Snowplow driver: Trucker 'saved my life'

CHAMPAIGN — It was like falling off your bike and scraping your face on cement.

It was that cold, that snowy, that windy, said William Argus.

"You couldn't be out for more than five or 10 minutes. The wind was fierce. It had a sheer force to it," he said, recalling the moment Sunday evening when he climbed out of his Ford F150 pickup truck on U.S. 150.

Luckily, Mike "C.J." Janke was behind Argus in his semitrailer. A full tank of gas, some Little Debbie zebra cakes, and stories to share about driving through storms out West.

"It was Alaskan-type of weather. The man saved my life. There are good people out there," Argus said of Janke.

Argus has learned this lesson. In a blizzard, you can get stranded anywhere, even close to town, so be prepared.

Fill up your gas tank.

Don't forget the snacks. And blankets.

The snowplow driver for the Illinois Department of Transportation left his home in Champaign Sunday afternoon to begin a shift clearing roads. While driving to Fithian on I-74, Argus and hundreds of other motorists were diverted off the interstate due to an accident and rerouted onto Route 150.

Except, as many soon would find out, Route 150 quickly turned snow-covered and impassable.

"There's a little valley east of Mount Olive Cemetery where the snow always drifts," Argus said.

Traffic came to a stop. Snow started to drift around cars. Argus began to turn around and in the process of turning around, one of his rear wheels slid into the ditch. (His truck is two-wheel drive.) He had about a quarter of a tank of gas.

"I used to be an over-the-road trucker. Truckers kind of have this camaraderie to help out. He took me in," Argus said.

When the road is shut down, there's nothing you can do, said Janke, who was en route to Akron, Ohio from St. Louis.

Except wait it out.

"As a truck driver, we learn to be prepared. You keep groceries on hand, some things to drink," Janke said.

The two watched a Department of Transportation road grader get stuck. Heard about fuel in some trucks gelling up. Other cars and trucks tried to turn around.

"Some are more patient than others," Janke said. His philosophy: "Whatever happens, happens. Why fret about it? I say, 'Don't sweat small stuff,'" Janke said.

While waiting for a tow, Argus stayed with Janke in his warm truck cab while Janke told him stories about driving through other blizzards, including having to chain his tires while navigating the Grapevine Mountains in eastern California during a snowstorm, only to hit several elk after he made his way down the mountain range.

A truck freed Argus around 10 p.m. Sunday. As for Janke, after U.S. 150 cleared, he was back on the road around 10 or 11 a.m. Monday.

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