Dubois––Spotlight

Through Blizzards and Fires, Standing Together

By Bruce Bash

They knew it was coming. The blizzard. But it was coming sooner than anyone had expected.

The city had endured blizzards before, blizzards that charged into town kicking and screaming and throwing a tantrum like a spoiled child. But usually, in a day or so, the storms would slip away, subside, as if they had lost interest. Of course they always left behind a massive mess—ice and cement-hard drifts—for the residents to clean up. But the townsfolk did not expect the blizzard that hit on January 31, 1989, the blizzard they called the Siberian Express, the Hundred-Year Storm, the monster that shook and terrorized and buried the community for five days.

In June, I stopped at the Heritage Hall Museum in Dubois to gather information on the city and visit with museum volunteers. I was fortunate to meet and talk with LaPreal Henman, a longtime resident, and Jolene Johnson, a more recent transplant to the area. I asked LaPreal about the blizzard and discovered she had been a city ambulance volunteer during the five-day storm. She told me about the emergency call the ambulance crew received late on February 2. A woman was about to give birth. The storm continued to rage, coming straight out of the mountains. Snow blew sideways and visibility hovered at six feet or less. Cars that were parked along the streets in town were buried in snow drifts. The ambulance crew picked up their patient and headed toward Sage Junction, about twenty-four miles south, where they were to meet another ambulance that would take the woman to the hospital in Idaho Falls. They arrived at their destination and the transfer was made safely. But on their return trip to Dubois the snowplow they were following drove off the road, blocking both the road and the ambulance. The blizzard continued to howl and it was so cold, the diesel engine of the ambulance kept stalling. They were able to restart the engine three times, but then it wouldn’t start again. Once the ambulance was freed from its trap, the snowplow had to pull it to town. The crew members got home about five in the morning.

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