A surprise blizzard hit the region, bringing below-zero temps, low to no visibility and fierce winds on Monday, January 16, 1967.
“It was snowing outside, and they let us out early,” Marcia said. “The wind was up.”
After school was dismissed early in the school day, the buses tried to deliver children home. Only one bus delivered home all of its children that day. Three buses turned back to the school and one was stranded for seven hours before a rescue team reached them and brought them to safety.
“Our farm was 3 miles north and 4 ¼ miles west of Chokio,” Curt said. “Our bus driver was John Berlinger. We got within a mile and a half to two miles east of the farm, and when the bus turned west, we couldn’t see.”
Curt and some of the older boys took turns walking alongside the bus to guide the driver, who watched through the open bus door, all to keep the bus safely on the road.
The serious nature of their situation was felt throughout the bus.
“Yeah, could feel the tension. The boys were outside leading the bus and we all had our heads to the windows watching the boys,” Marcia said. “And we didn’t even know about the bus that was stranded.”
Marcia said that when the bus rolled into the Zimmerman farmyard , the bus driver “shut it down as if to say ‘we’re not going anywhere.’”
After being welcomed to stay, John called the school to let their location be known, Marcia said. Then the task became providing hospitality to the stranded and potentially scared children.
“It was exciting at first,” recalls Curt. “It is a big old farmhouse, so we had room. I remember the piles of shoes on the floor. Piles and piles of shoes! The coats were all heaped on the bed.”
“There were 27 kids,” Marcia recalls. “There were a lot more kids on the bus then than there are now.”
“That’s a lot of kids! Today you might wonder how you could feed that many, but back then people had a full pantry,” Curt said.
Coincidentally, a traveling frozen food truck had stopped at the farm earlier in the day, and Dorothy stocked up on wieners, ice cream and other food.
In addition to all that food available for dinner, breakfast included pancakes, eggs and sausage.
“We didn’t suffer,” Curt quipped.
The boys congregated in Curt’s room, where they entertained themselves playing Penny Ante with a pie tin of pennies.
“I don’t think we “played to keep,” he said. There was story book time. “The older kids helped a lot.”
Marcia likewise had all the girls in her room. Five slept crosswise on her bed. They were impressed with the feather tick on Marcia’s bed.
“They thought that was the greatest thing,” Marcia said. “It was kind of like one big party. Everyone got along. The older students were very helpful to our parents. None of the little ones cried.”
When it was bedtime, all the boys were in Curt’s bedroom. “Some of the boys were pretty young, so the older boys helped them out and got them settled,” Curt said. “The little ones were a bit worried [being away from home], but it all worked out. We had it pretty nice.”
Pretty nice, especially compared to the students on the stranded bus south of Chokio.
“Other kids (on the stranded bus) were doing exercises. Their bus stopped. The bus driver, Clayton Kolling, was a hero. He could have perished making the trips for help. That was a scary time,” Curt said.
Tuesday morning the blizzard had stopped and roads were being cleared.
“Parents started to show up,” Curt said.
Curt recalls that in the late 60s the highway department didn’t have the modern rotary-style snow plows.
“They pretty much just cut through drifts. It wouldn’t take much of a snow event to plug them up again,” Curt explained.
Parents of the overnight-guest children were effusive in their thanks to Floyd and Dorothy Zimmerman.
“They were small farmers, a few cattle, hens, sheep. We didn’t farm a lot of acres,” Curt said of his parents. “They were very humble, small-town people; very generous and willing to share.”
The parents of children who stayed overnight gave the Zimmerman couple a pair of sweaters as a token of their appreciation, Marcia said.
“They wore those sweaters for many years,” Curt said. “They wore them until they were practically worn out. Mom and Dad felt very proud of them.”