It was January 23rd, 1965, and I had driven through the night in a winter snowstorm from New Jersey to Niagara Falls in my parents 1960 Buick.
After seeing and photographing the falls, I continued north, first on the Canadian side, and then back in the U.S., to the mouth of the Niagara River where it flows into Lake Ontario. Heading home now, the first 30 miles or so on Rt. 18, along the lake’s southern edge, was magical …the road virtually deserted as the high winds whipped falling and drifting snow across its breath. I loved the adventure. (See end of first part for more “frigid”comments on this stretch)
The image below was taken around 4:00 PM before running out of film and daylight near Avon, The snow continued to fall, although more lightly, into this second night.
I stayed overnight in a decent $8 motel in Bath, leaving at about 10:30 AM the next morning with frozen hands after cleaning off the snow covered car.
Continuing southeast on Rt. 15 brought me to to nearby Savona, where I turned left onto Rt. 226 with the anticipation of passing through Watkins Glen, noted for its automotive race track, and for me particularly, its famous 400 foot deep natural gorge and waterfalls. See this link. Seeing the gorge was not to happen. In fact I was lucky to get anywhere near it. Being a bit self assured, (think: cocky,) I didn’t mind the snow covered conditions of the back roads. But at Tyrone, (upper right in the first map below, left of center in the second) I was determined to take a more direct route, turning right off State Rt. 226, onto Schuylar County Rt. 23 (not labeled.)
It should be mentioned that the ‘few miles wide’ ridges between New York’s Finger Lakes rise from a few hundred feet to about 1000 feet (3050 m) above the lakes. Watkins Glen was on Seneca Lake over one of these ridges, and Huey Hill was in my way. Starting from the intersection at the bottom, I was able to reach about 40 mph (64 kmh) before losing traction on the hill. But I just couldn’t make it to the top. I backed the Buick down and tried again, gaining only a few more feet. The third time, with more initial speed, ended in similiar defeat as the tires just could not maintain their grip on the snowy surface. I felt I was in control, but the “slide-o-matic” Buick just couldn’t maintain any further, upward-forward traction! (Of course, 4 wheel drive, good tires and posi-traction would have helped.) Today (2015) I know it was 1.8 miles (2.9 km) from the intersection to the top with a vertical gain of about 600 feet (1830 m.)
Sulking a bit, it took me a while more to get to Watkins Glen by a much longer, gradually climbing (and descending) state road. And then, upon arrival, the Watkins Glen State Park was closed! I think I was a little relieved.
After 7 more hours, at 7:30 PM, I was back in New Jersey after nearly 1000 miles over about 47 hours, and expenses of about $46.
Immediatly after, my Dad and I had a “conversation!”
Just another interesting week-end.
The camera: a 1960 Exacta (EXA) 35 mm manual SLR, f2.8 50 mm lens. Body composition: finger-freezing metal!
As usual, thanks for viewing, and comments are always welcome.M 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.