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WOSTER: Toughing out the cold

For as long as my memory holds, I'll have vivid images of trying to stay warm when my dad took me to work with him on the farm on winter weekends. The images are most vivid mostly because I so often failed to find enough warm clothing, the right ...

Terry Woster

For as long as my memory holds, I'll have vivid images of trying to stay warm when my dad took me to work with him on the farm on winter weekends.

The images are most vivid mostly because I so often failed to find enough warm clothing, the right combination of garments, the proper mix of wool socks and the most wind-resistant headgear for long hours out in the open. No matter how I tried, I always wound up with tingling fingers and with toes that felt like stones inside the several layers of socks. The supposedly insulated work boots just didn't do the job.

Those memories one reason some of my heroes are the men and women who go out in the cold and wind and snow and sleet during a winter storm.

I'm not talking about people who go on ski trips or to ice-fish or to bust drifts with their dogs in search of the season's last lonely pheasant. I'm not even talking about moms and dads who succumb to the pleadings of an 8-year-old and venture out to a sledding hill in below-zero weather. Those folks, one way or another, choose to be outside. They could give it a rest and sit by the fire with a warm blanket over their lap and a cup of hot chocolate at hand.

The folks I'm talking about go out in a storm because it's their job. I'm talking about:

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• The snowplow drivers and other road folks who try to keep travel going in some really lousy conditions.

• The troopers and other law enforcement folks who make sure people are safe as they travel and who check closed roads just to see if some fellow citizen ignored the "Closed" barrier and became stranded alone in a blizzard.

• The first responders who rush through the storm to treat sick and injured folks who can't get to a medical center or emergency room on their own.

And I'm talking about the people who climb icy power poles, who ride a bucket truck's arm into open sky and who dig into frozen earth miles from the nearest town to put up poles to replace downed power poles. Prairie winds make ice-covered lines buck and gallop, sometimes until lines break or poles snap. When that happens, customers on that line are without power until the crews can find and fix the breaks. That takes time, even though the crews are out as soon as it is humanly possible to be.

I recall a newspaper reporting trip I made to the southwest part of the state after a major ice storm took out power to thousands. This was 2008, maybe 2007. The folks at the cooperative in Martin pulled from a small freezer a chunk of ice maybe two feet long and four inches thick. A hole the size and shape of a power line ran through the middle of the ice chunk. That's the kind of stuff the line crews battled.

After I stopped newspapering, during my years with the Department of Public Safety, I marveled through several storms at the skill and dedication of the power crews and at the massive jobs they faced when the lines really went down. An ice storm in the northern part of the state in January of 2010 was one such time. About 12,000 households were without power and the water delivery system for a three-county area in and around the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation went down. Thousands upon thousands of poles had to be replaced.

I used to ask Brenda Kleinjan from South Dakota Rural Electric Association to estimate the total miles of line that needed attention. I recall a couple of times the job was the equivalent of a line from Pierre to the West Coast and back. And the crews were out in the middle of all of that, trying to reach each customer.

When the latest Christmas storm cut power in several areas of the state, one of my first thoughts was of the crews out in the foul weather working to get folks back on line. I hoped they stayed warm.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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