JONES COUNTY, Iowa - Members of a Jones County snowmobile club did more than just have fun with their hobby this weekend. They rescued as many as 20 motorists stranded in snow drifts on a highway in whiteout conditions Sunday night.
Rescuers with snowmobiles occasionally get calls from law enforcement to reach someone stuck on the side of the road in treacherous winter conditions. But the call that went out from the Jones County Sheriff's Department to the Jones County Snow Chasers was more than just a single person stuck and in potential danger. Highway 1 North of Martelle was so bad, a total of 17 vehicles went off the road in one stretch with drivers stuck in dangerous weather conditions. The snowmobile club members may have rescued as many as 15 to 20 people.
Even 12 hours after the height of the storm, that stretch of Highway 1 a mile or so south of Highway 151 was still looking rough Monday morning. Winds whipped snow over the roadway and two cars were still stuck in drifts. Chris Smith, Snow Chasers club member, said it was a whole lot worse Sunday evening and drivers were grateful when the snow machines began arriving.
"The one guy was so shaken, I said 'want a ride?' And he says 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' He was pretty ecstatic someone was there to get him out I think," Smith said.
Smith said the Jones County club members had one advantage in responding to the call from law enforcement for a rescue. Members share a trail-grooming snow machine with a club in Linn County. It just happened to be at Smith's garage when the rescue call came. Smith said his brother Corey hopped in the groomer and raced the seven or eight miles to the pile up on Highway 1. Chris Smith followed in a truck with a snowmobile.
The groomer, that rides on treads, was able to pull some stuck vehicles off the roadway so county plows could begin clearing the drifting snow on the road. He also used the heated cab to take drivers to a truck stop a couple of miles away.
Other club members, like Jeremy Petsche, also began arriving on their snowmobiles. At least four snowmobiles showed up to help along with the snow trail groomer. Riders began putting motorists in the saddle and taking them to safety.
Petsche, for one, wasn't quite expecting what he found out on the highway Sunday night.
"It was a surprise to see as many vehicles as I did after I found out I was going to help one lady out. There were just mass quantities [of cars]," Petsche said.
Club members in Jones County say they have an informal agreement with law enforcement to help out in bad weather. Jones County Sheriff Greg Graver said he called out the snowmobiles when deputies had trouble reaching stranded drivers.
"We had the Snow Chasers running in and getting vehicles and then bringing people to us out on the edge out by Highway 151," Graver said.
Club members said while they like riding in the snow, they wouldn't normally ride snowmobiles in those conditions for fun. But they would for a good cause.