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Edition #45, January 1, 2007

Willard Winter Destruction

Photographer: Dave Hyman

                                                        Photo by Dave Hyman

Willard Winter Destruction

On January 9th, 2005 mother nature let loose with all her fury. Under the cover of darkness gathering storms approached the city of Willard and CSX Willard Terminal.

Winter in Ohio can be harsh, but we were not ready for what was about to happen. At 10:00pm I decided to head up to Willard for an overnight photo shoot. I checked the weather and decided it was OK. We had a light sprinkle of snow on the ground in Canton, and presented no problems for driving. Hopefully, Willard, some 90 miles distant, would be clear also.

As I drove through Akron, 15 miles from Canton, the sky was glowing a strange yellow cast above the city skyline. Undaunted I drove on, occasionally glancing up at the sky whenever possible. I was driving on freeway roads that showed no signs of winter snow. Traffic was brisk, heavy at times with 18-wheel big rigs maintaining speed limits. I drove through Barberton, Wadsworth, Norton, and Saville on Interstate 76 until I reached the major intersection with Interstate 77. These intersections are sometimes larger than most Mid-American small towns, bristling with activity 24 hours a day, a hub for resting, exercise, gasoline and food on a long 3,000 mile journey across America. With a total of 24 lanes of traffic at this intersection you have to have eyes in the back of your head, big rigs are lined up in almost every lane, blocking your views of the scene and the traffic lights. About all you can do is know your lane and "go with the flow".

After stopping to refuel my car, topping it up to the brim, I made my way out onto Interstate 76 again and headed towards Route 224, some 15 miles distant to the west. Most of the heavy rigs had turned at the intersection onto Interstate 77, so there was now less traffic for me to deal with. As I approached Route 224 I started to get tense, as the snow cover seemed to be a little thicker than I had seen thus far. Route 224 is a complete opposite of interstate driving; we go from 3 lanes each way down to 1 lane each way; with big rigs in front of you and behind you, more coming at you in the opposite direction. Now we are out in the countryside with no street lighting, just headlamps to guide you. Being in the country brings its own share of hazards, namely deer. Now driving with a layer of fresh snow on the roads some 2 inches thick, it was imperative to be totally aware of what was happening in front of you and also to each side of the road, Deer are dumb animals and they will walk out in front of you even if you shine your high beams at them. And then it happened . . . a whole herd of deer came out of the trees and across the road some 100 yards in front of me. Must have been 12-15 of them. I wasn't going real fast, probably about 40mph so I managed to avoid hitting any of them, but I sure did wake up in a hurry!

Now I am at the point of no return and continue my journey towards Willard. Passing through Greenwich, and several small Mid-American towns, the rest of the journey was tense but smooth and uneventful. 90 miles driving in the dark and snow cover, watching all those mesmerizing snow flakes falling in the headlamp beams with a 6 foot deep ditch to your right can take it's toll on you. On the approach to Willard the snow cover deepened significantly, obviously signs of a serious storm that evening.

Now it's about midnight, my journey had taken longer due to the weather conditions. Crossing the Willard city limit signs I could see the path of destruction the winter storms had left behind. Traffic consisted mainly of fire trucks, police and ambulances. Power lines were down. Trees had massive amounts of snow cover. Branches of all sizes littered the streets and trees were even uprooted and had fallen across the street in places. I had no idea if CSX had shut down operations at Willard Terminal. Having witnessed the street chaos I was apprehensive that my trip had been in vain and I would have to turn around and go home. Dodging emergency vehicles, trees and other road obstacles I made it to the Terminal Pit Stops. Boots, gloves and a heavy coat were the order of the day, or more correctly, night.

CSX crews were out in force, many were called out to help with storm damage and deep snow cover. Snow lay several inches thick across the tracks, and all trains were on a go-slow order through Willard Terminal. To the east rail traffic was halted due to rail damage and MOW crews were working frantically to repair one problem after another, split welds, frozen switches, all combined to bring Willard to a halt. Trains were lined up on all 3 tracks in both directions, all within sight of each other, creating a dispatchers nightmare. My scanner was never quiet, chatter was constant, and tempers were being taxed to the limit, everyone wanting priority commitment from the dispatcher.

After making a few night shots I decided to wait it out till dawn, there was no point in chasing anything, nothing was moving. When dawn came the destruction could clearly be seen. One thought that crossed my mind was "I hope I can get home OK, this is pretty bad". I decided to head over to 2nd Street to see what was happening over there. It turned out that everything was happening there. I had a grand view of all the stopped trains in front of me, and I never left that spot for several hours until the bottleneck was cleared.

Late morning the cloud cover began to clear and the sun shone brightly in the clear blue skies. At around 3:00pm I was getting kinda tired after spending some 15 hours at Willard. I took advantage of the bright sunshine as I made my way home after an exhausting photo trip. The sun had melted the snow cover a great deal and my trip home was smooth and easy.

Dave Hyman

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