Wednesday, January 2, 2013
By MORRIS STEPHENSON -
Old Man Winter certainly threw a curve ball to some sections of the county, including the Ferrum area, on Wednesday, the day after Christmas.
After a mild and dry December, all heck broke loose Wednesday with a drenching rain that started sometime before the daylight hours. I recall rolling over in the bed and hearing the rain drops pounding the windows. Then it was back to sleep.
On Christmas Eve afternoon, I drove down Route 40 East to Blairs, east of Danville, to pick up wife Hazel's sister Louise, whose husband died earlier this year after battling cancer. That trip went without incident.
She stayed with us two nights but had to get back home to her two cats and two dogs, who were being tended by a close friend and neighbor. Louise said she couldn't remember the last time she had left the dogs alone.
Daughter Kathy, who transferred from head of the floral department at Fresh Market in Roanoke to the one in Annapolis, Md., was coming home for the holiday. She left the store the day before Christmas as a snow storm hit the area. Driving her little blue VW Bug, equipped with a GPS, Kathy headed south.
Her mother, Sue, was expecting her to arrive in 4 hours. Yeah, right!
Kathy called and said her car started slipping as she went up the ramp to the interstate highway. To make a long story short, she made it out of Maryland, where she said the state's highway department had done a good job of clearing the roads. Then she discovered West Virginia road-cleaning crews had done an even better job.
I can't write what she said about VDOT's effort. Her trip to the house behind Duncan Ford took hours longer than usual.
Good food and fellowship were the order of the day at our house Christmas Eve and during the "big day." Then, as the old saying goes, it hit the fan! The weather Christmas Day was okay, but Wednesday brought the return of bad weather.
I took a break that morning to go out and visit with Kathy who had to make the return trip back to Maryland. I found her frantically searching the computer for the latest updates on the storm that had moved from the west into our area. We were getting rain as the temperature hovered at the freezing mark. It was like the needle was stuck on 32 as the moisture remained in the liquid form. Kathy delayed her 9 a.m. start until 1 p.m., a time forecasters were saying the wintry mix would be turning to all rain as the temperature climbed.
The good part was that she had one of her former Fresh Market managers leading the way as he traveled from his hometown in Christiansburg to the store in Baltimore. He had a a couple of hours head start and was keeping her updated on road conditions as he traveled north.
After a nice visit, I headed back to Ferrum to pick up Louise, who was packed and ready to get back to her animals. I was in a light rain back into Rocky Mount and through town. Road conditions were not bad at all as I started west on Route 40. I noticed that the drops of water running down the front glass had signs of sleet. When I got to the iron bridge over the railroad tracks at Story Creek Baptist Church, the surface had a light covering of sleet.
This didn't worry me because I was driving "Goldie," the trusty '86 4-Runner. It didn't take long for me to realize the sleet was getting bigger, heavier and starting to accumulate on the road. Feeling secure, I continued west, lowering my speed to 45-50 mph. By this time, the tires were leaving deeper impressions in the ice.
Feeling Goldie loose traction just a little on a couple of occasions, I slowed again and dropped the gear shift into fourth. The sleet was pelting the windshield quicker than the wipers were taking it away.
About halfway through the straight-away as I was approaching the dumpsters. Goldie lost her footing. She slipped into the left lane. Thank goodness there wasn't an oncoming vehicle even close. I successfully maneuvered Goldie back into the right lane and kept my foot steady on the gas pedal.
I cautiously made my way to the Ferrum VFD and turned onto the cement pad in front of the station and quickly did an unexpected 360-degree turn. I brought it to a stop and slipped the gear shift into 4-wheel drive.
It wasn't until then that I looked at the hill on Old Craft Shop Road, where we live. It, too, was covered with about three inches of sleet. Goldie pulled the hill like a champ, and I pulled into the driveway without a problem.
Within 15 minutes, the sun came out and I was looking at a cloud-dotted, blue sky, perfect for a trip to take Louise home. But alas, the sunny period was short lived but it did do the job of making Route 40 much safer.
Once Goldie was packed with her cargo, we headed to town and Route 40 East. Things went very well until we approached Penhook and the remains of a heavy sleet storm in that area. After crossing the county line, vehicles blocked both lanes of the road on a section with a steady upward grade. People were standing beside the road and talking about a white car that had gone over the embankment. There was no sign of a police car.
With the window down, I learned that the people didn't know if anyone was in the vehicle. Jon Snead of Franklin Finance was one of the men forming a human chain, holding arms as they went down the embankment. The lead guy climbed atop the front wheel and declared there was no one inside. So the people returned to their vehicles, and we proceeded on our trip. Eventually, as I drove deeper into Pittsylvania County, all the bad weather disappeared and only a light rain continued.
Route 29 was in perfect condition and it wasn't long before I was on my way back to Ferrum. By this time, almost all traces of the sleet had disappeared, except for a little on the shoulders of the road and in the very center of both travel lanes.at the places I had encountered problems going down.
When I walked into the house, I was greeted by a barking, bouncing "Mr. Victor," who's always glad to see me when I come home. Of course, the little Schnauzer always grabs his squeaky toy, and I have to play the tug-of-war game with it until he wears off some energy. Finally he was ready to settle down, and I was just as ready to try and relax after being tense for several hours.
Between all of this, I kept up with daughter Kathy's trip north, and thank goodness, she finally arrived safe and sound at her apartment at 8 p.m. She said she was taking a hot shower and hitting the bed because she had to go in at 5 a.m.
The gusting winds, up to 50 mph forecasters said, kept me from getting a good night's sleep. And when I walked outside ready for a good Thursday, I spotted a flat tire on the left front of the "Little Mean Green Machine." It had been parked for a couple of days so I have no clue when that happened. And the results of getting the problem solved might be the topic of another column. Who knows?
Book Signing Fun - I got a lesson in signing books 20 years ago when "From Dust to Glory" was published. And the fun and excitement of doing it again quickly returned. I don't like just signing a name, especially if it's someone I've known for a long time or someone who wants a special note included.
A funny thing happened the other day as I enjoyed a gravy biscuit with retired moonshiner Cecil Love at the DQ on Route 40 West. Cecil told a guy he knew about the book, noting that he was in the last chapter...along with photographs.
The guy, whom I knew by face only, purchased a book from the store and took it directly to Cecil, sitting across the table from me. "I'm on page 157," Cecil declared, flipping to the first page of "his" chapter, featuring a photograph of him beside his pickup truck.
Cecil does a lot of book-signings and carries his own pen in a special holder in his bibbed overalls. Neatly adding his signature above the photo, he closed the book handing it back to its owner.
"The man who wrote the book is sitting right there," he said, pointing to me. "You can get him to sign it too," Cecil continued.
"Oh, that's okay," he remarked as he got up and carried the book out the door. Cecil gave me a puzzling look but I just had to laugh out loud. That had never happened to me before, so it sure hit me as being funny. It brings a laugh every time I tell the tale.
And finally, I wish each of you a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!