The School Bus Blizzard of 1961
Hamlin, Audubon county, Iowa
On Friday, December 22nd, 1961, a blizzard hit most of southwest Iowa. As the snowflakes accumulated, schools in the area decided it was best to let out early, hoping that this would increase the chances of buses getting the children home safely. Despite this, the Associated Press reported that “more than 25 school buses were unable to reach their rural destinations” that afternoon.
In the Audubon school district, 11 children were stranded within a mile or two of their homes, near Hamlin. The bus got stuck in the snow and could not proceed. The driver, Harold Madsen, “led the children through the blinding storm to safety in the Iner [sic] Madsen farmhouse.” Madsen described the sleeping situation as such: “We bedded them down all over the house. Some of them slept in the dining room. With Christmas so close it was a pleasant surprise to them. They were pretty happy about the whole thing.”
Apparently, this mood was not unusual among the children. “Dozens of farmhouses in southwest Iowa resounded with the excitement of school children Saturday in the wake of a blizzard which forced hundreds of pupils to seek refuge away from home,” reported the Associated Press.
Madsen’s bus wasn’t the only one in peril in the area that afternoon. Three buses stalled and another was stranded at the Christenson farm. Yet another driver, Larry Nielsen, “was reported missing west of Audubon and two county snow plows were dispatched on a rescue mission. The bus was found in a ditch and the driver and two school children were discovered at the nearby Elmer Drier farm.” Another bus “tipped over northwest of the city and the driver and passengers stayed at the Victor Bauer farm.”
According to the Associated Press, “The youngsters’ enthusiasm over the pre-Christmas storm wasn’t shared by drowsy Des Moines workers who spent the night in offices, schools, and hotels because snow-clogged streets kept them from reaching suburban homes.”
In Carroll County, directly north of Audubon, the snowstorm brought seven inches of snow and 40 mile-per-hour winds from the northwest. Infrastructure harmed included: county roads, telephone circuits, and electrical power. One car accident left seven people hospitalized. And of course, “hundreds of school children and motorists were stranded by the storm and sought refuge in farm houses.”