snow driving

            In Minnesota: ‘Yeah, you bet, heard about the snow com’n. Changed the oil and tuned up the snow blower and snow mobile first week in October, just like always. You betcha!’

            Down South: ‘Snow! Snow! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’


Last week the East Coast and some Southern states got hit with a blizzard. And the 24 hour news stations talked so much about the snow coming and falling and melting that there was little news about anything else.

They darn near missed the Palen endorsement of Trump. It happened the same day her son got arrested for using his girlfriend as a punching bag. Sweet momma Sarah explained that it wasn’t Track’s, (Track???), fault. It was Obama’s. Poor Track did a tour in Iran during the G. W. Bush’s administration, and although never got in any combat, came home with PTSD according to his mother. Later she said she was misunderstood, and then said pretty much the same thing again. A real Alaska Snow Job. At least she didn’t blame Obama for her daughter’s habit of getting pregnant sans marriage certificate.

And they darn missed another important Trump endorsement. One of John Wayne’s daughter, standing in front of a statue of her father in the John Wayne Museum in Somerset, Iowa, stated that if her father was alive, he would certainly endorse Trump.

(If her father was alive he would be 109 years old.) And the cool thing was Trump accepted the endorsement stating that he once met John Wayne in person and always admired Wayne’s legacy. The rest of Wayne’s family disavowed the endorsement. I was only too happy to be rid of the silliness leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

 I did run across a great bit just after the snow fell someplace. There was a reporter standing hip deep in snow talking about the big snowfall. As the camera pulled back, it revealed the dehorn was standing in front of a chain link fence that captured a lot of snow. As he struggled to get out of the drift, the snow gradually became less and less until he was standing snow that was no higher than his ankles.

Snow down south causes problems because people have no experience in what to do when it snows. It frightens them just as it would frighten me to look out and see an alligator in the back yard.

We got a little snow, a couple inches, in Fort Bragg, N.C., one time. It snowed three times when I was in the Army down there. This particular time I had a midmorning dental appointment. I hopped on my motorcycle and drove to the main post. There wasn’t much traffic and when I got on the less traveled streets, there wasn’t any tire tracks. Only one car in the dental lot, the plates were from Wisconsin.

The car belonged to a dentist on Reserve duty for two weeks. No receptionist, no dental techs, no other dentist, just me and angry Captain Angry from Wisconsin. He was mad at the Army, mad at the snow, mad at his hangover. He smiled when he told me the Novocain was locked up and he didn’t have a key.

‘But a little pain won’t bother a bad ass paratrooper, will it?’

Oh, was he wrong? And every time he spotted me clinching my fists, he cheerfully reminded me it was a court martial offense for an enlisted man to hit an officer. A little Southern snow and I was silly enough to drive in it. Should have just used it as an excuse not to keep the appointment. Every time I have the slightest inclination to root for the Green Bay Packers, I think back on Captain Angry’s license plate and that removes the inclination.

Another reason snow is so bad down South is they don’t have the necessary equipment to handle it. We can send out a fleet of public snow plows. Pickups rigged with plows to clear out parking lots and some driveways. Snow blowers waking up the neighbors early in the morning. Snow shovels used to clear steps and the like. People in the south don’t have much in the way of fighting the snow. Heck, down South a snow shovel in the garage is as rare as a liberal in the closet.

Another time a storm in Bragg brought about a good foot of snow, with no place to put it in the main drag in Fayetteville, so they just left it in a long pile in the center of the street. Naturally, some of the boys parked their cars on the mound, it was the weekend and the bars were full, and when it came time to go back to post, they  couldn’t get them off, sunk to the frame. The tow trucks were busy and the city told them to stay away from downtown, and then proceeded to ticket each car for illegal parking, each day it was left on the mound. When the tow trucks came down the hill to get the cars, they towed them to the impound lot. Some expensive parking!

And down South they just never learned how to have fun in the snow. Oh a few snowmen and a few snow angels, but not real fun like skiing and snow boarding, snow mobiling, clearing snow off a frozen lake to skate or ice fish etc..

