STORM HITS AREA: 29 Students & Teacher Stranded In Bus Seven Hours
School started at the usual time at the Chokio School Monday. Due to snow, high winds and near blizzard condition school was dismissed and the buses left at about 9:30 a.m. As the storm continued, and the visibility reached near zero. Three buses driven by Harley Peters, John Mount and Don Grossman were forced back to Chokio.
The bus driven by John Berlinger was forced to stop at the Floyd Zimmerman farm. He and 26 students spent the night there. Mrs. Zimmerman said all the children, ranging in age from first through 12th grades were all fine, with the exception of one little girl who had become ill, but not seriously. She said she served them hot dish and ice cream for supper and everything was going fine.
Roger Amborn completed his entire bus route, but had to walk the Earl Adolphson children to their home. He returned to his bus and started to town. He stated he was in and out of the ditch many times and finally became stuck near the Earl Melberg farm. He walked the quarter of a mile to their home and spent the night there.
Clayton Kolling left for his route about the same time. He started out and got about three miles out of town and decided that he should return to town, but because of poor conditions he ran into the ditch and got stalled at about 10:30 a.m. He made an effort to get the bus out of the ditch but was unable to do so. He left the bus run as long as he could to keep the students warm. The bus motor heated up and got full of snow and died out around noon. They were without heat in the bus from 12 noon until they returned to Chokio that evening. Mr. Hollen, science teacher at the school, stayed in the bus with the students while Clayton Kolling walked for help. He first walked to the Don Grossman farm to call for help, then returned to the bus. He made two more trips for help, first to the Richard Howe farm and then to the Glen Carlson farm.
County plows were sent out to assist the stranded bus, but the plow got stalled in the ditch just outside Chokio. A second school bus made an attempt to get the children, but it also got stranded in the ditch.
Blizzard conditions weren’t getting any better with winds reaching 70-75 mph, and the temp. dropping to 5-10 degrees below zero.
The townspeople were becoming very concerned when all efforts to reach the bus had failed. The men started to gather and they worked on Gerald Ehrp’s Cat for an hour to get it started and also Dr. Lauren Carlson started his 806 IH tractor. The men all met at the Co-op gas station. Laverne Monson got a school bus to bring the students back to town. Merton Trost went to the school house and gathered up all the gloves, jackets and blankets he could find, and the school sent candy bars for the students.
Many townspeople started to bring candy, blankets and food for the children.
The caravan left the Co-op station at about 3:50 p.m. The tractor went first, followed by the Federated Telephone Co. Truck, so we could keep in touch by telephone. We were in touch with the people in town and the Morris Radio station at all times. The bus and Cat came next.
We got to Byron Tirevold corner, a mile out of town, the tractor and truck turned south. The Bus and Cat continued to go west until the Earl Wernsing road, and then went south.
Two and three men walked in front of the tractor at times, so the tractor wouldn’t drive in the ditch. Men also walked in front of the cat and bus. The winds were still blowing up to 75 mph and the men were getting cold. The Cat, driven by Kenny Asmus, Dale Anderson, and Don Hoppe, two other men traded off driving with two men on the Cat at all times. Fabian Ritter and Dr. Lauren Carlson drove the tractor. The bus heated up and had to be pulled by the Cat and the tractor pulled the truck so we wouldn’t get separated.
The tractor and truck got out to the bus first about 4:30 p.m. We were all so relieved to see the bus, we all ran to the bus, and we were more relived yet to see all the children still in good humor, but they were getting cold.
The little ones were getting to a point where they wouldn’t have lasted much longer. We gave what blankets we had to the students and started to try to get the bus out. We didn’t know what happened to the Cat and the bus. Just as we started to dig the bus out we could hear the Cat coming. Then as fast as we could we transferred the students from the stalled bus into the other bus. We called in to report that the students were fine and that we were returning to Chokio.
We returned to the Chokio school with the students, where they had hot soup and coffee waiting for the students and men in the caravan.
The students who were in the stranded bus are as follows:
Fran Brown, Terry Tubbs, Bennett Zierke, Bruce Zierke, Connie Wade, DeAnna Boldenow, Maria Wade, Christopher Zierke, David Wade, Jim Brown, Ramona Selb, Alan Eul, Scott Eul, Dale Selb, Almond Drone, Patty Zierke, Kim R. Carlson, Acilia Shea, Joan Shea, Diane Eul, Rocky Tubbs, Rhonda Tubbs, Norman Drone, Mary Nitzel, Bobbie Zierke, Julie Carlson, Lori Carlson.
Volunteer helpers were as follows: Merton Trost, Marvin Osterman, Don Hoppe, Coke Gillespie, Buch Smith, Bob Grossman, Ordell Ritter, Roy Johnson, Dick Holtz, Lyle Syverson, Marvin Wirtjes, Jim Storch, Gerald Ehrp, Keith Moses, Lauren Carlson and tractor, Dale Anderson, Jim McNally, Roger Gerdes, Gene Grossman, Fabian Ritter, Larry Stillwell, Kenny Asmus, Clayton Kolling, L. Monson, Dr. Bush, Donald Grossman, Gary Riba.
