Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Buffalo snow stranded Green Bay trucker for 3 days
12/2/2014 A lot of different things can make up what most of us would call a bad day at work.
What's yours? A balky copy machine? A cranky boss? How about a Black Friday with a day's worth of rude customers?
James "Mickey" York had one of his worst just a short while ago, a work day that ended up extending to more than 50 hours long, spent stranded on a remote New York highway in a snowstorm, crammed into the cab of an immobilized semi with three other guys, with nothing to eat and only melted snow to drink.
"I never want to go through that again as long as I live," said York, 39, of Green Bay.
York drives a semi for Skaleski Moving & Storage of Green Bay. He spent nearly three days stranded in his truck on Interstate 90 outside of Buffalo, during one of the worst snowstorms in that snowy region's history.
About two weeks ago, York was sitting in a New York truck stop with a handful of other truckers listening to weather reports forecasting a big storm that was supposed to hit mid-morning the next day.
"Everybody figured the roads would shut down around 8 or 9 a.m., so a bunch of us figured we'd better get across before it hit," York said. "That storm was only going to be over the southern part of Buffalo, and as long as we got to northern Buffalo before the storm, I never would've seen it."
Everybody headed out about 4 a.m. that morning, Nov. 18, which seemed like plenty of time for York to make the first of this three deliveries before having to hunker down and wait out the storm.
Bad move. The storm turned out to be much faster and more ferocious than anyone expected.
"It came in like nothing I've ever seen in my life," York said. "It was fairly dark, but one minute you're looking at the road and it's perfectly fine, and the next minute, it was a complete white-out."
Getting near sunrise, with nothing but trucks on the turnpike, visibility was so poor that they were crawling along at about 10 mph. York and another driver he was in CB radio communication with decided to abort and head for a truck stop near Buffalo about nine miles out. But moments later, traffic came to a stop. York learned later a driver had jack knifed his truck about three miles up the road, and that stopped York and everybody else in their tracks.
"Within a couple hours of that, we had the DOT talking to us on CB telling us the snow was heavier than expected and we were looking at 10 to 12 hours before they could attempt to get us out. ... By that time, the snow was up to the middle of my wheels."
Ten to 12 hours turned out to be a gross understatement. This was a snowstorm that was leaving snowplows buried and immovable.
"By the end of Tuesday, the city had 60 pieces of snow removal equipment buried on the New York (State Thruway)," York said. "One of their plow trucks was right behind me, stuck. I didn't know it until they started digging us out."
Truckers had to keep their engines idling to stay warm, and little by little they ran out of fuel and had to go to someone else's truck to avoid freezing to death.
That's how York picked up three companions. He was in better shape than some, because he had fueled up before leaving, meaning he could sit idling and warm, listening to local weather reports to kill time.
"By the end of the second day, you couldn't get from truck to truck anymore," York said. "I had to keep opening my door every half hour to 45 minutes, just to clear the snow away. On the passenger side, it was halfway up the window."
Wednesday afternoon, they were told the National Guard was on their way in to rescue them, but then that night, the snow caved in and buried the Guard's front-end loader.
"About 4 a.m. Thursday, they started again. ... They got to my truck about 8 or 9 o'clock Thursday morning."
They plowed him clear and he was able to drive to a truck stop in a little town called Dunkirk. That's where he learned that at least one trucker never made it.
"Apparently he didn't have a CB that worked," York said. "He waited too long. He sat in his truck until it ran out of gas, then tried to get help, but by that time, it was too deep and he got buried."
It was one of more than a dozen fatalities that resulted from the storm, York said.
At the Dunkirk truckstop, York caught up on much-needed food, then sleep. When he awoke Friday morning, he learned the area had picked up another three feet of snow overnight. Fortunately, that had already been plowed clear and he was able to hit the road and make his deliveries.
"The first place I was delivering to was 40 miles north of where I got stuck," York said. "They had 1½ inches of snow on the ground. That was it."
He arrived home on Nov. 26, just in time to enjoy Thanksgiving with his wife and four kids. What should have been a six-day trip ended up taking two weeks.
By the time you're reading this, he will have set off to make another delivery — to Buffalo.
"This time, I'm going have food in the truck," York said. "I don't care if it's 65 and sunny."— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PGpaulsrubas