing service that called and said the State Police ordered them to flatbed my Jeep off Rt 24 and to a town about 5 miles south for storage. Now I was stranded.
I started writing my Garden Center & Nursery's Page for The Web. I have a 586 Pentium, 1.5 gig drive and 16 mg RAM, HP scanner, laser printer. In MS Word, I designed and wrote the whole thing; I had been all over the place looking at what appealed to me and what didn't, so I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I had emailed Adam Viener at Cyberia Communications, Inc. in York that I had more than an interest in doing a Page for my company, and he was quick to respond. I had the document completed in eight days. And I forwarded it to Adam, since I knew nothing about HTML. I still don't, as you can see from these Pages. He was truly awesome in getting it produced; he put up a Demo Page for me to watch his work in progress, and make changes or corrections prior to going on line.
Sleeping in a chair is really bad for ones back; mine especially. Pickles was hungry and playful, as usual. That done, I got back to writing more Pages, just for practice. Did I mention that I was almost out of cigarettes? Down to my last couple, so I perused the ashtray. Nope; when I'm out, I'm leaving. Or quitting. Leaving it is. I called several more snowplowing companies; all too busy to get in here. So I tried a local farmer, also named John, who had two giant John Deere 8850 tractors with front buckets and plow blades. He'd be able to in a day or two, he said. Still thinking about leaving...
I remembered when I was a kid and would go sledding or use a toboggan; sliding on top of the snow requires less effort than wading through it. Idea: use some cardboard and slide down the hill. But if it's too soft, won't I just sink instead of slide? What the heck, take a piece along just in case. I loaded Pickles up with several dishes of food and water, checked the exhaust vent stacks so the pilot lights wouldn't go out, and out I went into Hell.
It Doesn't Work.
The cardboard slide? Tried it. Just sank on it. Snow was too soft. Discarded it. Time to follow my inbound foot errrr, body prints out again. About halfway down, I got real tired again and felt my heart pounding. So I jumped
up onto the snow and rolled the rest of the way. When I got to Rt 24, I went across to a neighbor's house to warm up. My Dad was on his way in his Jeep to pick me up and drive me to my Jeep in Stewartstown. On the way, he showed me the York Daily Record article, which I read with great humor. Those guys certainly have a way with words. The final count for snow was 34" in York, but 48" at my Garden Center!
There's No Place Like Home...
After getting home, I desperately wanted to sleep, but my two cats needed food, fast. That task quickly-done, the phone started ringing. NBC NewsRadio, NPR, PBS, ABC News, The Daily Record, Monitor Radio, AP, UPI, BBC and a couple more that I can't remember called for interviews. Apparently the York Daily Record had put it on the AP and UPI wire services and it went around the world. After seven-plus interviews, I showered (that felt good) and went to sleep for about 15-18 hours.
People still come up to me and ask if I'm the dummy they read or heard about who was stranded in The Blizzard of 1996. Yup, I answer. Wasn't my Dad. I'm the only one dumb enough to do something like that. Some people will do anything to get their name in the newspapers.