At the close of the holidays in brand new 1949, Walt and Bert and Dondi kiss Bert’s sister goodbye and crowd into Bud and Mickey’s automobile for their 1,900-mile drive back to Casper Wyoming.
The old Nash is stacked with four adults and three children, but they carve a bed in the way back for catnaps and picnic baskets brimming with Swedish knäckebröd care of Bud’s mother.
They get as far as Nebraska. A series of storms that began in November, which dumped record snowfalls all over the western United States, has now paralyzed the corridor, where the snow heaps into house-eating drifts over thirty-feet high.
That’s Bud’s Nash in stopped traffic, and the other arrow indicates the line of desperate, stranded automobiles with nowhere to go and nothing to eat and no place to stay for the night.
And that’s not the only problem. The nearly four million head of cattle in this livestock-heavy state are buried alive or frozen in their tracks. No kidding, man, you could push a cow over with your finger. So the government enacts Operation Haylift, which drops hay to the starving cattle throughout the region.
And—with no rooms for hire, no food on grocery store shelves, and nothing left in nearby restaurants—Operation Haylift begins to drop supplies to the stranded motorists along the road where Bud’s Nash—now below freezing inside—sits idle.
Yankee ingenuity grabs Walt by the throat, and he takes off down an isolated farm road where, a mile later, he comes across an old farmhouse owned by an old woman who agrees to take the whole mess of them in.
They spend four days in the old lady’s attic, where a wall-mounted thermometer registers 0 degrees. With nothing but a mattress per family and a couple of ragtag blankets, Walt orders Bert and Dondi to strip down to nothing in order to generate a little heat under the covers. Across the room on his own family mattress, Bud scoffs at the suggestion and freezes his hind off all night long.