Trapped on a snowy mountain pass, they were at risk of freezing. Who would help them?
Posted in , Nov 27, 2014
Apprehension? Excitement? My wife, Rosland, and I didn’t know what we felt more while we packed our belongings into the rented U-Haul trailer. We’d married young, even for the freewheeling 1960s— and at 18 we’d already added a new baby to our family.
I’d just completed my basic training at Fort Ord in California, which meant I could eventually expect a tour in Vietnam. Already I worried who would take care of my young family then.
For now, though, I was in charge. We were leaving Southern California for my first duty station at Fort Riley, Kansas. We hitched the trailer onto our 1958 Rambler station wagon and set off, making good time until we hit New Mexico.
“Snow!” Rosland said, marveling at the pretty white flakes falling outside. “Certainly going to be a white Christmas in these parts.” Not something we were familiar with.
Soon we seemed to be enveloped by flurries. It was getting hard to see the road as the sky darkened. I turned on the radio and scanned for a weather report.
“I hope this snow doesn’t keep us from getting there on schedule,” I said. Being late was simply not an option when you were in the Army during wartime.
Rosland pulled out a map and found a mountain pass that would cut hours off our travel time. “We’ll take it.”
I quickly regretted the decision. Towering trees on either side of the road made everything even darker. The snow was falling faster and heavier, pummeling against the windshield.
The temperature had dropped below freezing. But we’d passed the point of no return—the trailer behind our car made going back impossible.
I inched along at a snail’s pace, gripping the steering wheel and trying not to slide off the road. Sometimes, without warning, the rear wheels spun in place, leaving us holding our breath until they caught solid ground again.
The heater in the Rambler was on full blast, and I prayed it would continue working.
Then, the car came to a stop. I pressed on the brake, but instead of holding steady our station wagon slid backward! I couldn’t see out the back window. Would we roll until we hit a tree? Rosland held the baby tight to her. We didn’t say a word. After what felt like a lifetime, the car halted.
Rosland turned to me, her eyes wide with panic. I knew mine must have looked the same.
“Here, get in the driver’s seat,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “I’ll see what happened.”
“Be careful,” she said, squeezing in next to me, our little son on her lap.
Outside the car I was blinded by icy wind and snow. When my eyes adjusted I saw the trailer had jack-knifed, folded against its hitch until it was nearly parallel with the car. Its rear wheels were near the edge of a cliff!
I couldn’t let my wife and child out in this cold. The baby, especially. I groped desperately around in the snow until I found rocks big enough to brace against the wheels. I tried to rock the trailer until I was convinced it was secure. Then I rushed back to the car.
“We’re stuck in a ditch,” I lied. No need to scare Rosland too. “Stay here, I’ll walk up the road to get help.” The car was already losing its warmth.
They just need to hold out until I get back, I thought as I trudged through the snow. But what did I hope to find? We’d been on the mountain for at least five miles and hadn’t seen a single house along the way. The road stretched out before me looked the same—black and empty.
“Lord, I don’t know what to do. How can I keep my wife and baby safe?” Everything felt out of my control—going to Vietnam, the blizzard conditions, the cliff. We hadn’t made it to my first post and I’d already failed to protect my family.
I was still praying aloud through chattering teeth when I stepped right into a deep snowdrift. “Help!” I screamed, trying to claw my way out. I could barely hear myself over the howling storm.
Then a soft sound drifted to my ears on the wind. I strained to listen. Was that a Christmas carol? “Joy to the world!” a chorus of men sang off in the distance. “The Lord is come.”
I yelled for help again, and out of the snowy white curtain stepped three lumberjacks. They were tall and barrel-chested, dressed in suspenders, red plaid, and thick wool caps. Each one had a bushy beard and kind eyes. If I was hallucinating, this was mighty vivid!
“Help me!” I said, talking a mile a minute, explaining the danger my family was in. Through it all the lumberjacks remained stoic, their faces radiating strength and composure. I felt warmer just looking at them.
“Show us where the car is,” one of the men said. His voice was jovial—as if he wasn’t worried at all. The three pulled me out of the snowdrift, and I led them back to the cliff edge. Rosland and the baby were still settled inside.
“Put it in gear and we’ll push,” one of the men instructed. I nodded and climbed into the driver’s seat. The three positioned themselves behind the station wagon and gave me a signal to press on the gas. Slowly we inched forward, until we found ourselves back on the road, moving forward.
Behind us we saw the lumberjacks waving good-bye, but we couldn’t stop to thank them. I couldn’t help but think they’d saved our lives.
We picked up speed and the snowstorm eased up. The road became less slippery. By the time we descended down the other side, we could see sunny skies and signs for the highway in the distance. I knew God had protected my family when I couldn’t—just as I knew he always would.
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