Some members of 82nd Signal Battalion were going with one of the line companies to Alaska for Winter Training. They were issued white snowsuits and a pair of skis with poles. For several weeks they were getting prepared out in the field behind the barracks, wearing those hot suits and trying to glide along on the grass on their skis. As if gliding the skis on the grass actually prepared them for anything. But there’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.

Then we got a nice snowfall. I told some of the guys, I’d show them how to have fun in the snow and maybe even teach them a little about skiing. That night I ‘requisitioned’ the Old Man’s jeep. I was the Old Man’s clerk. We got some ropes and went out to a Drop Zone where I pulled the men on skis behind the jeep. A good time was had by all. Especially since the two MP’s that caught us, believed us when we told them it was authorized training to prepare for the upcoming Cold Weather Exercise in Alaska.

The worst experience of being caught in a Southern Snowstorm came when I was hitchhiking back to Bragg after a few days in Washington D.C.. Talk about shutting down a major city! It was shortly after noon when the snow hit. Offices emptied and the roads filled with cars filled with bad drivers trying to get home. And none about to pick up a hitchhiker, even if it was a soldier in uniform dressed for the warmth of the South, not a snow storm of the North.

I was alternating my hands, one thumbing for a ride, the other covering my ear until my hands got so cold I had to put them under my arm pits inside my Ike jacket which was getting wet from the heavy flakes. Doing a little dance to keep circulation in my feet.

Finally a car braved the slipping and sliding traffic and pulled to the shoulder. The passenger door opened and I jumped in. I was busy saying thanks and putting my hands in front of the heater when I heard this angelic voice telling me that she was only going as far as Arlington; but at least it was far enough to get me out of the heavy city traffic and I would stand a better chance of getting another ride.

What a sight for sore eyes! Not only because she stopped for me, but also because she was beautiful. A few years older than me. Long black hair. Green eyes. A smile that would melt the snow and warm the heart.

I was trying to get the numbness out of my hands, my ears, and still trying to carry on a normal conversation with her without distracting her as she was driving. It was evident she wasn’t use to driving in that kind of weather. She kept a steady pace until there would be a car poking along ahead. Then she would veer out to pass, slip and slide, head for the ditch. Had to hand it to her, she didn’t panic, managed to get straightened back on the road. I must admit I tightened up a few times.

‘Whoa,’ I said, ‘You just missed the Arlington cutoff.’

Again with that smile. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘Fort Meade is down further. There is a shelter where the soldiers stand, and cars pull in the side road and give them rides. You’ll stand a better chance of getting a ride in a hurry down there.’

I protested. I pointed out the road was bad. The snow was getting heavier. She should just leave me off and get home as quick as possible.

‘No,’ she answered. ‘My husband is in the Army stationed in Korea. From what I hear, they have terrible winters there. Snow. Cold. And I just hope that if he is hitchhiking, and the weather is bad, someone will pick him up.’

Wow! I sure hoped that soldier appreciated the woman he married.

She was right about Fort Meade. I got ride right away. As I got in the car I could see her car heading back to the Arlington cutoff. I said a silent prayer that she would make it home okay. We got out of the Southern snow storm in about fifty miles. My new ride took me almost to Bragg. He talked and I mostly listened, and thought about a very kind lady whose husband was stationed in Korea.


            Right now it is snowing. They say it might be the biggest so far of the season. About 6” to a foot. Schools will close early. It will be a slow afternoon commute home, but by tomorrow’s morning rush hour the driving will be much better. Our army of snow plows will see to it. Yet there will still be a rash of accidents and cars in the ditch. Not every one up here knows how to drive in a snow storm, especially those driving big SUV’s. They know they can bust through all kinds of snow; but they forget that sometimes they can’t stop on the wet pavement.

Of course, I won’t be one of those fighting the elements. I will be safe and snug in the house. I am retired!


And that’s a wrap for today.       


There was 4 children in our family, Me, my sister Pat, my brothers Bob and Ray. Now there is only 3.

Bob’s funeral was on a weekday, a workday; but the church was packed, with relatives and friends. Just before the service was to begin a school bus filled with people pulled into the lot. They were people that lived in the town where Bob had a small general store he bought a few years before. In those few years, Bob had endeared himself to those people so much, the town shut down to attend his funeral.

Bob was one of a kind. To know this gentle giant was to love him.

