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Bob Lind, Published May 06 2013

Lind: Reader recalls infamous March 1966 blizzard

Sure, it’s May, but Neighbors is still catching up with mail concerning past winter storms, although the way the winter has dragged on, maybe it’s not so inappropriate today to recall the infamous March 1966 blizzard and how it affected local rail lines.

Information about that storm comes from a 1966 edition of the “Telltale,” a publication for employees of the Northern Pacific Railway. It was sent in by Gloria Olson, Dilworth.

The Telltale said the storm dumped up to 35 inches of snow during the three-day blizzard, blocking the NP line in the Dakotas-Minnesota.

The NP’s westbound Mainstreeter passenger train was stalled near New Salem, N.D., when its three diesel engines couldn’t get through the huge snowdrifts. The westbound North Coast Limited got stuck outside of Cleveland, N.D., while train No. 3 became snowbound just east of the high bridge at Valley City, N.D.

Other trains were held back to avoid getting stuck.

All told, some 230 eastbound passengers and 366 westbound passengers were held up by the storm.

A four-unit diesel was sent from Mandan, N.D., to pull out the train stuck at New Salem, but was unable to couple onto it. So the NP sent a heater car from Mandan to furnish heat for the stuck train, but it derailed near Judson, further tying up the line.

After spending the night on the train at New Salem, the passengers were reached by a four-unit diesel. They were brought to New Salem and housed in the city hall.

It took units of the North Dakota Army National Guard out of Valley City to rescue passengers on the train stuck at that city.

At Glen Ullin, passengers, marooned aboard a halted eastbound train for some 54 hours, ate in the diner, but when food ran out, townspeople brought groceries and the city furnished water. When the train’s batteries ran low, candles bought in town were used for illumination.

Clearing all the tracks was a huge undertaking. Fargo division crews had to plow through drifts 10 to 15 feet deep. Sometimes the crews used dynamite to loosen the drifts.

One crew narrowly escaped injury when snow broke the windows in the cab.

Some sections weren’t opened until March 11, eight days after the blizzard began; a blizzard that anybody who was caught in it will never forget.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com