Record snows and cold temperatures, mixed with rain, have challenged rural travel the Carlton County Highway Department reported to the township officers at their spring meeting April 23. Several mild winters with road bed frost out sometimes in early March over the last few years have caught area residents unprepared for the length of this winter.
Randy McCuskey, foreman for the County Highway crew, reported, “We have been afraid to run the plow trucks on gravel roads whether county or township. Every grader we have, including one mothballed, was put into service as wet snow continued to fall persistently over several days. The roads were partially thawed out and we had more than one plow truck get stuck in a road bed while plowing. The majority of snow was plowed to the side by keeping the plow blade up from the muddy road. Car traffic struggled with the remaining slush.”
Reports of a record April snowfall did not surprise many of the grey hairs in the area. One fellow remarked, “We don’t have to have anyone say that in so and so year the snow was heavier. We have lived through it.”
Normally, the county road plows are set up for speed and throwing the snow out into the tar road ditch. Slides under the blades guide the plow blade at the desired depth on frozen ground. Large amounts of heavy, wet snow, whether in the spring or the fall, on a soft road bed causes the blade on uneven ground to dig into the road bed and peel gravel into the ditch.
Some of the townships hired local farmers and pickup plows to clear trails for rural residents. Some areas were drifted deep enough only a one car trail was possible. Travel was inconvenient but not impossible.
Unusual weather gets the older residents reminiscing about the Halloween storm of 1991 or even further back — 1966, the year of the "Big Mud." A school bus buried to the cab on the tar road County 6 west of Barnum by the Richardson Swamp, or milk cans hauled miles to a waiting milk truck were spoken with a shaking of the head.
One retired trucker said he drove to school every day. “That '58 Buick I drove had to hit that long mud hole at 50 miles an hour in order to slide to the other end,” he still recounts with a smile. ”The hole was 80 feet of muck — I counted the distance by the eight fence posts on the other side of the ditch. Skimming across, the Buick blew mud 20 feet up the roadside trees. I only had to walk back to the farm to get the tractor twice that spring!"
This was at a time when roads were improved enough that rural residents thought they could depend on a modern transportation grid. A favorite comment of the time was that of Lee Hattenberger who was at the Kettle River Coop Store after a trip to town in all that mud with his team of horses. This was 1966 — soon the completion of the interstate freeway system. “You know,” Hattenberger said, “they can put a man on the moon but I can’t get to Kettle River.”