Nancy, Bob’s wife, asked if I would read an eulogy at the funeral Mass. It certainly wasn’t something I wanted to do, standing before a crowd and talking; but I did it anyway. I did it for Bob, for his wife and two children, for his many, many friends. I did it because Bob loved life, loved to laugh, and the last thing he would have wanted is somber funeral.

Here’s what I wrote those many years ago.


ROBERT LEROY OSTERTAG       2/25/44 – 11/18/2008       Robert LeRoy


Nancy asked me to speak about Bob’s accomplishments. Well, Bob and Nancy celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year, and that’s quite an accomplishment in today’s world. I’m sure Bob would consider Debbie and Robby as his two dearest accomplishments. It’s trite to say that someone was, not  only a good father, but also a good friend to his children. But in Bob’s case it’s not trite. It’s true.

And Bob certainly can be proud of being a father to the many special children, like Curtis and P.J., that Bob and Nancy, Debbie and Robby brought into their family.

He was barely old enough to have a chauffeur’s license when he began to drive truck for Ray Furlong. He made good money. On paper. The company was going downhill and Bob got some cash and a lot of IOU’s. He was loyal to Ray though and pretty soon he ended up owning the truck he drove. Then later, the company. He changed the name to Ostertag Transfer.

He could drive a truck with the best of them. Drive a semi better backwards than most drivers could forward. Years later when the independent truckers were being squeezed out, Bob used his skill to teach at the county vocational school. It wasn’t just his truck-driving skills that won him all his Teacher of the Years awards, it was his people-skills also. Bob cared about his students and his students knew it,

Bob liked people and people liked Bob. It didn’t matter if you were a life long friend or a total  stranger, you could talk with Bob.  Funny part was, even in a long conversation, Bob never really talked much. He smiled and he listened. When he did talk, he went straight to the point, no phoniness, no malice. And you always felt better after talking with him.

That’s really why he wanted to own a small store in a small town. Be able to talk with town folks and farmers, like the people he grew up with. He knew he’d never be rich off of Mezzeppa Mercantile, but he’d be happy.

When Bob was little we never thought he’d be such a stay- around- home kind of guy. We thought he’d be an explorer. He liked to roam. As soon as he learned to walk he would head up the path and spend time everyday with Grandma. As he grew older he tried to roam further, visit more people.

One day Uncle Charlie came busting into the house. He told Mom that her two little boys were hiking down Highway 55. He said he tried to bring them home but the dog with them wouldn’t let him near the boys. Mom didn’t think they were Bob and Ray. Her two angels were playing in the fenced-in sand pile.

But Charlie was right. Bob managed to pile up enough sand and toys to climb over the fence and then he found an empty 5 gallon bucket he put upside down up so Ray could stand on and bust loose.

About that time both of them had their tonsils taken out the same day. That night, Bob decided to explore the hospital and managed to climb out of the hospital bed. He didn’t have a bucket for Ray, so he talked Ray into trying to squeeze through the bars on the bed. When the nurse came in to see what the commotion was about, Ray had his head stuck on one side of the bars and his body on the other. And Bob was trying to pull the bars apart to Ray could get unstuck.

After Grandma died, Bob went further up the hill and adopted Mrs. Winkle as a surrogate grandmother. And vice versus. He talked to her about wanting to be a farmer and have lots of animals. One day, Mrs. Winkle bought Bob a little calf. Told him to raise, then sell it, and he’d have money to buy two calves. Keep doing that and someday he’d get his farm.

Problem was Bob like animals too much. He made a pet out of it, named the calf, ‘Herman’. Mom and Dad never said much about it, but Grandpa did. He would try to explain to Bob the animal couldn’t be a pet; and if Bob didn’t sell it pretty quick, it would eat up all profits Bob could hope to make off it.

Bob knew Grandpa was right and one day he worked up nerve enough to bring Herman to the stockyards. Got Owen or Gibby, maybe both to help him. They had the animal unloaded and in a holding pen, and the commission man was about to the write Bob a check, when Herman let out a beller. Bob ran and opened the pen, took Herman out, loaded him back in the truck and brought him back home. Grandpa just shook his head. Took Bob three times before he finally left Herman at the stockyards.

