Monday, November 11, 1940 was a federal holiday. The weather was mild but a cold front was rumored to be blowing in. Everyone went duck hunting. And many never returned. Jon Steffes of La Crescent, Minnesota, wrote the book Wings in the Wind: The Armistice Day Storm of 1940 (link below) based on his father’s first-hand accounts as a 16 year-old duck hunter that was there and with old-timers that remembered that fateful day in US duck hunting history. On the 81st anniversary of the famous Armistice Day Blizzard, this conversation that really hits home. Ask yourself: if you’d been sitting under surprising numbers of ducks the likes of which you’d never before seen, would you have stayed in the blind too?
What was the Armistice Day Storm of 1940?
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Man, have I got a great show today. Do you know that on November 11th and 12th, 1940 was the Armistice Day blizzard? 154 fatalities nationwide and a lot of those guys were duck hunting that had heard the front was coming. There’s going to be ducks galore. Today’s guest Jon Steffes from La Crescent Minnesota wrote a book, Wings in the Wind: The Armistice Day Storm of 1940 and he’s going to tell us all about it. John, how are you today?
Jon Steffes: Good. Thanks for having me. I enjoy duck hunting, I don’t know if it’s as much as you, but I’m sure it’s pretty close.
Ramsey Russell: I’m sure it is. How is your duck season been going so far?
Jon Steffes: It’s been slow, the weather has been a little warm and we just need some birds were in Southern Minnesota right along the Mississippi Flyway there, and the warm weather is not helping get new birds in town, so it’s been pretty slow. There’s still wood ducks hanging around. My son went out and got some wood ducks and teal the other day. I made it out a few times. I’m kind of busy with my kids in sports, but just not a lot of birds in towns, we’re hoping for some cold weather.
Ramsey Russell: All duck hunters are hoping for cold weather and then to bring it on topic, on November 11th and 12th, 1940 they got what they wished for and a whole lot more. A lot more than they bargained for, a lot of them did. John, what happened? What is the Armistice Day storm of 1940?
Jon Steffes: Well, so my dad was 52 when I was born which explains the time frame. He went out, he was a guy who would go out duck hunting, and it was a Monday holiday, and he went out and it was 55° 60° – it’s a beautiful day. It was kind of a bluebird type day. They knew there was going to be a front pushing through. They never realized the severity of it, obviously. And he went out late morning at 55° and by later on the afternoon, it started, the temperature is plummeting. It was started to rain, and it started to sleet, and temperature just sort of hit rock bottom, and it was in the teens by dark and the wind picked up. What prompted me to write this book is I found my dad’s old journal and it’s his little hunting journal. He talks about going out in Gaylord, Minnesota, pheasant hunting. And he wrote in here for 1940 November 11th, he said the Armistice Day snowstorm wind was blowing up the 4-4.5 feet rollers. And he went out and shot ducks. And later on, when we used to talk about it, he would tell me that he’s never seen more ducks. Those ducks were moving out in front of the front and he said he shot ducks but couldn’t get them. He tried to go out in his boat and just couldn’t retrieve the ducks. The snow started piling up, I think.
Ramsey Russell: Wait a minute. A lot of those guys that don’t hunt up in Minnesota. I’m thinking to myself, he’s talking about 4 feet rollers. He was hunting big bodies of water, probably up in the protected bodies on the edge of the cattails of the protected stuff. But, I mean, 4 feet rollers, we don’t get many of that in average Mississippi duck hole.
Jon Steffes: No.
Ramsey Russell: We’ve got of river bottoms, okay.
Duck Hunters Caught in the Storm
My dad would talk about different guys in town that that passed away or were found the next day.
Jon Steffes: Yeah, and I said, really, 4 feet waves? He said yeah, the wind was just coming in. Now if you’ve ever been in the Mississippi river bottoms, you don’t have much elevation, right? So, once it got dark, and the snow was piling up, and the wind was coming in, my dad’s motor froze up. So he ended up, later on that night, making it and rowing his boat. But meanwhile everybody in town, this is Winona, Minnesota, people were gathering in local bars and hangouts, trying to keep in touch with who’s coming in, who’s making it in safe. And he ended up rolling his ball and he got in way after dark. But he knows friends that died. Anyway, with all that cold weather and the winds and waves overtook a lot of these river bottoms and these little strips of land that run between two bodies of water. I mean it’s not much, it doesn’t take much for the water to go up over the top of that and overtake those little chunks of land, that little flat boggy surfaces that they’re hunting on. A lot of guys got wet. Back then, I mean I remember my dad going out, everything was wool, they didn’t have the waterproof stuff like we have now. So, he told me stories about–
Ramsey Russell: Caught a lot of wool and waxed cotton type stuff.
