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Bob Lind, Published June 23 2013

Lind: Snirt from March 1966 blizzard endangered freight train crew

Now that we’re officially in the warmth of the summer season, let’s cool off a bit with an update on a past Neighbors column about the March 1966 blizzard and how it affected trains in the area.

That column mentioned a Northern Pacific Railway crew that narrowly escaped injury when snow broke through the cab’s windows.

Bill Kuebler, formerly of Fargo and now of Apple Valley, Minn., a railroad history buff, comes up with what happened that day.

Bill reports that engineer Doug Anderson, of Dilworth, and his crew had been westbound with three 2,500-horsepower freight diesels to rescue a passenger train that was buried in the snow on the line near Peak, N.D., east of Valley City.

Just before it reached the passenger train, it hit a huge snowdrift composed of snow and dirt (called “snirt”) and the window in front of the engineer’s seat caved in, filling the cab with snow and nearly burying Doug. He received only minor injuries.

Then another train, with Runyon Peterson, of Dilworth, as engineer, was sent to rescue the rescuer, Doug’s train, which it did, freeing it from the snow.

Heading back to Fargo, and after seeing how the huge snowdrift had taken out Doug’s window, Runyon took a precautionary measure by placing a big wood grain door across his windshield, with a tiny slit in it so he could see ahead, to prevent that from happening to him. It worked, even though he had to hit drifts at full throttle, or around 60 to 65 mph, to get through.

But this led to another thrill.

Bill says that as Runyon’s engine hit each drift, it would momentarily become airborne, rising several inches above the track. It never derailed; it always came back down on the track.

Some NP officials from St. Paul who had come to Fargo to supervise rail line rescue operations and who were riding on Runyon’s train, yelled at him that he was going to “kill us all!”

“But Runyon just calmly told them to keep still and enjoy the ride,” Bill says.

“They hit the deck. Runyon just smiled back at them and kept on going” and made it back to Fargo safely.

Bill says Runyon, a good friend of his, had served in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe in World War II. He was featured in The Forum years ago for the photos he took of Jews his unit had liberated from two Nazi concentration camps in 1945 and for the talks he gave in Fargo-Moorhead area schools about the Holocaust. He died in 2006.

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