When it Rains, it Sleets

” the Ice Storm Commeth…”



The weather today brought me back in time 40 years ago… 40 years and 2 months, to be (sorta) precise.

I had ridden my motorcycle home on leave from Bergstrom Air Force Base for Thanksgiving, 1976. Back then it was ~480 miles from Del Valle, Texas to Patterson, Louisiana. But that’s a story for another day. Anyhow, it was time to head back and the weather was not looking too good. I feel remorse now, knowing how much heartache I caused my parents as I headed out in 35 degree rain. But being the strong people they were, they smiled and waved as I headed off into the rain. I know now how they must have dreaded the ringing of the phone the rest of that day.

So off I went, confident in my ability to overcome the odds and freezing my ass off. My wife at the time, Cheryl, had driven down in our Pinto (yep! I had one…) with our 1-1/2 year-old son Brian. They left at the same time I did and we sorta followed each other. By the time we got to the four lane section of US 90, just north of Jeanerette, the rain was turning to sleet… did I say it was cold? After 25 miles of rain, the sleet was just uncomfortable (hah!) and felt like BB’s at 60 miles per hour. After almost crashing a coupla times while trying to warm my hands on the cylinder head (laying on the tank, I had to reach over with my left hand to hold the throttle while I reached down with my right hand), we finally reached Lafayette. When we pulled up to the traffic light at Pinhook, I pulled up next to the Pinto and pointed to the Gulf station across the intersection where I saw U-Haul trailers; all I could say was, “Go There!

Fortunately, we had a trailer hitch on the Pinto. When we got back from overseas, we had put one on it to haul our meager household belongings (and my motorcycle) to Austin. And, back then, the restrictions on what you could use to pull a U-Haul trailer were pretty much, “does it run?”  We got a 4×6 open trailer and a few yards of rope from the owner, and he helped me load and tie down the bike–a really nice guy. He probably figured he was saving a fool from impending doom, and he was probably correct in thinking that.

Off we went again thinking that we I had dodged a bullet, or had come to my senses (right!), but we still had 400 miles to go through an ice storm in the making. At first, I-10 was not too bad, and I was (almost) thankful that the speed limit then was only 55 mph; but the Ice Storm Cometh.

When we got to the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles, things got dicey. As we were going up the bridge, you could hear the engine racing now and then as we hit patches of ice. Very interesting for a Coonass, eh? But we made it across. We were listening to the radio and heard that they had closed the bridge down about 45 minutes after we crossed… and then the Neches in Beaumont… same thing! As we worked our way west on I-10, they were closing down bridges behind us as we went along. By the time we got to the Brazos, our last major bridge to cross, there was a DPS trooper in the middle of the road. He let us through; probably thinking if we had made it that far in a Pinto pulling a trailer we were badass!  He let us through, but stopped the car behind us. When we got to the other side of the bridge we could see why they were shutting it down. The median and sides of the highway looked like a used-car lot. There were cars and trucks everywhere, at all kinds of weird ass angles… obviously not parked there on purpose! Obviously, I should be careful. Right.  Well, all’s well that ends well…

No… We did make it back to our trailer in Del Valle, but the ice was an inch or two thick on the side of the trailer! I had to borrow a hammer from our landlord in order to bust off the ice on the door so we could get in.  –into a trailer with no water, no heat, and no electricity! Fortunately, growing up in south Louisiana with the yearly hurricanes, we had no problems… just break up the furniture, pile it in the living room, and build a fire!

Nah, not really. But it sounded good for a minute.

To be continued; same life, different story…