Jon Steffes: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: See I read somewhere on the Internet, that it warmed up in the 50s and 60’s. And then the front hit, and it hit like all of a sudden, and it was a massive storm, covered a 1000 mile swath, coming at him, and I’m reading stuff like winds of 50 to 80 miles an hour, and 27 inches of snow, and 20 foot snow drifts, that’s just hard to believe.
Jon Steffes: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: You leave in 60° weather, you’re out there duck hunting cause it’s warm. You ain’t going to shoot nothing. But you got off of work or out of school anyway, so why not go? And then this front blows in and it’s just horrific.
Jon Steffes: Yeah, guys were not prepared. My dad said he had some extra clothes along, but some of these guys that got stuck and their motors froze up or the boat swamped, they would box each other trying to stay warm. They would kind of pace up and down in the islands, trying to keep out of the water that these waves were crashing in. But there’s really nowhere to go on some of these narrow strips of land. And like you said, 20 inches of snow, I think they had like 16-18 down by Winona up north towards the cities up towards Lake City. I think they pushed towards 2 feet of snow. And like you said, there’s 75 mile an hour winds. It was a blizzard.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Jon Steffes: And I think in the area about 49 hunters died. And I’m talking about Wisconsin up through Twin cities area. Those are where a lot of duck hunters died on Lake Superior. Some boats capsized and lives were lost up there as well. As you said, this storm was a vast one. This storm started up in the Rockies, it dipped all the way down towards Oklahoma, and then just came right up and it just pulled all that moisture up out of the Gulf. Then the cold front came down and just kind of collided right along the Mississippi River valley. And the barometric pressure I guess has been compared to like hurricane levels, and the barometric pressure dropped.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody said or I read that it was the number two worst storm to ever hit Minnesota in the 20th century.
Rescue & Relief Efforts
So, they were coming in off the main channel to try to get into the backwaters to try to rescue these guys.
Jon Steffes: Yep. That’s correct, yep. I read the same thing and yeah, it was a nasty one. My dad would talk about different guys in town that that passed away or were found the next day. I kind of learned a lot talking to my dad about some of the things that were going on the night of the storm. Liberace, the piano player, he was in Winona playing a concert at St. Theresa’s college, which no longer exists. And he played that night and he was like a young up and comer, he’s from Wisconsin. And so, he played that night and at the end he said, this is a crazy, crazy storm. Then the next day a lot of these guys are stranded, people all over town were trying to figure out how we’re going to go out and get these people. Max Conrad, who was a pilot, he’s a small aircraft pilot, former bush pilot up in Canada. He went up in his plane with a copilot and they would drop supplies off to stranded hunters.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder what kind of supplies they were dropping? Clothes, fire, starting material, blankets?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, like fire starting stuff. I heard matches. I heard like some whiskey, somebody said they threw whiskey out there. In Elmo, Wisconsin, talking to a group about this very same subject, someone knew John Bean who was the copilot. I was asking the same question about what they throw out there, and he goes, well, I talked to John Beans in the nursing home and this is what he said. He listed some stuff to basically get fires going and a little bottle of whiskey or something. And they’d wait to see guys waving at them and they throw down a bag of some stuff for them. Meanwhile, out in the main channel, the Corps of Engineers had a boat out there on the main channel called the Chippewa. And they would see Conrad’s plane circling around, and he would circle around. So, then the guys on the main channel would know where some of the hunters were. So, they could try to come in from the main channel, which was still open, because a lot of those backwaters the next day froze up. So, they were coming in off the main channel to try to get into the backwaters to try to rescue these guys. So, they collaborated with Max Conrad.
