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OPINION: Today's forecast — Snowy with a side of politics

Photographs of early-fall snow in the Black Hills remind me of the 1970 general-election campaign when I nearly couldn't make it from Rapid City to Lead to cover a candidate for Congress on the second or third day of October.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Photographs of early-fall snow in the Black Hills remind me of the 1970 general-election campaign when I nearly couldn't make it from Rapid City to Lead to cover a candidate for Congress on the second or third day of October.

Recently I've seen a couple of images of snowfall in the Hills. One was from a highway camera at Hardy Station along Highway 85 near the Wyoming border. Well, there's always snow up there. Television meteorologists like to grab that camera shot when they want to scare viewers.

Another snow scene came from Hill City. That one really reminded me of the time I nearly missed an early morning appointment with Jim Abourezk at the union hall in Lead. I made it, but I hadn't prepared for winter driving conditions, and neither had my mid-sized American Motors Rebel station wagon.

That was back when Nancy and I had a couple of pre-school-aged kids. She had interrupted her nursing career for a few years to raise the young kids. They were homebound when I traveled for work, because we only had the one vehicle. You wouldn't think a family could get by on one job and one vehicle. Somehow we did.

I had been with The Associated Press for exactly one year when the 1970 general election started heating up. My assignment that fall was the race for the state's congressional seat from the 2nd District, back at a time when people used to talk about the East River seat and the West River seat. Abourezk, a Democrat, and Republican Fred Brady, who had defeated Jim Abdnor in the GOP primary, were the candidates I was to follow, profile and write about.

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I didn't think much of it then, but today I recognize what an incredible moment in South Dakota politics I witnessed. E. Y. Berry, the Republican who had held the 2nd District seat for 20 years, had decided to retire. Across the Missouri River in the 1st District, Republican Ben Reifel also had decided to retire after 10 years in Congress. Democrat Dick Kneip was being given a serious chance to defeat incumbent Gov. Frank Farrar. Few folks I knew at the time thought all three of those political offices could swing from Republican to Democrat, but they did.

I drove to Rapid early one weekday to meet Brady. The Republican was favored in the West River race. He had a confident air as he talked of what he'd do after he won. I recall walking downtown streets with him in Rapid, listening to a speech he gave to a business group and drinking a cup of coffee at a luncheon sponsored by a Republican civic group. We parted company in time for me to grab a burger and make connections with my cousin, a graduate student at the School of Mines. I over-nighted at my cousin's basement apartment and awoke to wind, 30-degree temperature and an inch or so of snow covering my station wagon.

I had to meet Abourezk in Lead for shift change at the gold mine. The shift change came awfully early, I vaguely recall. In those days, people swapped their rear tires for snow tires or even studded tires for winter travel. It was barely October. I hadn't done that yet. I hadn't even switched to winter-weight motor oil. The small eight-cylinder engine groaned but turned over and warmed up. On the road up the mountain, I slid all over the place. It wasn't a good time to be running late and trying to make up time.

I arrived a few minutes after Abourezk. After the union hall, he shook a bunch of hands. I followed his boxy, red compact car down the mountain. We drove out of the snow before Sturgis. He campaigned there and in Belle Fourche, Spearfish and Rapid. I left him after sunset as he headed off to shake hands in a bowling alley or two.

The next day, I tried to describe to Nancy how treacherous the travel conditions had been. She looked out the window at our back lawn, green and dotted with the first leaves of autumn, and she just nodded.

Related Topics: WEATHERTERRY WOSTER
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