Grandma's TV, spring weather, and high school track season

Apr 28, 2020 By Randy Tucker

My wife's grandmother, Esther B. Hahn, spent her final years in a senior living center in Valentine, Nebraska.

Valentine is the biggest town in Cherry County with a population of 2,800. It sits just a few miles south of the South Dakota border. The Niobrara River flows through a series of rapids just east of town.

As a prairie town, it was known for thunderstorms, blizzards and an occasional tornado. Maybe that's the reason Grandma Hahn became such a weather fanatic.

When we visited her the television was always on the Weather Channel. I don't know if she ever watched anything else.

When she passed away I helped empty her apartment. Her TV, one of those big color, cabinet models, had a strange line across the bottom of the screen. She had watched the Weather Channel so much that it burned an image of the status bar that ran across the station back in the 1990s into the screen.

People can be fixated with weather. Track coaches can become absolutely maniacal about it.

The wind was howling this morning around 5:30 a.m. I walked outside to check on our yearling calves and take in the early morning splendor of Fremont County when these thoughts of weather came to me.

Earlier in my life, there were only a few times that I ever paid any attention at all to the weather.

As a college kid in Laramie, weather was a major annoyance for me and everyone else. Going to the university with some of the worst weather in America can make you that way.

Gloom and doom descended on the campus in the days before a holiday. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, even the end of classes in May all brought on sudden interest in the weather.

The Sno Chi Minh Trail, also known as Interstate 80 from Laramie to Rawlins, was the prime source of this. A roaring blizzard almost always seemed to come the day before any of these holidays.

The other times weather mattered involved cows calving, hay being cut, and kids running around the 400-meter oval.

A winter storm can be deadly to newborn livestock. Tremendous storms, as in 1949 and during 1886-87, can wipe out entire herds.

When the clouds darken, the temperature drops, and the wind comes up, with late-term cows in the pasture, it's time to get them in the corral, shut the gate, throw extra feed, and make sure the barns are open.

In speaking with farmers in Pennsylvania and Ohio over the last few years, I'm amazed they can harvest a hay crop at all. It rains a couple of times every week in those states throughout the summer.

The humidity is high, so it takes longer to cure alfalfa once it's cut.

A few of the guys mentioned spreading salt on the windrows to help it cure. Imagine, running a spreader full of salt over your newly cut hay just to get it to dry.

Here in Wyoming, we produce the best hay in the world. Our climate is the reason. Cut on a hot Thursday, and by early Sunday morning in June it's ready to bale. In July and August, sometimes the curing time is even faster: Cut early one day, wait 48 hours, and fire up the baler.

Cattle, hay, and escaping Laramie present just a passing interest in the weather.

If you really want to see someone fixated, almost to obsession, talk to a Wyoming high school track coach.

One weekend, (isn't it always a weekend?) during my sophomore year in high school, it dumped more than a foot of wet snow.

Our track at Wind River was a 330-yard cinder oval around the football field. On Monday and Tuesday coach LeRoy Sinner had us running laps in the gym, hundreds of laps.

On Wednesday, with the snow still clinging to the field he gave us an option. You guys can run 150 laps in the gym or you can go outside and run two miles on the track. We took the track option.

We plowed through the first lap literally, falling down a lot. In the process we cut a path around the track. After that, the final seven laps weren't that bad. This story would terrify a kid in Arizona, Texas, or California.

Track coaches watch the weather constantly. Is it nice enough to go outside? ("Nice" is a relative term.) Or, is it another night in the gym or on carefully crafted routes through the building, running halls, stairs and inclines?

Meet directors take dozens of calls from coaches when the weather is iffy. Most directors are up by 4 a.m. on a meet day, and the phone begins to ring soon after that. It's largely a guessing game on a lot of track-meet weekends.

Locals know the weather patterns. They can tell you if there's a chance to get the meet off or if it's time to punt.

Arriving at a meet on a questionable weather day is a process in preparation. The kids bring extra clothes, sunscreen, blankets, gloves and pack them all in huge bags.

You never know the weather at an April meet, but there are a few constants:

It will be cool and damp during the field events. Towels dry throwing rings, leaf blowers clear the water off high jump approaches, with the omnipresent wind that arrives around 10:30 clearing the track of moisture.

You usually have three good hours of weather from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. By mid-afternoon, just as the girls get ready to run the 300-meter hurdles, the wind picks up.

By the time the girls are finished, and the hurdles are raised a couple of notches for the boys, the wind has reached hurricane proportions (well, it seems that way).

The final event of the day, the 4x400-meter relay is a study in aerodynamics at most events.

It grows on you, it makes you tough, it makes you appreciate perfect weather when it sometimes arrives.

Yes, I miss all of it.

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