When he finally bought his farm, he knew being a small farmer was no better than being an independent trucker but the farm insured him of a life-style he wanted, and the one he wanted for his family. And he could have room for a lot of animals.

Over the years he raised cattle and horses, pigs and chickens. Bought a donkey once. Pat and Herb woke up in the middle of the night to all kinds of noise. Bob was giving his nephews and niece a ride on the donkey. In their living room!

He always like the hard work involved with raising animals but, like with Herman, he hated the thought of having to get rid of them.

He was about two and a half when he made he was responsible for his first major impact on our family. Grandma hung up the phone and told him that he had a new baby brother. Then she asked if he knew what the baby’s name was going to be. Out of the clear blue, he said “Raymond”. Now that wasn’t the name Mom and Dad had picked out, but by the time Mom and the baby came home a few days later, it was too late to change. Raymond was his name.

Bob was about fifteen, maybe sixteen. I had been out of the Army a few months and came in the house one Saturday and mentioned I had to come up with a date in a hurry. Wanted to go to a party that night and I needed a date.

Now I had noticed Bob had been kind of sheepish around me lately. I thought maybe he still was thinking about my brand new used- car that I brought home a few weeks before. He had offered to do me a favor and take it down to Huber’s and put gas in it for me, while I dressed up. An hour or so later the phone rang to tell us Bob and Owen and my brand new used- car had ended up in the river. Bob and Owen recovered none the worse for wear. That’s more than I can say about my brand new used-car.

Anyway, that’s wasn’t the reason for his sheepishness. When he heard I needed a date that night, he told me, I kind a had a date for that night, or rather he had a date, and it was really my date. About a month before a friend had given me the name of a girl, he wanted me to call up. I just threw the number on my dresser and forgot about it. But not Bob. Seems he had been calling this girl now for a couple weeks, pretending to be me. And that evening was going to be his first date with her. He was relieved when I said I would take her out that night. After all she was in college and he knew he have to tell her the truth once he met her.

Make a long story short, that gal and I have been married now for some 47 years. I probably never would have met her if it wasn’t because of Bob.

We all got stories to tell about Bob. A lot of us are here today because we’re related to Bob. All of us are here today because Bob was our friend. And there are a lot more of his friends that couldn’t  make it,  but are with us today in spirit.

I hate to end on a negative note, but, Robert LeRoy, you left us way too soon.


Today would be his 71st birthday. 








air pressureI thought I had slow leaks in my front tires; but the mechanic explained that with the aluminum rims, changes in the weather sometimes causes tires to lose air pressure.


Reminded me, many years ago, when a friend of mine asked his wife to take the car in and have the oil changed to a lighter weight for winter. And, he added, have them change the summer air to winter air. When he came home from work, his wife was furious. It was bad enough that he had played a joke on her; but the mechanics kept laughing, and laughing, and laughing. I guess it wouldn’t be as funny today with the aluminum rims on cars.


And speaking of jokes, did you ever try to put air in your tires, using the air hoses in today’s service stations? Back in the days of privately owned stations and full service, the compressors weren’t toys. Put the hose on the stem and you could see the tire rise up. Today, some even charge a buck for the air, and you still can’t get a tire up to pressure. You can buy groceries and pizza slices and designer coffee, but you can’t put air in your tires without spending a half an hour.

The Old Hand of Oakdale:
Published 12/7/13, SP PP, Bulletin Board


Actually, as much as I grumble about today’ tires and rims, they are certainly better than the ones of yesteryear. Every time I watch the tire changing scene in THE CHRISTMAS STORY, I just say to myself, been there done that — way too many times.


blizzard   Having a sense of humor while living in Minnesota is not mandated by law, but it sure helps out. The most overused cliché here is: Minnesota has two seasons, winter and road repair. On a beautiful day like today, there are actually people, right now, praying for winter so they can go ice fishing or snowmobiling. If it wasn’t for all the ice arenas and summer hockey leagues, there would be hockey aficionados joining in the prayers.

            I remember a ‘blizzard’ in Fort Bragg, NC. There was 4″ of snow over an 8 hour period. It shut the area down. In Minnesota it would have been called an early morning dew. The only vehicles moving had MN or WI plates. I had a dentist appointment that day. I jumped on my motorcycle and went to the clinic. The dentist, who was from Wisconsin, and myself were the only two in the place.

