Iowans' neighborly love and bravery saved father and son stuck in a ditch during blizzard
Severe storms caused minor damage and flash flooding across the metro early Tuesday morning. WHO-HD TV, Special to the Register
Jane Foreman received a text at 10:47 p.m. that sent a shiver through her, colder than any wind chill recorded during the weekend blizzard.
“We’re in the ditch.”
The four words came from her husband, Tim Foreman, of Grimes.
Earlier Saturday, 51-year-old Tim and his father, 80-year-old Curt Foreman, drove to Cedar Falls to visit Tim and Jane’s sons, Ryan and Brett, both University of Northern Iowa students.
The boys ate dinner with their father and grandfather before attending the Panthers’ men’s basketball game together.
The game got out about 9:30 p.m. Tim and Curt decided to make for home in Curt’s Prius, despite blizzard warnings.
Curt, who was not driving, texted a picture of the snowy landscape to Jane and said it was going to be a slow drive home.
Slow came to a halt when the Prius hit the ditch on U.S. Highway 20 near Buckeye, about 12 miles east of Interstate Highway 35.
The temperature was 31 degrees and falling fast.
Back in Grimes, Jane was frantic. She called the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa State Patrol. The message was the same from all fronts.
“They said the safest thing they could do was stay in the car,” Jane said.
Her sons, one of whom had a four-wheel drive vehicle, wanted to go rescue their dad and grandfather. Jane forbade them.
“I already had enough family out in this mess,” she said.
Tim and Curt, who declined to be interviewed for this story, had taken some precautions. They had nuts, beef jerky and other snacks in the car, along with a pair of sleeping bags.
They both had winter coats on, but neither had insulated pants or boots. They warmed the car in short bursts through the night to ward off frostbite and hypothermia, Jane said.
Neither man had car chargers for their cell phones. They avoided battery-sapping telephone calls in favor of periodic texts to Jane to let her know they were still OK.
“I didn’t get much sleep that night,” she said.
As the blizzard intensified, tow bans went into place and I-35 closed north of Ames. The temperature dropped to 15 degrees overnight with a wind chill of 4 degrees below zero.
Eventually, the Prius’ engine failed to turn over.
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Jane posted Tim and Curt’s plight to Facebook.
An artist, Jane used to sell Silpada Jewelry through a direct sales model like Mary Kay cosmetics. A friend from her Silpada days, Angie Sly of Des Moines, had former customers and other contacts in the area where the Foreman men were stuck.
Sly put out a call to people in the Alden area — a few miles north of where the Foremans were stuck — to see who could help.
That message eventually made it to Davey and Todd Janes. Looking at the coordinates, the couple figured the Foremans must be about six miles away.
Todd Janes bundled up with a package of hot coffee and snacks for the Foremans. He rode his snowmobile along the roads and slowly made his way to them.
He found them, handed over the coffee and food and dug out the tailpipe of their car.
“I wasn’t able to say much to them,” Janes said. “I didn’t want them to let too much cold air in with the window rolled down.”
Janes could barely stand the ride over on the snowmobile himself, and he knew he couldn’t risk taking even one of the Foremans back with him.
“There was no way one was going to leave the other, and they just weren’t dressed for it,” he said.
Janes headed home.
The blizzard that began Saturday evening in parts of the state and lasted through Sunday stranded scores of motorists in ditches.
“They said they could see other cars' lights go off and on at different times during the night,” Jane Foreman said.
The Hardin County Sheriff's Office estimated as many as 60 vehicles were stranded across the county Sunday morning, though most were unoccupied.
Jane and Angie continued to update the situation on Facebook. The post kept spreading.
At one point, a storm chaser who was staying in Mason City attempted to make a rescue run, but I-35 was impassable.
Shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday, Jane received a Facebook message from Brian Geerdes, a railroad engineer from Iowa Falls.
“Are they still in the vehicle?” he asked.
“Yes,” Jane replied. “Who is this? Do I know you?”
“No, ma’am,” Geerdes wrote back, “just a random person on Facebook who (saw) your post.”
Geerdes said he would try to get out to the Foremans.
Jane replied, “You are a true hero.” (Heart emoji included.)
Geerdes later said, “In Iowa, in general, we’re all raised where if somebody needs help, you help them.”
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At 1:33 p.m., Geerdes messaged that he was headed out toward the Foremans, but he cautioned, “No promises.”
He took his Chevy Suburban out on the windswept roads, following snowplows at times and seldom climbing above 20 or 30 mph.
He made it to Tim and Curt. He planned on taking the guys up to Iowa Falls, but the roads were too bad.
Then Davey and Todd Janes came back into the picture: They offered up their farmhouse as an overnight shelter.
Geerdes messaged Jane that her husband and father-in-law were safe and sound at the Janes farm near Buckeye.
Meanwhile, Angie Sly, Jane’s jewelry selling buddy, was messaging Davey Janes with tips for treating frostbite and hypothermia. An important part: Warm the core temperature with hot food like chicken soup.
Davey boiled a chicken and made fresh chicken and dumplings, which was ready to scoop up when the Foremans arrived at their farmhouse.
Both Tim and Curt warmed their bellies, talked with Jane on the phone, and went to bed for a few hours.
“I told them to go to sleep and turn off their phones,” Jane said. “I was going to turn off my phone, thank God for answering my prayers, and we would figure out how to get them home later.”
As of late Monday afternoon, Tim and Curt were still stuck in Buckeye due to poor road conditions.
But they’ll make it home soon enough, thanks to the kindness of Iowans willing to lend a hand in times of trouble.
Register staff writer Anna Spoerre contributed to this report.
Register storyteller Daniel P. Finney grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. Suggest stories at 515-284-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsmanone and Facebook at @danielpfinney.