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Some people think South Dakota snowstorms are pretty. Most of the time they aren’t the stranded motorists.
Some people think South Dakota snowstorms are pretty. Most of the time they aren’t the stranded motorists.

The Truck Stop-Titanic Connection

Dec 14, 2017

It’s recorded that as the Titanic began slipping beneath the Atlantic waves, a passenger confronted a crewman.

"I was assured," said the passenger, "that this could not possibly happen."

The crewman replied that, all human assurances aside, the ship indeed was going down and that the matter was entirely in God's hands.

Flash forward 80 years to Kennebec, South Dakota, where an eerily parallel conversation played out at Moore's truck stop during a fierce October blizzard a few years back. 

"I was assured," said a man from Atlanta who was delivering a friend's car to Washington state, "that no way, no way, could this happen in October."

"It's happening," said an elderly gentlemen whose demeanor suggested he'd lived through South Dakota blizzards beyond count. "It's happening, and only God can stop it now."

I was among those waiting out the squall, and I chatted briefly with the man from Atlanta — briefly, because he wasn't exactly in a chatty mood. He had visions of the car, like the Titanic, disappearing entirely, retrievable in theory only by casting cables into the cold depths. As it happened, though, the storm broke up after a couple hours and the man sped off down Interstate 90. And I do mean sped.

It's unlikely, but maybe someday he'll realize what a fine slice of Americana he experienced in Kennebec: South Dakotans stranded in a truck stop analyzing blizzards, exaggerating about blizzards past and creating clever and often obscene blizzard metaphors. I've waited out winter storms not only in Kennebec, but also at Rapid City, Sturgis, Pierre and Murdo truck stops, sometimes for as long as 48 hours.

Mostly I'm quiet during truck stop blizzard conversations, because I admire these storms for their strength that transcends human affairs. Expressing that sentiment in a roomful of people blown hours or days off schedule by snow is never wise.

So I keep quiet, but once I almost spoke up to endorse an Oregon truck driver at Rapid City's Windmill Truck Stop. Just an hour earlier he 'd totaled his rig on fresh snow, and now he waxed reflective.

"Sometimes I don't take South Dakota blizzards seriously, because they're pretty," he said.

"No such thing as a pretty blizzard," growled another long distance hauler.

"The way snow starts out here as snow, not rain, and swirls across the dry highway is pretty," insisted the first man. "An ugly blizzard would be in Texas, where it starts as freezing rain that turns into a foot of ice, with a little snow sprinkled on top."

That raised a choral response. I'm not sure any of the driver's fellow truckers agreed that South Dakota blizzards are pretty, but they were unanimous in their hatred of Texas storms. The gentlest word I heard used to describe a Texas blizzard was monster, and the adjectives attached to the word that afternoon made it far from gentle.

But back to South Dakota blizzards. I could have supported the Oregon driver by saying something like, "There are other ways South Dakota blizzards are pretty, apart from their swirling. How about the way the Black Hills are absolute black just as the first flakes fly, and how they turn grey as flakes fill the air? Then the Hills slowly fade away as the storm intensifies, like Brigadoon or something."

I could have said that, but of course I didn't. I might say it to the man from Atlanta if I ever see him again, which I won't. I'm pretty sure he's south of the Mason-Dixon line this winter, maybe recounting his South Dakota adventure like a Titanic survivor.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 1997 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

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