            The governor can declare a snow emergency here in MN, but not all the people heed it. The kids love it though. They don’t have school and can go out and play in the snow drifts. There is no snow emergency in show business though, not even in the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991.

            It came out of nowhere. We had no warning and this was several weeks before we could expect snow. It started out as rain, changed to sleet, and then poured down snow for 4 days, 28 1/2″ in the Twin Cities, accompanied with strong winds. Both cities were closed down, except the State Theater. We were in production for the Minnesota Opera’s new production of CAROUSEL, which was slated to open in a week or so, and also the official opening of the renovated State Theater. Now I am not saying all the hands made it every day during that blizzard, especially those who had to rely on public transportation,  and a lot of us were late several mornings; but we managed to get the production up and rehearsals in, and open the show and the theater on time.

            Since it was still too early for winter, in two weeks or so, the snow had melted and the grass was still lush and green. And then came the Thanksgiving Blizzard. Not as heavy, not as long, but another holiday blizzard; and winter still had several weeks before it started officially.

            Several years before when I was still at the Guthrie, we had the governor issue a snow emergency. It was a Saturday, which meant a matinee and an evening performance. After verifying that the shows were slated to go on, I, with the help of my sons, managed to get the truck to the highway and then I fought the white-out the twenty some miles to the theater.

            Don Schoenbaum, the managing director explained to me and the other two members of the running crew, why he didn’t call off the shows. ‘I figure there might be some poor salesman sitting in a hotel room downtown, with tickets for the matinee. Nothing else to do. Won’t be able to come back in town for the raincheck show. Besides,’ he added with a smile, ‘I figure if I can get to the theater in this kind of weather, anybody can.’ He laughed. Wise guy. He lived less than a block away. Then I laughed.  Like I said, to live in Minnesota, it is good to have a sense of humor.

            There were maybe twenty people in the house for the matinee. And even though it was still blowing snow outside, there was almost a full house for the Saturday evening show. Needless to say, there were no walk-ups for either performance.



The Old Hand:


On days when it is so hot there are warning to stay inside, it helps to remember, not too many months ago, when there were winter warnings to stay inside. This story, that our friend Paula told us, happened on one of those days several years ago.

Paula had to drive her elderly mother to the doctor. The snow was almost causing whiteout, and sane drivers were taking it slow and careful. But there’s always some!!!

First, the black SUV came up fast, and just a few yards before it would ram her car, it pulled out opposite lane. And naturally, pulled back right, cutting her off. She braked and her car turned into a toboggan, sliding and refusing to respond to her steering. Luckily, as it began to spin, the front wheels hit the curb, and the car stopped.

She said she gripped the steering wheel and tried not to cry, and tried harder not to say anything. She knew any words that came from her mouth would be words that a person should not utter in front of one’s mother.

‘Paula, honey,’ her mother said and placed her hand on Paula’s, ‘Don’t let them bother you like that. Now I don’t know how it helps but try this.’ She held her fist up and then extended her middle finger in the direction the SUV took. ‘This is what they use to do to me when I was driving.’

So enjoy the summer even with the heat and mosquitoes. State Fair and going back to school is here. Next will come raking leaves and prepping the snow-blower.

Published SPPP Bulletin Board, 9/2/13

Now I am not one of those who pray for the winter to come. And when it’s snowing out, I especially love being retired and staying home. Even though for many, many years, our son, Danny, always has our driveway snowblown by 7 AM, whether I need to go out or not, I still don’t like the thought of fighting the snow and the cold. Unlike the Minnesota snowbirds who drive to Florida or Arizona at the first sign of frost, I have no desire to go to either location. But believe me, if it wasn’t for the fact we can’t be far from our family, my wife and I would be wintering in one of the Colonial cities in Mexico. We could still keep our winter sense of humor, but we’d be laughing in Spanish.


model aThere was a time when you encountered a bad driver, you would holler, ‘Where’d you get your driver’s license? Out of a Cheerios box!

It wasn’t far off. Before written or driving tests came to being, you just filled out the blank license, paid a quarter or so, and you had a bona fide driver’s license.


