Winter 1994

Winter without snow sucks (and yes this photo has been made a million times, now a million and 1 times.) I am cleaning and pitching the last 23 years of my life and discovered a 22-year-old photo of a man named Nate Whitsel, who was disabled, leading National Guard rescue troops with food and medical supplies through post-blizzard snow to his home in rural Owen County, KY. Phone lines were down, I-75 was closed and he had not been able to reach his family for two or three days. He was at work in Williamstown when the blizzard hit. Kentucky State Police and other agencies had blocked southbound roads. Accompanied by reporter Sheila McLaughlin (the only woman I've ever known who, as a matter of course, swore as much as I did in daily conversation and was lots of fun). I managed find a route around the roadblocks (imagine that) and onto southbound KY 25. I was driving a front wheel drive Dodge Spirit; I had deflated the front tires slightly to increase traction. The snow had been preceded by an ice storm and the roads were coated with ice. We got lucky in Williamstown (about 35 south of Cincinnati) where we found the National Guardsmen about to depart with Whitsel. They were traveling in trucks with dual rear wheels and some four-wheel drive vehicles. I declined an offer to ride along as one of my few rules is do not get separated from your vehicle unless there is no alternative. I managed to get as far as they could on the roads. We got within a mile or two of his home and had to walk from there. (The text with this photo-which is a very poor copy-says there was between 24 and 30 inches of snow) In order to shoot it I had to cut the trail through the snow so I could get far enough ahead of them to shoot it with longer lenses. Sheila was behind guardsmen. At one point Whitsel, whose face displays his determination to get to his family, fell in the snow. His family was okay. I made a photo of the reunion and of Whitsel collapsed on a bed. Sheila did her interviews. It was dusk by the time we got back to the car. Craig Ruttle was the night photo editor (a photo editor, at night no less, imagine that), deadlines were early. We were probably using two way radios, I don't remember. I had to drive some distance before I could reach him. I believe it was the only time in my life I ever told an editor I had a Page 1 photo before I processed the film. (Sorry about the quality of the copied photos and if stuff like this is boring. I stumbled on it a few days ago and I shot the cliche tree photo yesterday out of boredom. When I wrote Winter without snow sucks, i remembered the Whitsel photo. Trying not to spend too much time on Memory Lane but it beats anything I'll do today. And if you're out there Sheila, I hope your having fun in the sun somewhere)