Clayton Kolling is to be commended for his fine efforts in getting the stranded school bus out. He walked a distance of more than four miles in his three trips into the freezing blizzard and this was certainly above and beyond the call of a bus drivers duty.
STUDENTS TELL THEIR STORY
Julie Carlson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Glen Carlson and Bobbie Zierke, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Zierke are sophomores in high school and were the oldest students on the stranded bus. This is in parts, what they told us.
At first when we got stuck we thought it was fun, stuck in a snow bank and all that, Ha Ha. The first hour and a half wasn’t bad because we had heat in the bus. Mr. Kolling had gone for help and we knew we’d be out soon. When Clayton returned at about 11:45 a.m. from Don Grossman’s the bus motor had stopped. We knew it was getting serious then. Clayton left the bus again to go to the Richard Howe farm and that period was from 11:45 a.m. until about 3:30 p.m. when he returned was the longest. We were real concerned, feeling sure he was lost and no one was coming to help. The hunger period was from about 11:00 a.m. to 12 noon and after that we thought only of keeping warm. We found some pots of some kind in the bus and tried to light them and we had to put them out. The bus was sitting on an angle with the left side facing the north. The worst part was when the snow started sifting in the bus on the seats and melted and ran onto the floor forming a glaze of ice, making it almost impossible to walk. We had the little girls jumping on the seats (on the left side) of the bus to exercise to keep warm. Since we couldn’t sit there anyway this worked out fine. The little kids were wonderful and did what we told them to do and they didn’t cry or fuss. We didn’t let anyone go to sleep because we’d heard this was a bad thing to do. They did ask when help was coming and we kept assuring them soon, but when no one came, we had to tell them someone would come before dark.
Some of the little ones had to go to the bathroom so we counted noses and went outside in groups. When we went outside we realized just how bad it was, the snow sifted through our clothes. We went out about four different times.
When Clayton didn’t come back the second time Mr. Hollen began to wonder if he should go for help, but Clayton returned then so Mr. Hollen stayed with us the whole time. He was really wonderful and kept our spirits up.
We started to get really frightened at about 3 p.m. when we could see our breath, then we realized how cold it was. The cold wouldn’t have been so bad but it was so damp and that made it worse.
When Clayton returned the second time with blankets and candy we all cried, we were so happy to see him and know that he was safe. This really renewed our spirits.
When he left the third time, we begged him to stay because we knew then that they knew where we were and we didn’t want him to go out into the storm again.
We were all dressed pretty warm, considering what a mild day it was when we went to school in the morning. When help finally came it was unbelievable and most of us cried. We weren’t even cold then!
We want Clayton, Mr. Hollen, and all the men in the caravan to know how grateful we are to them and we think they are all pretty wonderful.
CLAYTON KOLLING TELLS OF WALK IN BLIZZARD
In a telephone conversation on Tuesday night Clayton Kolling gave the following story:
“When we left the school and were on the highway it wasn’t just too bad, but when we turned to go south it got harder and harder to see. First I thought it was just a squall and would let up but it didn’t. When we got stuck in the ditch I could see I’d need help getting the bus out, so I walked across the field about ½ mile to the Don Grossman Farm. I couldn’t tell where I was going and got lost. I recognized some familiar landmarks and realized I was south of the farm yard. I made it back to the farm and called for help to get the bus out. I walked back to the bus following the fence line, but the snow was real deep there. To wait for help, never thinking things would get so bad
because when I’ve been stuck before help has always been able to get through. When I returned to the bus at about 11:45 a.m. the bus motor had stopped. I waited for a while and then knew that the plow or another bus must not have been able to get through. I then walked to the Richard Howe farm about a mile away, trying to follow the road but I couldn’t tell very well where the road was. I called in again and they told me to stay there because help was on the way. Everything seemed to fail and I knew it must be getting cold on the bus so I walked back to the bus with with blankets and some candy. I got back to the bus around 3:30 p.m. and help still didn’t arrive. I was getting real worried because it would be getting dark soon.
I then walked to the Glen Carlson farm about a mile away to find out if help was coming and took more blankets and food back to the bus. When I got tired I had to just sit down and rest. When I got to the Carlson farm and rested up they called and said that the caravan had reached the bus. I stayed at Carlson’s then knowing everything was going to be OK.
He said the kids were all real good and did fine.
Clayton spent the night at the Glen Carlson home and didn’t get to his own home until late Tuesday evening.
He said he would like to thank all those in the caravan who came out to get the bus. This probably best describes the man, he went through more than anyone to get the kids back to safety and then thanking everyone else. The parents and the entire community will not forget what Clayton Kolling and the men in the caravan did for a long time.