Eva, a distant cousin, never drove a car, got her license in the old fashion way, and mailed in her money every time the license was about to expire. When her husband died, she either had to drive or walk to get around. Since she was too old to walk very far, she just got in the old car and  drove. After all she had a valid license.

She drove slow,( very slow), and as careful as she could. She never got into an accident. But then too, we recognized the car and made sure we kept out of her way.


The Old Hand:

I am so old I remember when rush hour traffic was a few hours in the morning and a few in the late afternoon. Not twenty four hours like it is now. I remember when the phrase ‘going a mile a minute’ meant you were speeding. Today it means you are probably slowing traffic down.

I remember when the rule of thumb was a distance of one car length for every ten miles per hour. Today it’s probably one for every 55 mph. Since bad drivers abhor a vacuum, leaving too much space is an invitation for someone to crank the wheel sharply and cut into your lane.

I remember when you signaled your driving intentions by rolling down the window and extending your forearm. Extended up for a right turn. Straight out for a left turn. Downward meant a slowdown or a stop. It’s so much easier today with blinkers. So why do only half the drivers use them? The traffic weavers are the worst. In their efforts to cut off every car in sight, they cause people hit the brakes, blow the horn, and give the one-finger signal.

Most of today’s drivers went to driving school and took tests, and then too many of them forgot their lessons as fast as they forgot their high school algebra. I am not romanticizing by saying the percentage of today’s bad drivers is any larger than yesterday’s. I’m just pointing out that there is much more cars on the roads today and they go much faster then yesterday’s, especially when they decide to cut you off. So please do some thinking while driving, the life you save maybe your own, or mine. And we’ll all arrive at our destinations in better moods.

Published 4/1/11 SPPP Bulletin Board


The Old Hand:

I watched a man trying to back his SUV into a parking space at the mall. There was at least six spaces empty on either side of the space he wanted. He tried about five times, finally just left it. One half of the SUV was in one space, the other half was in the space next to it. I noticed both spaces were posted for ten minute parking only. Since he was parked in two spaces, does that mean he can park there for twenty minutes?


I have a hard time understanding what is accomplished by backing into parking space. You might get out faster but since it takes the average driver seesawing back and forth about three, four times, whatever you gain in time on the exit, you’ve lost on the entrance by a long ways. And then if you want to put groceries etc., in the trunk, you probably have to pull the vehicle ahead. I saw a customer with van at a big box store loading plywood after he had parked backwards in the space. He had to actually pull the van into the driving lane, blocking any other vehicle from using the lane. He got the plywood loaded but he also caused a lot of horns to be honked and fingers to be waved.


I always get a leery whenever I see somebody back into a parking space when there is a bank close by. Is it because the driver might want to make a quick getaway?

Published 7/14/13, SPPP, Bulletin Board


The Old Hand:

Since my wife doesn’t drive, and I don’t shop, I spend a lot of time in nice weather sitting in the car, read a little, snooze a little, observe the life of the parking lot. I see children mistaking the it for a playground, shoppers, with full carts, blindly believing in the right-of-way of pedestrians, and drivers whose only focus is finding a parking space. I see a lot of accidents waiting to happen.

A few lots have speed bumps in their entrance lanes to help counter some of these potential accidents.. Most drivers see the bump, slow down, ease over it, and maintain a sensible rate of speed. Some don’t notice the bump and go flying over it. It’s amazing how, when their tires return to the road, and their right hands can no longer hold onto the steering wheels, their left hands always manage to keep holding the cell phones tight against their ears.

But the drivers that really make me shake my head are those that avoid the bump altogether. They speed up, pull into the wrong lane, then quickly get back into the correct lane once they are past the bump. Such a shame when something that is meant to promote safety becomes an excuse to drive stupidly. But then, some people don’t need an excuse to be stupid when they get behind a wheel, it’s just second nature.

So when you go into a store parking lot, remember the warning of the sergeant  the sgtin Hill Street Blues and ‘be careful out there’, and when you leave the lot, be extra careful out there.

Published SPPP, Bulletin Board 4/23/09

There’s so many advantages of a car over a horse and buggy, but there’s one disadvantage. If the driver of the horse and buggy didn’t have much common sense, at least the horse did.