Our weather luck has run out. We finally got our first real snow of the winter last week and it was something of a shocker. It’s funny, but the first one always catches us by surprise for some reason.
If you’re driving up the hill beside the Smucker’s plant in New Bethlehem, you might still see my handiwork in the snow beside a utility pole. After visiting Mom when the snow first started, I had the bright idea of going to the dollar store before heading home for the night. I had no idea how exciting Kinzua could be.
For the out-of-towners who read this column, Kinzua is pronounced Kin-zoo in New Bethlehem. The reference is to a certain former railroad underpass and its immediate environs in town that contained iron in its original construction, since replaced by stone abutments. To the old timers, it reminded them of the lofty former viaduct partially destroyed by a tornado nearly 20 years ago.
Now, I grew up in this area and had a father who taught me to drive in the snow one Thanksgiving Eve. I wrote about that experience in a prior column some years ago. I also grabbed his copy of Mechanix Illustrated and read an article that said to pretend you have a glass of water on your dash when you’re driving in bad conditions.
Somehow, Kinzua didn’t get the memo on that one.
I did everything right, based on Dad’s tutelage, Mechanix Illustrated’s advice and my own experience from driving over a number of Central Pennsylvania mountains during the winters of ‘93 and ‘94. None of that ancient and forgotten lore helped a bit.
There I was, taking the slalom ride of my life on a hill that had never seemed a bit menacing. I suspect that there was a thin film of ice beneath the skiff of pretty powdery snow. It’s a pretty good metaphor for the past two years, eh?
Figures of speech aside, my trusty Honda finally found its footing after giving me a good scare. We missed that utility pole by a comfortable three-foot margin.
The good news is, my heart rate returned to normal in short order and I didn’t even have the shakes. However, I decided to forget about the dollar store and just go home. It’s called “not pushing your luck.”
On the way home, I started wondering about how many horse-and-sleigh crashes our area roads saw back in the erstwhile good old days. Yes, it was a strange thought, and you should really visit the inner workings of my mind sometimes.
On the other hand, the old-timers had their own moments of whimsy and inventiveness. Have you ever seen that early 1900s photo of people ice skating in the middle of Red Bank Creek not far from today’s Redbank Chevrolet?
Unfortunately, I have never found a photo of people driving to town on the ice. From what I understand, the thick creek ice made a better thoroughfare than the road from Oak Ridge did.
Granted, automobiles were much lighter than our present day SUV behemoths, but the weather would have had to have been appallingly cold to form that much ice on the creek.
Now, you hear the old-timers, and I sometimes include myself in that group, talking about how we used to have “real” winters back in the 1960s and 1970s. In reality, we are a bunch of snowflakes in comparison to the kind of people who could drive down the middle of a frozen creek.
Thanks, but I’m rugged enough without performing that kind of party trick.
But you never know. The weather has been extremely odd, tornado season moving to December rather than May. The West Coast had record-breaking heat, followed by bitter cold and blizzard-like conditions these past few weeks.
Me, I’m good with having an extraordinarily warm autumn and a rather balmy early winter. If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the ice floods of the 1960s that used to threaten the homes that once stood along Water Street in New Bethlehem. While the floes were very convenient for some things, nobody could churn enough homemade ice cream to make up for the devastation.
In the scheme of things, my wild ride down Kinzua was nothing special at all. On the other hand, I don’t want to live in world where you can drive down the middle of a creek in January. Things are strange enough as it is.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]