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Local paper, REC crews play key roles

March ’66 blizzard – vivid memories, 50 years later
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Meeting recently to visit about their Linton area membories of the '66 blizzard were Gary Hulm, left, current KEM electrid Cooperative line superintendent and John Dykema, former KEM lineman. (PHOTO BY KENT BRICK)

In 1966, in rural communities across North Dakota, the weekly newspaper was a vital focal point and milestones marker. Even though the March ’66 blizzard knocked many rural weeklies off their publishing track, by the following week they were back in circulation with complete reports and photos of the blizzard devastation.

To illustrate, the Emmons County Record, based in Linton, devoted several issues in March 1966 to aftermath coverage of the blizzard. The March 9, page one, banner headline declared: “Worst Blizzard in History Hits Emmons.” The accompanying story began: “It took just three days and two nights last week, for an entirely new – and almost unbelievable – chapter to be added to the weather history of most of North Dakota.”

Headlines on that front page included: “Livestock Losses in Blizzard Believed Heaviest Ever Here,” “6-Year-Old Hague Girl Dies in Blizzard Thursday,” “NP Train Remains Stalled Near Linton” and more.

One news item detailed efforts expended by local electricity suppliers to keep power flowing. In virtually every area in the entire region feeling the brunt of the storm, electric cooperative line crews exerted extraordinary efforts to travel to reconnect downed lines. The Emmons County Record cited efforts of KEM Electric Cooperative linemen, stating:

 

Bill Bauer, former operations manager for Northern Plains Electric Cooperative shares his story about the Blizzard of '66.

“Thursday morning, the KEM crew battled its way to the John Kelsch farm, 15 miles east of Linton, but after that it was impossible to make much progress in any direction. Sunday, the National Guard helicopter took Leonard Vetch around to fix about five outages in the system. In the KEM crew were Bill Kliche, Leo Hughes, Leonard Vetch, John Dykema, Mattie Vetter, Eddie Wagner, Syl Zahn, Anton Bosch, and Terry Wagner. ... By Sunday evening, nearly everyone in the KEM system had normal power again.”

In January of this year, John Dykema, retired and still residing in Linton, reflected on what the KEM Electric crew faced trying to keep power flowing during the blizzard. “We were trying to get back home from Napoleon, and I didn’t think we were going to make it,” Dykema recalls. Joining him in a conversation recalling the March ’66 blizzard was Gary Hulm. At the time of the blizzard, Hulm was an 8-year-old Linton school boy. Today, Hulm is line superintendent for KEM Electric. “My two little brothers and mom and dad and I were homebound for a couple of days,” Hulm recalls.

Allan Burke, current publisher of the Emmons County Record, still published weekly in Linton, says the role of weekly newspapers in the storm’s aftermath was a vital part of the historical record of that storm. “It’s a role weekly papers performed very well then, and continue to perform today in rural North Dakota,” Burke says.