Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more March 15, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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I took this photo several years ago on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown. White-out conditions can happen quickly in that wind-swept part of the state. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


SOME 50 YEARS AGO, getting to school each day during the winter months proved difficult. It was a particularly snowy winter with strong prairie winds drifting snow across and blocking many roadways. I lived a mile from Vesta on a crop and dairy farm. But I lived some 20 miles from the junior high school I attended in Redwood Falls.

In that late 1960s winter to remember, buses stopped driving into the country to pick up students. That pretty much covered everyone from the Vesta area. Nearly all of us lived on farms.


A bus I photographed near Morgan, Minnesota, in May 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.


If we could get into the cafe in Vesta, we could board a bus that would then travel Minnesota State Highway 19 to our school in Redwood. But getting there took effort and determination. My oldest brother and I climbed onto the John Deere tractor driven by Dad for the ride into town. And just to clarify, that tractor did not have a cab, only a canvas shield of sorts around the seat. And even though girls were banned from wearing pants at school, I slipped a pair of pants on underneath my dress.

I don’t recall additional details of those tractor rides. But I do recall the bus ride to Redwood along a state highway with snowbanks towering well above the bus. Single lanes cut into rock-hard drifts.

And then I recall the reactions of some teachers when all of us Vesta kids arrived two hours late. They were angry and told us so. Really? You try hopping on a tractor in the cold of winter to get to town to catch a bus and then ride another half hour to school. Be thankful we made it to class.

Kids now days certainly don’t face those challenges. And, if they did, they’d be tucked inside a heated tractor cab. More likely a pick-up truck. But Minnesota prairie kids still face canceled rural routes. “Buses on plowed roads only” is not uncommon during the winter in parts of Minnesota. And just yesterday, I read on the KLGR radio website out of Redwood Falls that buses in at least three schools—Lakeview, Echo Charter and, surprisingly, Redwood—would travel on paved roads only.

Muddy gravel roads and flooding can also become a problem as winter transitions toward spring. And right now Minnesota is experiencing plenty of flooding of roadways and streets.


The Faribault American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters in September 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.


And more. In Faribault, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

SANDBAGS: The City of Faribault will be providing to city residents sand and bags if, and when, flooding occurs. If sandbags are needed now because of a localized flooding event (like backyard flooding into a door in a walkout basement, for example) contact the Faribault Fire Department at 507-334-8773.


A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


In the small town of Wabasso (where I attended high school) in my home county of Redwood, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

The city of Wabasso recommends turning your sump pump discharge outside. This means either into your yard, the street, or on top of the snow.
The water flowing through the sanitary sewer has been elevated since this afternoon.
When the sewer is overloaded, there is a risk that residents will have sewage back up into their homes.
Please turn your sump pumps to the surface as soon as you are able.

This winter of too much snow and now a too quick snow melt with too much rain is challenging all of us. But eventually conditions will improve. And we can look back and remember the difficult winter of 2019. Like I remember that late 1960s winter of riding the John Deere tractor to catch the school bus.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    The melting snow is definitely something to contend with. I don’t know what is worse –snow or melting snow. Soon hopefully all will be well again in Minnesota. Good weather this weekend? Hope you get to have some of that long awaited family time.

    • Both are a challenge. We were in our basement last evening vacuuming water and pulling up carpet tiles. The leakage occurred in an area where we had not installed our water leakage prevention system. We’ve never had issues in that area in the past. Many homeowners are saying the same this year. Unless you live in a newer home, you’ll likely have water issues.

      And, yes, long-awaited family time this weekend is still a go.

  2. Gunny Says:

    Been there, done that, in several locations! On a hot, dry day out in the desert looking at real estate with an agent, temps at around 105 looking at “property”. with wife and an real estate agent. My wife was stunned and puzzled when I asked the agent if the property we were looking at was in the 100 year flood plain! To her utter amazement, the sale rep sheepishly admitted, that “Yes, it is”. Needless to say, I did not buy the property. Nice picture Audrey.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    Yesterday on our walk, Scooter and I visited with the school bus driver., who came by in his pickup truck to check the water levels on our gravel road. It was lapping up on the shoulders, but he thought he could still drive safely.

    My mother in-law told me last week that when she was a kid, occasionally the children were ordered off the bus and told to help push.

    If they were going to school, they pushed the rear of the bus toward the ditch, if they were going home, they were careful to push it the other way.

    True story.

    • Thanks for that report from Almost Iowa and from your mother-in-law. Imagine what would happen if kids were asked to help push a bus today?

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        Imagine what would happen if kids were asked to help push a bus today?

        We talked about that and both of us thought that kids ought to push buses more often. Heck, they ought to be ordered to push buses around the school parking lot just for practice and exercise. Kids in her generation and even ours were a lot tougher and more resourceful than they are today. We need more kids like that.

      • I agree. But kids and parents would protest. Lawsuits would be filed…

  4. Snow, ice, flooding and now a worry of sewer backup – Oh My Goodness!!! This brings back memories of putting on all that winter gear to just venture outside to get from one place to another. I still remember the bus accident I was involved in when the bus hit ice and went off roading and almost into a pond – scary moment, especially in not having a seat belt on. I have been sending prayers out to all dealing with Mother Nature. Take Care and Be Safe.

  5. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Boy has it been a long winter. Snow, sleet, wind, flooding, lightning the last two days and today I have the heat off and windows opened!

  6. Valerie Says:

    Taking the tractor to town to catch the school bus is a wonderful story, although I’m sure you were very, very cold. What a memory.

    I heard yesterday that the school buses in Faribault were not going to pick up/drop off on the gravel roads. What havoc that can create for children and their parents.

  7. I was just watching the news about all of the flooding in your neck of the woods. I pray that you and your are well and safe! Take care, Audrey! ❤

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