February 2008 Issue
The Best February
Thirty years ago this month, we just watched. If we were really lucky, we watched from the comfortable confines of our homes, still gun-shy about venturing out. Who could blame us? We were still recovering from the blast.
Remember when the Blizzard of ’78 rocked Ohio and other parts of the Midwest and Northeast?
Ohio escaped the fury of the first storm. That one occurred January 19â€“21 in the Northeast, where 21 inches of snow fell in some parts of the region. In the second week of February, the Northeast coastline got hit again. And again, we sat at home in our living rooms and watched it all on television. That storm destroyed some 2,000 homes. Fifty-four people died.
But this time, we could sympathize. Between those two killer storms, we suffered through an epic storm that swept through Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Wisconsin. The blizzard virtually immobilized the state and ultimately was blamed for 51 Ohio deaths.
Tears glistened behind his glasses as Gov. James A. Rhodes spoke of the thousands of Ohioans stuck at home – or, worse, stranded – frozen and in the dark, terrorized by the elements.
“They’re helpless, they’re victims,” he choked. “They want mercy and we can’t get to them.”
Many Ohioans didn’t realize anything was wrong until their electric alarm clocks failed to awaken them on the morning of January 26, 1978. It didn’t matter; most of them wouldn’t go anywhere anyway.
Whipped by wind gusts exceeding 80 miles per hour, snow created drifts that made roads impassable. For the first time in its 20-year history, the Ohio Turnpike was closed from one end to the other.
Only the heartiest of souls willingly ventured out. Others simply got caught. Among the latter unfortunates was Jim Truly, a 43-year-old truck driver who for the remainder of his life – he died in 1986 – would recall the date as “the day I got buried.”
Truly was buried alive for five days inside his 40-foot tractor-trailer rig, covered by drifting snow that shut St. Rte. 13 north of Mansfield. Trapped for 124 hours, he ate snow, smoked cigarettes and prayed.
But as February dawned, new life did too. Truly’s brother, Don, who had been desperately searching for his brother for days, spotted a shiny antenna poking up about an inch out of the snow. Borrowing a shovel from someone nearby, he started digging.
“Nice to see you,” Jim said to his brother.
“Nice to see you,” his brother replied.
And Jim Truly walked out on his own, greeting what may well have been the best February of his life.