A Night To Remember: Driving Through a Winter Snowstorm

        January 22, 1965, 8:30 PM.  I was all of 18 years old and casually asked my father if I could borrow the car to go to the “bridge.”  He was okay with that, as the GWB was only about 12 miles away; but would soon discover that my intentions were a little more ambitious and the bridge in question was actually in Niagra Falls, NY, some 400 miles away.  I loved the recent liberation of being a licensed driver and anticipation of seeing and experiencing new adventures.  I was also very aware that a winter snowstorm was intensifying over western New York State and consequently about to learn winter driving skills that would last throughout my life.   

Short on time? Just browse the images below.  

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Google Map: Mostly secondary and tertiary roads from Northern New Jersey to Niagara Falls between 8:30 PM and 8:00 AM, with significant overnight snow. Few divided highways except the NY State Thruway existed at the time.

     There are no photos of the night. I had no boots, no gloves, no sense and no ambition to try and take pictures of featureless, blowing whiteness at night. There were few “interstate” roads, and I scoffed at the idea of paying money for THE toll road, the NY State Thruway. So it was secondary and tertiary roads with little traffic all night, except for snowplows, a few trucks, an amusing Corvair, and speeding Cadillac. I hated it when snowplows passed me – made me feel inadequate and messed up my windshield!  

     Snow had begun falling about 150 miles up Rt. 17 before midnight and began accumulating rapidly.  Around 3:00 AM I pulled into a deserted rest area just past Corning, my tires clogging and squeaking to a stop in the deepening snow. An hour later, with chattering teeth, I wiped the fresh snow off the car, rocked it to get some traction, and plowed my way out to Rt. 17.

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Coming through Buffalo, I had no idea where this “Sky Way” went, and after I drove over it, I still didn’t know. (NOTE: These photos were all taken after daylight, offset time-wise with the text.) 
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Snow drifts along the Niagara River. Canada is in the distance. My sneaker-clad footprints on the left!
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Rear wheel drive; a weak defroster; a terrible automatic “Slide-O-Matic” transmission or something, … a perfect learning machine.

     Around 280 miles into the trip, 4:30 AM,  I was on Rt 15, a two lane highway now heading north following the tracks of a patrol car who in turn was following a truck in heavy snow all doing about 30 MPH (48 km/hr.)  Coming down a hill, still behind them, I cleverly decided to drop the car into low gear to slow down, and promptly spun out, sliding sideways in a panic. I quickly (yeah, right, like skillfully??? I was only 18! …okay, I luckily) got the car under control  by putting it back into drive,  just one of many lessons learned tonight.  

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I called my father from this “bridge,” actually a relatively new observation tower, overlooking Niagara Falls, and reluctantly paid $.50 to park in an empty snow covered lot. A lesson in local fiscal “rigidity.”  I suppose I could have refused and gone back home. 

     Continuing in the snowy night,  Rt. 15 heads west at the little town of Springwater in the western Finger Lakes region. There really was no town there, at least I couldn’t see anything. Rt 15a continued straight. I took 15 because it was a short-cut, and in a half mile came to a gradual hill.  As I continued the climb, the wheels started to lose traction until I …stopped forward motion.  So I backed slowly and very carefully down the hill while learning more lessons… this time about simple coeficient of friction and its relation to losing traction and then forward motion! (I was struggling thru Physics I class at this time, after all!) This “experiment” was tested several times before a guy in a light truck stopped and suggested sarcastically that I wait for dawn and the snowplows. Instead, I scoffed, imagined hearing him utter something offensive about kids, and, after backing down the hill for the third time took the longer and flatter Rt 15a. 

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Desolate, frigid, and awesome! The American part of Niagara Falls.

     A few miles north was Rt 20a, just a simple, two lane east-west, single path roadway in the shadow of the New York State Thruway, a half dozen miles  north.  In the pre-dawn snow storm, this was an interesting stretch –  heavy snow falling, the long white un-plowed lane in the headlights of the car.  For a while I was following a small Corvair.  On the sides of the two tire tracks were about 8 or 9 inches (20 -23 cm) of snow. Occasionally, he would swerve into the deep snow throwing a white-out cloud of powder over the Buick.

     While on 20a, the sky started to brighten, not very much, speading an eerie blueness over the landscape. Snow was coming down as hard as ever. There were several modest hills, some with larger trucks trapped before the summits. I needed to keep strongly focused with the car square in the tracks. Not too much later, a large Cadillac whooshed by at about 60 Mph (100 KM.Hr,) scaring the hell out of me with a blinding cloud of snow engulfing my car in its wake.   

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Goat Island, in the distance, is located between the American Falls, and Canadian Falls beyond.

      I eventually came into the town of Lancaster around 7 AM, found some breakfast, and then to Niagra Falls after going through near deserted Buffalo.  Later in the day, I would car-surf on “waves” of snow drifts along a road skirting the southern edge of Lake Ontario; stop and skitter up in my white sneakers across high drifts and stinging gale winds to catch a glimpse of the lake – its just barely visible shoreline marked by enormous blocks of  ice showered with angry, spraying wind-blown waves of frigid water. 

     The long day ended that night, me sleeping well at an $8 motel in Bath, NY, 658 miles since beginning. Part of that afternoon was not without more adventures, but that will  be noted on a short follow-up post including information about the camera and photos. I was back to New Jersey on the following  day,  after a total of 967 miles. 

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The Canadian Falls. Getting this picture was another challange as the mist from the falls froze hard to things like the car windows while I was outside walking to the edge. Bare fingers began to loose feeling on the cold metallic SLR camera.

Please see Part two, the return, at: http://wp.me/p37YEI-1tl

Thanks for visiting, and as usual comments are always welcome. M 🙂

24 thoughts on “A Night To Remember: Driving Through a Winter Snowstorm

    1. Thanks, DM. A year or so later I bought a used Austin Healy Sprite (“sports car”) to my Dad’s concern. He said I’d be crushed by a Cadillac or other big car.But I said “No, the little, very maneuverable car would help me avoid the collisions altogether!” How simple life seemed back then. M

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yikes. I’m happy to know that you survived the ‘adventure,” though it seems like you were really lucky to do so. I grew up outside of Boston, but really, really hate to drive in the snow. Your narrative and photos are really compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. EJ: Re: the Kishtwar Mountian Road – Nooo, I don’t think so! But it IS enticing. I’d have to do a lot of confidence building research on this before I’d trust another to drive me up there. Especially on the wet, slippery part under the waterfall. M 🙂

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    1. Hi Maggie. When I was young,the yearning for adventure was often spur of the moment, sometimes alone, and I usually had a note pad or at least some scrach papers and pencil to jot down highlights. If I happened to have a camera, photos helped fill in some memories. Some of these tales are still scattered in boxes here and there, and may fuel future posts. So far they seem to have generated a respecable following and I’ve had a great time putting them Thans together – all based memory, on original notes, and today’s wonderful arm-chair research options. Thanks as usual for the comments and likes. M 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Of all the times to take a first road trip, but the first one is always the best. Seems like no I’m on a continuous road trip.. 😉
    Great write up and pics, been to Buffalo during a snow storm and its a bear.

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    1. Just viewed your site, awesome. Music is always with us, and even on that trip, 50 years ago, I remember listening to “This Diamond Ring” (Gary Lewis and thet Playboys, I believe) on the old AM radio somewhere in the snow on Rt 17 that night – and it was probably WKBW out of Buffalo, a late night staple in those days. M 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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