A Duck Boat in the Driveway & a Lab in the Kennel
I would think that way more people duck hunted back in 1940 than do today.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of the stories your dad told about some of the deceased? What are some of the stories he remembers hearing? I’m sure he was how 16 years old, 17 years old?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, he was young.
Ramsey Russell: Was he out by himself hunting?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, he was.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. It sounds to me, I would guess back in the 1940s, I mean a 16-year-old kid gets in a boat and goes out on the river bottom by himself out in that part of the world? But I would guess a lot of that community duck hunted relative to maybe today. Would that be a fair assumption? That everybody duck hunted? I would think that way more people duck hunted back in 1940 than do today.
Jon Steffes: Well and in my book, I talk about the fact that everybody seemed to have a duck boat in the driveway and a Lab in a kennel. That’s a lot of guys duck hunting. My neighbor Sonny Ehlers, he was up by Reads landing south of Lake City and he had a little bit of trouble coming back in. He said he almost died. And this is a guy that I admired. He would come back from duck hunting and he pulled the curly feathers off the mallard for me, and I put him in my hat, had a little hat, and I put them in there. He would talk about the storm as well, and he talked about the cold, you talked about getting wet, you got wet right away because it started out with rain. So, these guys were wet before the snow and the wind came. There are a lot of guys that duck hunt. I mean there just everybody seemed to duck hunt back then.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of ducks were they mostly targeting?
Jon Steffes: Mallards, I think there are a lot of mallards. I think probably similar to what we get today. I hunted the same areas that the storm took place. And when I was a kid and in high school we used to go out hunting before school. In high school, we would go out and we’d have about 30 minutes of shooting before we had to hustle back to school, right? So, it was kind of fun. There were about nine guys, we had three boats and we used to get a lot of teal, wood duck, mallards, shovelers, some wigeons, very similar to what you probably get today. But even in high school we had a whole group of guys that would duck hunt and it was kind of acceptable thing. I mean we would show up in high school and we had all come in just as the bell was ringing, we all had our camouflage on, we just got done plucking ducks in our laps on the way to school. Our guns were sitting in the truck in the parking lot. My dad talked about this storm and he would name some guys that passed away and he knew exactly where they’re hunting. Everybody had your hunting spot around there. I can’t remember the names now, but he would say this guy died and he hunted this leg, he’d hunted over on Twin Lakes, or something. He knew right where those guys were. So, when he found out the next day that person didn’t make it back in, and they’re out looking for him, he knew where those guys probably were because everybody had their little honey hole.
Ramsey Russell: So, he made it in and I’m sure your grandparents were very thankful to see him when all the bad news hit, but then he actually went back out as part of the search party in the following days.
Jon Steffes: He went out and he actually took his bicycle – and I’m looking at his journal right now, and it says, I’m reading what he wrote, it says – “I went up on my bicycle, walked and jumped shot, got three mallard drakes, windy, lots of hunters still in the pool from yesterday, some drowned.” So, he actually went out hunting the next day.
A Model 12 Saves a Life & Other Survivor Stories
And I got that Model 12 in my basement.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Jon Steffes: And he broke through the ice just south of the spillway by Prairie Island, which is just outside, just down along the river there by Winona. He said he broke through the ice and he said his Model 12 saved his life because he was able to use that to pull himself out of the water. And I got that Model 12 in my basement.
Ramsey Russell: I was just fixing to ask if he still had that gun.
Jon Steffes: Yep. Yeah, I still do. I haven’t shot it in years and it’s just sitting there, but my dad, that was his favorite gun. He used that for deer. He used it for duck, I think it’s got 32″ barrel on or something. So, it’s a beautiful gun.
Ramsey Russell: What guys don’t have a Model 12 back in those days? Usually it’s the only gun ever. We’ve heard a lot about that model shotgun, and a lot of historical, and especially like market hunting or old hunters, that was the gun of choice, was that Model 12 shotgun. Did he ever convey to you any of like the survivor stories? Like just stories you heard how guys managed to get through the night guys? Those that couldn’t make it in, when they made it in, and what they’ve done to cope and survive? I read somewhere about the guy that that credits his two Labs. He had two Labs, not one, but two Labs, of just huddling up with those dogs to make it through the night.
