Author Topic: Cross country, Dec 1978, and the Big Ice Storm...  (Read 2574 times)

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Offline SLOweather

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Cross country, Dec 1978, and the Big Ice Storm...
« on: August 27, 2012, 01:13:54 PM »
It’s amazing the information that you can find on the Internet, if you search properly and long enough….

In early December 1978, I drove from central California to northern Illinois for the holidays. One of my friends, Roger, flew out from Illinois to drive with me.

The car was a ’68 Pontiac Bonneville…. Ambulance. A decommissioned one, made by the Superior Coach Company. That was the era where ambulances looked like big station wagons. It was white over powder blue, and I’d purchased it used (duh…) from the local ambulance company for $300 sans transmission. It had over a quarter of a million miles on it. Somehow I managed to wedge a junkyard tranny into it, in the parking lot of our apartment complex.

The car had a police package 390 HP, 428 C.I High Output engine in it. Late one night on a straight country road, I pegged the speedometer at 120 MPH. I swear, when wide open, that QuadraJet carb seemed like it would suck a dent in the hood. It took a quarter mile to get up to speed, and another quarter mile to stop it. The brakes were stock, while the additional 5’ of chassis and body length and fiberglass over steel roof probably added another 1,000 pounds to the vehicle weight.

Like the movies Vanishing Point from ’71, that car was High Speed, Low Budget.

Technology-wise, I outfitted the car with a stereo cassette player, Bearcat 250 scanner, and a Motorola CB and fog lights. C.W. McCall’s Convoy LP was the trip theme tape. I also had a complete set of Police call books for every state along the route. We also had the 3 NOAA weather radio channels programmed into the scanner. It came with twin 12 volt batteries wired in parallel, and we also filled in the hole in the driver's A piller with a new pillar-mount spotlight.

To add to the tech, Roger brought along an MTS (Mobile Telephone Service) mobile phone. Remember, this was 1978, WAY before cellular. The “phone” was a Motorola HT-200 HandiTalkie with a magnet mount VHF antenna. There was no dial or keypad. To place a call, we had to look up the local channel(s) for wherever we were traveling in a directory, turn the channel knob on the radio to the appropriate channel, and then listen for any other call in progress. If there was none, we’d key the radio, and say, “Hello Mobile”. If the local mobile operator heard us and responded, we’d reply with our mobile number for ID, and then tell her (it was always a woman) the number we wanted to call, and she’d place the call for us and patch it through.

To avoid as much winter weather as possible (hah!), our route took us from San Luis Obispo through LA to pick up a pin ball machine, and then along the southern route of I-10. The pinball machine rode in the back, on a mattress I had put in for camping.

Whenever we crossed a state line, the navigator would dig out the Police Calls and reprogram the scanner for the new state highway patrol frequencies.

Among other places, we stopped at Saguaro National Park in AZ, and the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston. Seeing the museum of spacecraft was pretty cool. We also got to see the terrain part of the original Shuttle landing simulator. This was a plaster 3D terrain model of the area around Edwards AFB, where the first shuttles landed. I don’t recall the area that it encompassed, but it included the surrounding mountains. Think of a huge model railroad setup.

Flight control inputs from the simulator cockpit “flew” a video camera over the terrain. That image was transmitted to a video monitor outside the cockpit windows, or maybe projected onto a screen.

There were no safeties built in to the simulator camera flying mechanism, so it was possible to “fly” the camera into the mountains, damaging both the camera and the terrain model. I recall being told that that had happened a few times.

Oh, and for whatever reason (probably space constraints, or ease of constructing the X-Y-Z mover for the camera) the whole terrain model was set on edge vertically.

Anyway, after Houston, we hit New Orleans, and then headed north through Arkansas to Missouri to pick up my grandmother for the holidays. On the way, we hit a winter ice storm, and finally holed up in a motel that was being remodeled. When we stopped, the front grill and headlights were covered with ¼”-1/2” of ice. The radio antennas were totally encased as well, and some of the doors were frozen shut.

Now, the reason I was able to take so much time for this trip and visit was that the previous August, I had been in an automobile accident and broken my leg in several places. (But that’s another story…) I was out of the casts but still on disability and not able to work, as I was still weak from the recovery and using a cane to walk.

The last room still available at the motel was on the second floor, outside entry, and the stairs, due to the construction, did not have a railing. In the freezing rain, I had to go up the stairs backwards on my butt due to my unsteadiness on my feet.

The next day the weather cleared and we made a high speed burn for Kirskville, MO and the on to Moline, IL.

I got to thinking about that storm, and went off on an Internet search to see If I could learn anything about it. After a few tries at search terms, BINGO!

From http://americanlifelinesalliance.com/pdf/IceStormSummaries.pdf

This was probably the storm: Storm Start 12/6/1978 End 12/10/1978
Central to northeast Arkansas into extreme southeast Missouri
Trees and power and phone lines damaged in AR; worst ice storm in extreme southeast MO since the 1950s; outages lasted up to 1 week



Offline SLOweather

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Re: Cross country, Dec 1978, and the Big Ice Storm...
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2012, 11:28:45 AM »
And now.... The Rrrrrrest of the story... ((in your best Paul Harvey voice...)

While I was in Moline, I installed a Zemco CompuCruise in the ol' meatwagon.



Having cruise control made the return trip much more comfortable, and that compuCruise was very high tech for its time.

I was alone on the way back. I took I-80 west to I-35 and headed south again to avoid weather. As before, I had the scanner programmed to the state highway patrol frequencies. As I passed from OK into TX, I heard a BOL (Be On The Lookout) broadcast for a motorhome with Michigan plates. The RV was to be stopped and one of the occupants notified that his pacemaker had been recalled, and to proceed to the nearest hospital and to then call his physician.

When I reached Dallas/Fort Worth, I again turned west, on I-20. After a while I came up on that Michigan motorhome and wondered what to do. Remember, no cell phones at the time, and Roger and his MTS phone were back in IL, and I just couldn't imagine trying to pull them over with my California-plated ambulance, with my long curly hair...

I followed that moho for an hour or 2 on cruise, thinking they would stop for gas. He was going a lot slower than I wanted to go, and finally I needed fuel.

As soon as I pulled into a gas station, I found the pay phone and called the number for the Texas Highway Patrol. The dispatcher that answered the phone couldn't figure out what I was talking about until I finally told her to go check her Teletype print-outs for that morning.

As soon as she read the BOL, she confirmed with me the time and place of my last sighting, and hung up.

When I hit the road after gassing up, the scanner was alive with chatter. The THP cars were stopping EVERY motorhome in the area. Finally, after about 5 minutes,  one came on the air and announced that he had the right one and was escorting it Code 3 to the nearest hospital.

I often wonder how that incident ultimately ended...

Offline DanS

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Re: Cross country, Dec 1978, and the Big Ice Storm...
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2012, 11:59:29 AM »
The poor soul probably needed his pacemaker replaced anyway from it burning up with all the worrying about the long haired dude in the ghost-busters mobile tailgating him for 2 hours. ;)

Offline SLOweather

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Re: Cross country, Dec 1978, and the Big Ice Storm...
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2012, 10:41:56 AM »
I finally found a picture of the ambulance and me. I suppose I could have started a "What DID you look like?" thread for it. :)

This was right after I got the ol' sled back on the road after installing a junkyard transmission, 1977, looks like summer...