The idiom “any port in a storm” certainly applies to the many travelers who were brought into town to stay overnight, because of the closing of I-80 during the recent snow storm that hit the area.
However, out of the unfortunate circumstance that led people having to pull off the interstate for the night comes a story that shows just how much heart and kindness residents of Kimball county truly have and show to their fellow man.
Joe Trujillo and Jess Valdez of Pueblo, Colorado had been traveling west along I-80 trying to get to Cheyenne to get on I-25 to Denver when they encountered a truck jackknifed on the road and were told by a state trooper that they had to turn around and go back to Kimball.
“We got lost. We couldn’t find the ramp or anything. We went straight on the frontage road and started curving south, and we got maybe five miles out and saw we were going the wrong way. You couldn’t see anything,” Valdez said.
When Trujillo and Valdez reached Kimball county, they searched around for anyone who could help point them in the right direction when in a state of desperation they pulled up to the residence of John and Sallie Mihalek.
“I went, and I hit my horn. I had my lights on, and I kept hitting my horn, because all their lights were off. Then I got out and knocked on the door. I started walking off, and I could hear them walking. The door opened and there was a lady who said, ‘Can I help you?’, and I explained that we were lost,” Valdez said.
From that point Sallie Mihalek invited both Trujillo and Valdez into her home, and after they had explained the situation she offered them a place to stay for the night.
“She said, ‘You guys aren’t going out there like that. It’s too dangerous.’ From there she said there was a fold out couch in the living room and there was a bed in a back bedroom and that we’d be fine there,” Valdez said.
The Mahilek’s hospitality didn’t end with only offering Valdez and Trujillo a place to stay for the night, but it also extended into the morning with a warm meal.
“She got up and asked us if we were going to have breakfast, and she made us bacon and biscuits. She even gave us a hug as we left, and I said God bless you and I thank you and she had tears in her eyes. You never know what somebody else is like, but it seemed they really enjoyed helping us out,” Valdez said.
The experience has apparently left quite the impression on Trujillo, who was taken aback by the kindness he and Valdez had been shown.
“I just keep thinking that if the rest of the people of the town are like this, people are really missing out on not coming here. No one really treats you that way anymore,” Trujillo said.
The storm not only pushed people like Trujillo and Valdez off of I-80, but also created a lot of work for Street Superintendent Jim Ryschon and his team here in town.
“So far we’ve just cleaned up down town a little bit. Until tomorrow morning, we’re just going to keep an eye on things and try to keep it from getting too slick for people. We were pretty much prepared. My guys are really dedicated, and we work pretty good as a team. We had our trucks out at about 4:30 this morning starting to remove snow,” Ryschon said.
The storm also affected local businesses slightly by way of keeping residents mostly in doors, and even forcing city offices to close their doors early so that local residents did not try to brave the storm in order to pay bills or take care of any other business.
“For the public’s safety, we had to close at noon, and also for our employees safety so they can get home and be safe,” said Rosie Russell, Clerk and Treasurer for the city of Kimball.
A few local business owners such as Rebecca Brown of Java Blend also saw business coming in at a slower pace in the early hours of the day than usual due to the weather conditions.
“It’s been a couple people here and there. Getting here and getting out of the drive way was the really tough part. We’ve pretty much had at least one person in here one after another so at least we’re getting something,” Brown said.
Though many residents and city employees were able to go back to the safety of their home until the storm blew over, there were the unlucky few that had to brave the storm for the sake of their duty such as Sheriff Harry Gillway who was called to help some travelers who had gotten trapped out in the storm on Highway 71 on their way from Denver to Scottsbluff.
“I was going about 10 mph on 71, and the visibility was just horrible. If anyone would have called and asked me about the storm and road conditions, I would just have told them to stay home,” Gillway said.