Everybody has a story: Black ice led to a cold, unexpected swim

By

Published:

 

My husband, John, had a swim in the Klickitat River in south-central Washington on Feb. 10, 1978, that he sure didn’t plan on.

We drove to Goldendale for a visit with family and were staying at my folks’ home. Well, lo and behold, my dear husband decided to go to Klickitat to visit his mom the day that we got to Goldendale. I asked him to wait until the next day, as it was already late afternoon. His mother lived in an apartment west of Klickitat.

John was traveling along state Highway 142 between Goldendale and Lyle when he hit black ice. It was a straight stretch of highway, but black ice shows no mercy to motorists driving too quickly for hazardous conditions, so he ended up in the icy Klickitat River and soon found out that a 1967 van does not float.

John had lived in Klickitat as a kid for a few years and had swam that river at a favorite local swimming hole, but he sure didn’t plan on this.

John had his seat belt on, but once in the river with a bump on his head, he had to swim to shore as the van was filling with water. He told me later that he knew how to go with the current and flow of the river to save himself. The water was 20 feet deep and cold.

Because I don’t swim, I later asked him what he would have done if I had been with him. He said that he would have knocked me out if I panicked and towed me to shore. I do believe that he could have done just that, as he was a strong man in those days. He was a freight car inspector for Burlington Northern Railroad.

A lady from Klickitat gave him a ride to his mother’s home, and from there, he called me on the phone. I was just glad he was alive. John was 53 years old then. He is 86 now, and he stays out of rivers!

We had to rent a car to get around in until we purchased a new van.

Back at home, John’s co-workers made him a periscope in the railroad car shops. His nickname was “Crazy Puppy,” but they renamed him “Underdog” for a while. One of his co-workers wrote a poem that went something like, “You have traveled far, you’ve traveled wide, now you travel with the tide.”

After all these years, we still have the periscope.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials, so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525.