The power of the internet solved the mystery. Research on the Drone family name yielded a series of interrelated obituaries that provided the answers. By studying the names and relationships it was determine which children of the blended family might have been of school age in January of 1967.
So it was that the Almond Drone Sr. family had seven school-age students enrolled in Chokio Public School that year. The family, originally from Staples, Minn., lived south of Chokio.
“Dad worked for the Northern Pacific railroad. He took a job at Morris, Minn. He was railroad foreman from Morris to St. Cloud,” Bruce explained.
They were the largest family on Clayton Kolling’s bus route. Six of the children were on the bus that day. Bruce Drone was home, but the phrase “safe at home” might have been stretching it a bit.
He had recently been hospitalized for appendicitis, and still had drainage tubes extending from his abdomen. The day of the blizzard the tubes malfunctioned and fluid built up in his abdomen.
“Mom called the doctor, but she couldn’t get me in because of the blizzard,” he said.
“Dad got as far as Chokio. He joined the rescue team and stayed in town overnight,” Bruce said.
The next day a snowplow cleared the route to the Drone farm nine miles south of town. “Dad was right behind the plow,” Bruce said. Then Bruce was taken back to the hospital in Morris, where he was re-admitted.
The Drone family children who were on the stranded bus included Ramona, Dale “Rusty,” Almond, Jr., Norman, Starr and Lois.
Norman recalls that the morning of the bus rescue it was cloud and storming.
“At 9 a.m. at school we were told ‘Get ready to go home,’” Norman recalls.
Almond Drone, Sr. made it from Morris to Chokio on the train, where it stopped.
“Then Dad helped with the rescue,” Norman added.
Memories of the long-ago rescue are hazy in Starr’s mind, but there are parts she recalls. “I remember we (older children) were writing notes to family, thinking we weren’t going to make it.” Starr was 13 and in the 7th grade.
“We worried about the little ones. We helped keep them calm and warm. We told them everything would be OK.”
She recalls bus driver Clayton Kolling as “pretty heroic.”
“It was scary when he left to go get help. He had to go through the deep snow, and walk along the fence, and bring stuff back to us.
One thing Starr does remember is what a fun year she had at Chokio Public School, and how nice the town was.
“It was a fun time being in Chokio. I just really liked the entire town.”