Remember the storm of 1941: Tales of loss, luck survive to be told 70 years later

Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2011.

When Howard Treichel was younger, he sometimes stopped to gaze at a small plaque on the wall of his family's living room.

For years, he was too young to read the words enshrined upon it: "Our darling."

But when he got older, he asked his parents about it.

That's when they told him about his brother, Willard, who died in the big snowstorm of March, 15, 1941.

Treichel was 3 years old on that Saturday when his parents drove the family to Ada, Minn., for the day.

The storm struck that evening as the family drove from Ada to their farmhouse a few miles outside of town.

When his parents told him the story years later, details were few, but dramatic.

The blizzard arrived with such fury that Treichel's father had difficulty finding the turnoff to their farm.

Then the car stalled about a half mile from home.

Treichel said his father and an older brother carried him and a younger brother to the farmhouse.

A fire was started, and the house was beginning to warm when his father again braved the storm to return to his wife and Willard, 6, who waited in the car.

On the trip back to the house, the trio had trouble finding their way.

At one point, the little boy's cap blew off.

"My dad went to reach for the cap," Treichel said, recalling the story.

"That's when Willard was suffocated, because it (the wind) took all his breath out of him.

"I don't think my dad knew that until he got home,'' added Treichel, who now lives in the Twin Cities.

Tragedies avoided

Bernice Peihl was about 13 years old in March 1941 when she, along with a sister and two cousins, made the mile-long walk to their grandparents' house near Mose, N.D., northwest of Cooperstown, to attend a birthday party for another cousin.

"It was a beautiful day, really mild," recalled Peihl, who now lives in Arthur, N.D.

When the birthday party was over, the youngsters made the trek back home.

As Peihl remembers it, they had no sooner made it through the door "when the wind hit just like a wall. You could not see anything at all."

Peihl holds no illusions about what their fate would have been if the wind had arrived minutes sooner.

"We never would have made it," she said. "We were not very old."

On that same day, Peihl's father, uncle, aunt and one of her sisters traveled to Cooperstown.

The blizzard hit as that group was on the road heading for home.

Instead of pushing their luck, they turned around and drove back to the last town they had passed.

"My dad called my mom on the phone and said, 'We're safe in Glenfield,' and the phone went dead," Peihl said.

Getting the call was a blessing, she added, because phone service wasn't restored until two days later.

"The Good Lord was with us that night," said Peihl, who witnessed other powerful weather phenomenon over the years, including a windstorm that struck Mose a few years later, blowing the town elevator from its foundation.

"The elevator moved 9 feet without tipping over in that July wind," she said. "The elevator slid along the ground. It was just out of this world."

While weather has been a tragic factor in the life of his family, Treichel said it now plays an important role in the life of his son, Jon.

"He's a spotter for storms," Treichel said. "Last summer, he was running around watching for tornadoes."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555