The Herald Bulletin

February 19, 2014

Jim Bailey: This winter of discontent pales by comparison


The Herald Bulletin

---- — As a young man in the early 1900s, my dad lived near Roosevelt, Minn., a few miles from the Canadian border. One frigid winter morning he bundled up, hitched up a team of horses and traveled into town with a load of wood.

When he got there the townspeople were amazed he had made the trip at all. Turned out the actual temperature reading that morning was 60 degrees below zero. He hadn’t felt particularly cold on the trip into town, but on the return, armed with the unpleasant knowledge of how cold it was, he really felt the chill.

My boyhood years were spent in southern Minnesota, not as cold but with plenty of snow and spells where temps dipped to double digits below zero. I was equipped with boots, a cap with earflaps, a sheepskin coat and scarf. The only time I missed school, which never closed, was when our farm was snowed in.

Huge road graders were equipped with long snow blades as the primary road-clearing vehicles. And most cars and trucks then, in an era before all-weather tires became popular, were equipped with tire chains during the winter months.

It may be different now with the end of neighborhood schools and near-universal dependence on the almighty bus. But the point is, we were used to cold weather and knew how to handle it. Not so Indiana, where occasional bouts of snow and cold grind everything to a halt.

I wore hats during my youth, something I rarely do anymore even with my rapidly thinning hair. And I ditched the long flannel underwear I got used to wearing as a kid about the time my Hoosier classmates started making fun of me in the locker room at gym class.

In the meantime, weather forecasters came up with something called wind chill factor, purported to tell us how cold it is supposed to FEEL when the wind is blowing. Thus it’s no longer 5 below, for instance, but it FEELS like 35 below. They do the same thing with the humidity in the summer, so 90 degrees FEELS like 110.

Nobody told us in the old days how cold it was supposed to feel. We knew it was less comfortable when the wind blew, and we dressed accordingly.

If kids today went to the bus stop bundled up properly, maybe there could be fewer snow days and two-hour delays. That is, if the drivers could get their diesel engines started on the first try.

As for me, I recall hiking into the office during the Blizzard of 1978, bundled up in my old sheepskin coat, hat, scarf, boots and two layers of pants.

I wouldn’t try that today, given my warfarin-thinned blood and advancing age. But in retirement I have the luxury of cocooning when the weather is severe.

I just wish Hoosier drivers would learn how to drive on snow.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.