Jon Steffes: Oh yeah, I’ve heard that. I spoke to a group in Lacrosse, and there was a couple gentlemen, older gentlemen that came to listen, and afterwards they talked to me for quite a while, and they had similar stories. They huddled with each other. They huddled with their dogs. One guy said they kind of sparred through the night and just kind of boxed each other just to keep moving. Some of the rescuers had talked about seeing just boot tracks going around a group of trees. Like they just walked all night trying to stay warm, and their boot tracks kind of well-wore a trail, and then they’d find the body. Someone tried to stay alive through the night but then didn’t make it. They were just, they got too wet ahead of time. I think if it would have been snow immediately, they might have had a chance.
Ramsey Russell: But then it was like single digits at night, wasn’t it? I mean it got down, it went from 68 to single digits during the night if I understand right?
Jon Steffes: Yeah,
Ramsey Russell: That’s just cold. Yeah, that’s cold. And who knows what the wind chill would have been if it was single digits during the night, the wind chill would have been well below zero.
Jon Steffes: Yeah wind chill was estimated at 15-20 below, and then things started to ice up and they couldn’t get out. Guys flipped their boats over, huddled underneath the boats. Like you said, they kind of huddled with their dogs, just tried to make it till morning. And then the plane – and Max Conrad came over in his plane, they’re trying to signal for help, but that’s one thing. Getting to them is another.
Ramsey Russell: Well, with the 4 foot rollers and that kind of wind, I don’t know how you would, I don’t know, I don’t know how those guys were flying in that kind of weather.
Jon Steffes: I read – and it’s in my book -and when I wrote my book, I wrote it from my dad’s point of view. But I also wrote it from Max Conrad’s point of view when he took off in his plane. Winona airport is named after him. They had to hold his plane down on the runway for him to take off. And once he got up in the air and he had the wind in his face, he would almost stall the plane, or actually the other way. When the wind was at tail, he’d almost stall the plane. He was trying to adjust his motor speed. With it in his face, he wouldn’t be able to make it through the wind. But they had to hold his plane down to get in the air, and I think the wind kind of determined where he flew that day. He tried to circle the river bottoms and that’s over the Minnesota city, Winona area, that’s where he was flying. That’s a lot of river bottoms. I’ve hunted a lot of that and you can get lost down there. That’s a lot of ground to cover.
Ramsey Russell: Is that river bottom just like a lot of oxbows? Describe that habitat to me, I kind of understand the river, but when you say the bottom, what are they actually hunting? Marsh?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, it’s marsh and then there’s little strips of, usually it runs parallel with the main channel, just strips of woods, forest. But none of it’s very high and so that’s when the waves came over, they kind of overtook those river bombs, got everybody wet. It’s just kind of, there’s a lot of little creeks that come in where I duck hunters. Little creek called Garvin creek that would come in, and all these little creeks just kind of fed the channels, and it seems like every spring a lot of that would change. I mean get some flooding and some faster water in the next year, you’re driving your boat where you had 8 feet of water and now there’s a sandbar. So, I mean that river is constantly changing each spring as those flood waters come and go and kind of force new channels. But it’s called Bottoms for reason, it’s low, it’s a lot of marsh, some open water and lots of little channels, lots of little potholes from when the spring floods would come, and then they fill up a little area, and create a pothole in the next year. That potholes grown back in with vegetation. Some of those potholes would be there one year and not the next, just sort of this ever-changing thing with the river.
Weather Predictions in the 1940s
All the weather forecasting was coming out of Chicago and they shut down for the night. So, nobody was doing this all-night forecast. That changed after this storm.
Ramsey Russell: And what we’re talking about, we’re talking about 80 years ago. 80 some odd years ago. There weren’t of course cellphones and I don’t guess there was real weather systems. Well, I wonder what they were basing a lot of their forecast on? I have no idea what it was like back in the 1940s. That’s a long time ago.
