Cold weather doesn't stop these workers in the Corridor

Record-low temperatures kept many people indoors on Wednesday, but for some in the Corridor area, work continued despite the weather. Here are some of their stories:

weather doesn’t wait for newborn piglets


Across the windswept snow blanketing Walker Homestead Farm in Iowa City came Leroy, a playful stud goat aiming for farmer Andrew Roers.

Roers caught him by the horns and pointed to the rabbits and turkeys nearby.

“They’re not sedentary, and they’re not afraid of this,” he said. “They’re holding on.”

The livestock’s natural insulation are keeping most alive, despite temperatures this week too dangerous for humans.

An ill-timed litter of piglets born Monday, however, haven’t all survived.

To keep warm, about two dozen pigs have huddled inside a trailer this week, creating enough heat that steam wafts outside. As the pigs, some as heavy as 280 pounds, squeezed together overnight Tuesday, three tiny piglets were crushed and died.

“That’s the tough part of wintertime,” Roers said, explaining that pigs’ preferred temperature is about 90 degrees. “ ... If I could take all the pigs inside, that would be ideal.”

Until weather turns and they can be reintroduced to their mother, the remaining two piglets — each no more than 5 pounds — have relocated inside the Walker home. There, they toddle around with the family dog and nuzzle against staff for warmth.

For all of the farm’s animals, “eliminating exposure is the name of the game,”Roers said.

“It’s balmy in town,” he said. “They don’t have straight winds and no obstructions.”

— Molly Duffy,

24-hour shift part of the job


For Cedar Rapids Fire Department Acting Capt. Adam Jones, the key to combating Wednesday’s frigid temperatures was preparation.

Jones started his 24-hour shift at 7 a.m. with a debriefing on weather conditions and making sure his co-workers were properly outfitted for the cold.

“With this extreme cold, we knew we would need to monitor our equipment closely, especially the water tanks and lines on the truck,” he said. “We also wanted to make sure all the trucks were equipped with extra gloves, hats, masks and whatever personal gear we had to stay warm was ready to go if we got a call.”

Jones said the weather could present other challenges, such as fire hydrant caps frozen shut or hard-frozen snow blocking hydrants. The cold could also cause some complications with equipment on the fire trucks, he said, which called for close monitoring.

“It is quiet right now,” Jones said Wednesday afternoon. “But there is a high anticipation that if something does happen, we need to be watching each other’s backs and the equipment to make sure it’s all good.”

Jones said he woke up early Wednesday morning and, despite the cold, was anxious to get in to work and face whatever challenges the day might bring.

“I was anxious to get to work to make sure that the guys who were working yesterday could go home,” he said. “Yesterday I got to be home and warm with my family while they worked a 24-hour shift and I wanted to relieve them so they could do the same. I hopped out of bed knowing today could be challenging, but I’m ready for it. I’m ready to get out there and do what we do.”

— Kat Russell,

The mail may stop, but food still is delivered


Taylor McBurney made some cash Wednesday from people who didn’t want to go out in the cold.

Driving for Chomp, an Iowa City-based food delivery service, McBurney, 25, ferried burgers, subs and Indian food to Iowa City residents who took seriously warnings to stay indoors.

“I’m hoping to make some money,” McBurney said, laughing about the “pity tips” drivers often get in extreme weather.

McBurney, wearing three layers on top, along with earmuffs and gloves, picked up and delivered four food orders in 40 minutes over the lunch hour, in one case driving the food three blocks from the downtown restaurant.

“Is there any way you can bring it up?” the customer asked when McBurney told her he was on his way. Although it was a secure building, the customer gave McBurney the security code and her apartment number. Another customer ran outside in a hoodie to get his food.

McBurney, an Iowa City native who has been doing food delivery for several years, stocks his car with a shovel, blankets, extra coat and wiper fluid rated to 20 below zero. He puts the food orders on his heated passenger seat, tucked into double-insulated bags.

Although McBurney doesn’t drive regularly these days — he’s Chomp’s IT and logistics director — he was glad to pitch in Wednesday when several other drivers didn’t want to take out their cars in the cold. He expected about 22 drivers would work over the course of the day, with the peak delivery time being after 5 p.m.

— Erin Jordan,

Trains keep on rolling


Jack Hanson, a truck driver with 23 years of railroad experience, was blowing snow and ice from a switch at a CRANDIC rail yard in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday.

Hanson, along with teams of workers performing “maintenance of way” tasks, are out on the tracks around the clock to clear snow and debris from 160 area switches, or points that direct trains onto a new set of tracks. Such tasks are highly regulated, but Ken Boddicker, a track inspector who has worked for CRANDIC for 30 years, said workers are taking extra precautions during the extreme cold.

“We keep an eye on each other while we’re working out here,” he said. “We keep a vehicle nearby so that we can take breaks and warm up.”

Elaine Duvall, a business process coordinator at Alliant Energy Transportation says that while some of the company’s main clients were operating cars Wednesday, the volume was slower than normal. Typical operating volume for the railroad is around 700 cars.

“We’re running much more slowly today at around 450 cars,” Duvall said.

— Rebecca F. Miller,

Police officer: ‘It’s no joke out here’


“It’s really bad out here,” said Cedar Rapids patrol officer Randy Vest.

Vest was working the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift Wednesday while most Iowans hunkered down indoors to avoid the subzero temperatures that descended on the state starting Tuesday night.

Vest said the police department has paired up all its patrol officers during the extreme cold so each cruiser is manned by two officers.

“And that’s just in case someone slips and falls or starts showing signs of frostbite or hypothermia, so the partner can get them out of the cold and take care of them,” he said.

Cedar Rapids was a ghost town Wednesday morning, Vest said, with very little automobile, bicycle or foot traffic.

“There’s not a lot of traffic out, which is a good thing,” he said. “People are staying home, which is good because it means they’re taking this weather seriously. We’ve seen a few stalled vehicles where people got out of their car and started walking, and unfortunately most people are not dressed for this kind of weather — so were stopping and picking those people up and taking them someplace where they can get warm.”

Vest said those who do venture out Wednesday should dress warmly, wearing lots of layers, and if they do have car trouble, they should stay in their vehicles and call for help.

“It’s no joke out here,” he said. “The cold sets in almost immediately when we get out of the car, and that’s with wearing the right clothes.”

— Kat Russell,

Bees cuddle and wiggle to keep warm

“If your hive was healthy going into winter, I’m not worried about them,” said Jean Wiedenheft, Indian Creek Nature Center’s director of land stewardship.

Bees already have stocked their hives with enough honey to sustain themselves through the cold months. In the winter, they stay protected inside — cuddling around the queen bee and wiggling to stay warm.

Bees survive Siberian winters, she said. They can handle Iowa.

More dangerous than the temperature are excess moisture and oxygen circulation inside of a hive. It’s common practice for beekeepers to put crumpled up newspapers inside a hive to absorb moisture — protecting the bees for getting wet and freezing.

Most hives also have second entrances, allowing the colony to breathe even if one entrance is blocked by snowdrift.

While the bees are likely keeping themselves safe and cozy, Wiedenheft said any negative affects of the cold wouldn’t be seen until temperatures climb and queens begin laying eggs.

“My first answer is no,” she said. “My second answer is we won’t know until March.”

— Molly Duffy,