Sunday, January 29, 2012

What a Ham I am (Part 5) - Winter in the Rockies

White Road Black Sky
Work had taken us (me and my OM) many places.

(For non-Hams, OM is lingo for "Old Man" - a guy, a husband in my case.)

This was back in the days when I worked outside the home ... for pay.

One stint was the Rocky Mountain region. We both worked at different sides of town but lived in the country.

Country living did have its advantages - the elbow room, the forests, the friendly neighbors, who were not too close. But there was the downside ... like when we were working in the city ... and the weather would take a turn for the worse ... and there were the nasty road conditions with miles to go before we sleep ...

But there was and still is an old saying in these parts -

If you don't like the weather, just wait a little bit and it will change.

Sometimes for worse ... real fast.

In these environs, we were granted snow days - when officials cancelled school and government offices and businesses dismissed non-essential workers for safety concerns. One time, a snow day was called at the local military bases, yet the school districts had not made that same call for their students. The kids stayed in class. And the big anticipated snow storm did not pan out.

Why does my kid have to go to school and "Rambo" gets the day off?

That was the complaint of one of the callers on a local talk show the next day. Oh, the military would not live this one down! So government and businesses were a little gun shy to a declare a snow day ... which was not necessarily a good thing.

Not long after that "Rambo" call, an Albuquerque Low brought in a ton of snow. Workers were dismissed eventually ... but perhaps a little too late to get home safely before feeling the full fury of the storm.

At that time, I was driving a small car (Toyota Tercel), a 4WD, and thought I was doing real well though I moved quite slowly in the traffic. I finally crept out of town onto a well traveled road passing some major businesses. Only a few more miles to get to my home in the country.

On the more open road, though, the wind was blowing awfully fierce creating white out conditions. I thought I was following the reflectors along the side of the road. But it turned out I was on the wrong side. Then I got stuck ... in my 4WD ... in a snow bank ... in a blizzard. And I did what many other women might have done under these circumstances ...

I cried.

Then this large SUV drove by.

The driver saw me - this woman in distress. He had just dropped a fellow co-worker in the country and was on his way home in town. He picked me up and dropped me off at the edge of town, where I got a room for the night.

I called my OM, who was already home safe. He drove a larger car much like a small SUV (Mitsubishi Montero - which we affectionately called "Monty"), also a 4WD with higher clearance.

Beating me home, OM had been on the air, talking to a Ham with a mobile rig in a big pickup truck trying to find me. He had not heard from me for a while since I had left work. He was glad when I called from the motel and that I was safe. The next day, weather clear, OM picked me up, and eventually we recovered my car - in the large parking lot of one of the big businesses out of town - towed there among many other cars stuck in the snow like mine was.

Why didn't I just call on a cell phone?

This was the 1980s. Cell phones were not yet ubiquitous. What coverage that there was for existing cell phones was extremely limited, such as shown below in this vintage ad:

A mobile ham rig was the thing to have. For you old timers, remember the popularity of CBs, especially in the 1970s? CBers were kind of like Hams, but they didn't have to get a license. (A sore point for serious Hams of that day.)

Fast forward a few years.

When we still worked in town and lived in the country, another storm was forecast to move in one evening. After work, I had a music lesson scheduled, which meant I was coming home later than usual ... about the time the storm was due. This time, OM insisted that I take "Monty" with a 2 meter ham radio rig in it. And I did.

Weather was somewhat decent after work. But after my lesson, conditions changed quickly. The roads were worse than snowy. They were icy ... and most dangerous. But in Monty I was doing fine driving up a main north to south road at the edge of town, which had recently been expanded to a four lanes - two lanes each way with street lights on the dividers.

Why is that car going the wrong way?

That's what I thought when I spotted a pickup truck ahead, stopped in the middle of the two lanes, with lights shining the wrong way - right at me. As I got closer, I saw a woman in the cab with the wheel well of her truck smashed in.

I stopped to assist and learned her story. Her truck had slid on the icy road, spun around a full 180 degrees and struck one of the light poles in the divider between the lanes. She was a little shaken and wanted to get a hold of her husband.

Fortunately, I drove Monty with the 2 meter mobile ham radio rig. I got on the air and called for help. Immediately, I heard the familiar voice of a friend that I knew from the local ham radio club - a Marine Vet (he had fought in the South Pacific during World War Two and knew code really well). Retired and snugly nestled in his man cave, Marine Vet was monitoring the net when he recognzied my voice and call sign.

Meanwhile, my OM was monitoring the net with the ham radio a rig at work and heard me talking with Marine Vet about some accident.

Oh, no! She wrecked my car!

Those were my OM's first thoughts. He broke in, but got quickly up to speed on the situation. And Marine Vet called the woman's husband on the land line and gave our location.

But we were not out of the woods - or should I say - out of the middle of the road, yet.

The truck was still pointed the wrong way - a hazard to all who drove on the ice with reduced visibility. With the smashed wheel well, the woman could not turn the wheels of her truck to move it to the side. So we both huddled inside Monty in a more safe place along the side of the road and waited for her husband.

A Good Samaritan on two wheels?

As the snow was blowing, a most dedicated bicyclist pedaled by us, riding on the snow and ice, much like this guy in the video clip below. But this guy wore the tight black spandex pants with the padding on the seat and was not a bit fazed by the storm. Clearly, bicycling was very serious business to him.

The cyclist stopped at the scene of the accident and heard our tale of the truck and that we were not able to move it out of the middle of the road.

No problem. The man was as skilled at driving a smashed-in truck as he was cycling in a snow storm. Though the bashed in side hindered turning the wheels, he maneuvered the truck off to the side of the road ... something we could not figure out how to do.

Good deed done, this Good Samaritan got back on his mountain bike and pedalled up the road - disappearing into a curtain of snow.

An angel on two wheels?

The Lord works in mysterious ways ...

We waited until the husband came and rescued his wife. Then I drove Monty back home arriving much later than planned.

An eclectic cast of rescuers came together this snowy day. I would not have happened on the scene if I had not been going home later than usual, delayed from taking a music lesson after work. My OM was prescient to insist that I drive his car with the 2 meter rig that day. A retired World War Two Marine Vet happened to be monitoring the net that evening. And an unknown bicyclist happened to come across us, who was willing to help and knew how to drive really well.

And so ends this winter tale of my first emergency use of ham radio by myself.

Question: Any winter tales to share?


Previous posts in the What a Ham I am series:

What a Ham I am (Part 1) - moving on up! (2011)

What a Ham I am (Part 2) - When lightening strikes (2011)

What a Ham I am (Part 3) - Hams make Contact (2011)

What a Ham I am (Part 4): Have you hugged your Elmer today? (2011)


Post on similar subject:

Advice for all seasons - Be safe (2011)


Photo from White Road Black Sky

1 comment:

  1. Update: In 2013, Marine Vet became of silent key. He fought for his country as a marine during World War Two in the Pacific Theater. He was a patriot. He lived a full and interesting life - passing away in his 90s.