Dan Ehleringer of Morris has been riding snowmobiles for more than 40 years but he'd not ridden in anything like the stormy conditions he experienced on Thursday, Feb. 7.
"It was nasty out there. It went through my brain many times, 'Why am I doing this?'" Ehleringer said.
But Ehleringer had responded when his neighbor Stevens County Sheriff Jason Dingman asked for help to retrieve two men stranded in two vehicles south of Hancock that day.
"This was the second worst blizzard I 've been and I've worked for the sheriff's office for 22 years," Dingman said.
Dingman knew conditions were bad but he also knew two men from Pennsylvania who were working at a business in rural Hancock had gotten stuck a few miles south of Hancock on a county road.
Ehleringer said it appeared the men weren't prepared for the weather when he found them in the vehicles.
"They didn't have any gloves on or anything," Ehleringer said.
Dingman said during one attempt to reach the vehicles, the vehicles got stuck while following a county road grader. A county snow plow driver couldn't see well enough to reach the vehicles, Dingman said.
Dingman had been communicating with the Minnesota National Guard about the possibility of using one of its small unit support vehicles (SUSV) that can travel in snow. The nearest SUSVs were in at the Guard armories in Montevideo and Alexandria. It would take about four hours for guard members and an SUSV to get to rural Hancock that night, Dingman said. That was too long to wait as it was the evening and temperatures would continue to drop below zero, Dingman said.
The next best option was to try and use snow equipment to reach the vehicles, Dingman said.
Ehleringer used a utility vehicle with tracks to find the vehicles and bring in the two men.
"It was nothing but blinding snow," Ehleringer said. He didn't realize there was two vehicles until he saw them. "One wasn't running, so I assume it must have been low on gas," Ehleringer said.
The ride back to a safer road and Dingman's vehicle was quiet.
"I didn't ask them any questions," Ehleringer said. They didn't talk. Not even to say thanks, Ehleringer said.
Ehleringer said he used telephone poles as his guides while he drove to and from the stranded vehicles. "I tell people I'm kind of like a duck. I'm mello on the outside but under the water I'm moving quite rapidly," Ehleringer said of his state of mind. "I was kind of nervous."
By the time he got back home, the adrenaline had subsided.
Ehleringer's trip to and from Morris provided its own challenges.
Ehleringer had his own problems before the rescue. "I got stuck in the snow going into Hancock," he said. He left his pickup and trailer behind and used the UTV to reach Dingman before attempting to reach the stranded men.
On the way home to Morris, "There were cars in the ditch on both sides," he said. But he didn't need to pick up any stranded drivers.
Dingman and Ehleringer have some advice for winter driving. "When they say no travel, it's no travel," Ehleringer said.
The day also included two sheriff's vehicle getting stuck in the snow while responding to an incident, Dingman said. Dingman posted a video taken of the conditions when the squad cars got stuck on the sheriff's office Facebook page. To see the video, click here. https://www.stevenscountytimes.com/video/EHNiwHf3