Little car not destined to be big sleigh

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Our little bit of snow last week was a cakewalk compared to over a decade of living in the mountains of Colorado where driving on snow and ice all winter long was the norm.

The winter roads in Colorado were one of the top reasons coming home to New Mexico seemed like a good idea. I figured I had just about used up my good luck and the next trip into the ditch might not turn out so well.

For the last three years in Colorado I had a sales territory where I called on ski areas so I was on the ice five days a week for four to five months each winter and on a snow day it took a long time to get upvalley and it wasn’t pretty.

While in Colorado, I went into the ditch twice. OK three times if you count the Christmas tree cutting episode. Each time I stayed upright and came out of the ditch with four-wheel drive and a minimum of outside help. I got better at driving in the snow but I never really felt as comfortable on the white stuff as I wanted to be.

I did drive into the ditch one other time in the snow — back when my wife and I still lived in Tucumcari. It was before I owned my first four-wheel drive, but it taught me the value of having one when the weather gets really bad.

I was president of the Tucumcari Rotary Club and we had a Filipino exchange student that year. From a wealthy family, Tweet Lao was used to servants and being chauffeured to school. I gave her a chauffeured ride one night in a Plains snowstorm she’s never forgotten.

A group of Rotary exchange students from eastern New Mexico were brought together for a ski vacation during Christmas break that year and Tweet made the trip. It was the first time she had ever seen snow and she was excited but tired when the group arrived in Portales where my wife and I had arranged to meet and shuttle her back to Tucumcari.

Before the ski group arrived it started snowing heavily and by the time they got in things were getting serious. We decided the best thing to do was load up quickly and head for Tucumcari.

We took off tracking snow and by the time we got through Melrose things had changed to a white-knuckle night with limited visibility.

Shortly after we went through Melrose I began pushing snow up past the headlights of the little car and eventually it lost momentum and stopped dead in the middle of the highway. I decided that wasn’t a good thing, so I got turned around and headed back to Portales.

About that time, Tweet, who had been sleeping soundly, awoke and asked if everything was OK. My wife assured her that everything was OK as long as we stayed out of the ditch.

By the time the bleary-eyed teen had the question out of her mouth — “what’s a ditch?” — we were sitting in the bottom of one.

Luckily a four-wheel drive came along shortly thereafter and pulled us out and back onto the highway. We made it back to Portales and stayed overnight with my folks but I needed to be at work as soon as possible the next day and Tweet was due back at school.

My dad offered a worn out four-wheel drive ranch pickup he had been using on a farm back in the sandhills all summer.

The three of us raked a few hamburger sacks and pop cans out of the cab and climbed in. Soon we discovered we only had one really low gear in four-wheel drive. We also learned quickly that the heater wasn’t going to work either.

We got home safely at 30 mph but no sleigh ride was ever so cold or slow.

Tweet sent us Christmas cards for several years recalling that ride.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4483 or by e-mail: