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The Big One

December 3, 2012

Ken Thomasma recalls the creation of the Kelly School ice skating rink. In this entry, he recalls the biggest blizzard in ice rink history. Miss the beginning? Start here!

To this day, I call it “The Big One.” The third year of the ice rink started well. There was good snow and plenty of freezing temperatures. After the 30+ hours of construction, we had an amazingly beautiful surface of ice. Skating began right after Thanksgiving break. During December, almost weekly, we would get six to eight inches of snow. With the two snow shovels, I cleared the ice and used the snow to build perfect snowbanks around the edges of the entire rink. The snowbanks kept the hockey puck in play.

We were enjoying day after day of great skating: then it happened.

Back from our holiday trip to Michigan for a family Christmas, I went to school on Saturday. There were four or five inches of snow to clear from the ice. With the job done, I went home, ready for school to begin on Monday, January 4th.

7:30 a.m., Monday, January 4th: Up early that morning, we, Mr. and Mrs. T., are on our way to school. It is snowing steadily. I know that I will be pushing the shovels again so we don’t lose a day of ice skating.

8:30 a.m. – It’s snowing more heavily than ever. The wind has increased. It’s a full-blown blizzard.

10:30 a.m. – We have to make a run to the Slide-Inn and the post office located a quarter of a mile from Kelly School. In our four-wheel drive pickup truck, I barely manage to get through the three-foot drifts in the village.

10:45 a.m. – We call the school district administration to let them know we would soon be snowed in and unable to get the school bus to the entrance of the tiny village.

11:15 a.m. – The call comes from school headquarters that a snowplow will be at Kelly School by 3:15 p.m. to clear the path, enabling the school bus to make it out of the snowed-in village. The snowfall increases in intensity. The wind is howling. The school bus parked outside our school is surrounded by drifting snow.

12:00 noon – Too bad, no ice skating with snow falling on the ice rink and already over two feet deep.

3:15 p.m. – No let up in the storm, and no snowplow in sight.

3:40 p.m. – School district office calls, telling us the snowplow left the highway and is stuck in a ditch. They say another snowplow is on the way. We call all the parents to alert them to our situation, and tell them to listen to the local KSGT Radio Station for updates.

4:30 p.m. – It’s starting to get dark. Snowstorm ended and the wind is dying down. Another call comes. The second snowplow is also in a ditch.

4:40 p.m. – The decision is made. We will use our pickup truck to blast through four and  five-foot drifts to make way for the school bus to get to the main road. We tell the children to get ready. I warm up our Chevy truck, putting it in four-wheel drive. In the darkness, my headlights shine on the first huge drift. When I hit it, I make a little progress before being stopped dead. I back up, and hit it again. Back up, hit it again. Progress is very slow.

My truck is not happy; she begins to heat up. My next task is to clear the packed snow from the grill to prevent overheating. I establish a routine: smash into drift after drift, back up, hit them again. Get out and clear the snow from the grill. 45 minutes of great work by a faithful pickup, and we finally cover the quarter mile back to the Slide-Inn store. With no cell phones then, I stop and use the store’s phone to call KSGT Radio so they can let the parents know we will be to Highway 89 at about 5:30 p.m. with their children in the bus.

The drifts on the Kelly road are big, but not enough to cause a major problem. We finally make it to the highway where the parents are waiting.

After all that transpired, the school superintendent came up to me as I stood outside making sure each child had a parent there to take them safely home. The superintendent then uttered words that I did not believe. “Where have you been?”

I had to resist a violent verbal or physical reaction. I did not give him an answer.

Tuesday, January 5th – Schools are closed Kelly remains drifted in. Rotary snowplows are needed to eat through the drifts while throwing snow high into the air.

With the road finally cleared into Kelly School, I went out to take a look. With no slowblower, I cleared the way to the front doors. Next, I looked at the ice rink. The entire rink was covered in show three to four feet deep. I knew I was up against all of it. “How will I remove tons of snow in time for skating on Wednesday? I’ll never make it!” So, instead, I created an exciting feature for our skaters. I created a snow maze by digging paths that zig-zagged all over the rink.

Wednesday was one of the best days on the rink! Kids were skating in the snowy ditches, chasing each other through the maze, and squealing with delight. I love the phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” And we sure made lemonade that snowy morning.

Next time, the ice rink goes high tech. Stay tuned!

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