Jon Steffes: Yeah, it’s hard to understand all that. We’ve come a long way, I think with weather forecasting. They made a lot of improvements since then. In 1940, all the weather was coming out of Chicago. All the weather forecasting was coming out of Chicago and they shut down for the night. So, nobody was doing this all-night forecast. That changed after this storm. I’ve talked to meteorologists about this after this storm, they made some decisions, and then you started getting your weather out of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul and it was 24 hours. So, there’s always somebody watching as these big storms kind of blew up. And that’s, I think what was happening is that we were getting weather out of Chicago, and we’re a long way from Chicago. And as things were developing overnight and growing in intensity, by then some of these duck hunters are already out on the water. And they’re not listening to radios, they’re not talking to their parents on the cell phone, and their brother and sister or whatever. They’re out there and they don’t realize that overnight this really blown up. So, they’re out there probably not knowing in full entirety what was going to happen. My dad did, he went out, it was mid-morning when he went out. He was going out for the afternoon evening hunt and so he brought along some extra clothes, which probably saved him. I think if he goes out at 5:00 in the morning, he hasn’t caught the weather forecast for overnight, he probably doesn’t come back.
Ramsey Russell: But he didn’t have to cross the main channel, did he? When all that stuff was blowing up?
Jon Steffes: No, he went out of Ricotta Landing. Or by Minnesota City, which is just north of Winona. And for your listeners, Winona is Southeastern Minnesota. Wisconsin’s right across the Mississippi, and I was probably 40 miles to the south. So, through my book, I take my dad out, I got a little lead in where I’m trying to build the characters of the story. But then it’s kind of moves to him being out there. He had a dog named Duke and he had his dog with him. And so it’s kind of–
Ramsey Russell: A Black Lab?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, Black Lab. And it was him being out there shooting ducks trying to retrieve them. Trying to stay dry, trying to keep a fire going, trying to seek shelter into the night where he meets another hunter that he knows from previously in the story. That guy and my dad used to play ball out West in the summer. So they knew each other. And this is where it kind of took a little fictional spin. I had to kind of add some stuff and just sort of a battle for survival until the next day.
Ramsey Russell: So your dad did overnight. Did he overnight or did he not?
Jon Steffes: No, he made it back. It was really, really late. It was closer to midnight or whatever, he was able to kind of follow some shorelines and —
Ramsey Russell: Was he by himself?
Jon Steffes: Yep.
Ramsey Russell: It’s going to be a strange question, but I got to ask, was your dad a boy scout?
Jon Steffes: Was he a what?
Ramsey Russell: A boy scout. Scouts were big back then.
Jon Steffes: Yeah. See, there’s this thing called Indian Guides way back when and I went through that. He was in the Navy for a while and he was kind of a tough customer. All the guys that duck hunted or deer hunted with him talked about him dragging deer along hillsides. He’d shoot a deer, got it real quick and drag it, and continued to drive.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Ducks the Likes of Which You’ve Never Seen
That wave after wave of ducks trying to get out ahead of that cold front. They said it was just unbelievable.
Jon Steffes: He was kind of a small stocky guy but he was kind of a tough customer. He was a good athlete, he was a big track guy and played softball, played football and he wasn’t very big, but I bet he weighed 150 lbs. He was kind of a tough customer, but he was kind of a short stocky guy. I think he was tough enough to make it home.
Ramsey Russell: This horrific front blowing in it caught everybody by surprise and it starts to rain and you think, well maybe, I’m getting cold. This weather is taking a turn for the North, I’m going to get on out of here before it gets any worse, but then I’m thinking to myself, there was a bunch of ducks coming. Maybe more ducks than some folks see their whole life and what that’ll do to a man. Well I’ll just stick it out for a little bit longer. Did your dad ever describe how many ducks were coming in and how the ducks were acting?
Jon Steffes: He said it was just absolutely crazy. And that was probably weren’t his words. He probably chose some other words. My dad, yeah, he didn’t have a filter. But he said it was amazing how many ducks, it was just waves of ducks. And all these other hunters said the same thing, they kind of stuck it. I was like, okay, I got I got more ducks coming. This is like best duck hunting I’ve ever had. And they stuck it out a little bit longer —
Ramsey Russell: Until it was too long.
Jon Steffes: And then they got themselves in trouble. Just like you said, it was like, I’m going to hunt a little bit longer because I’ve never had shooting like this ever. And then maybe it got too late because by then, your waves were building. And I’ve been fishing in Canada where you got some small waves and fishing is just phenomenal if I can stick it all a little longer, and then you get yourself into a dicey situation.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I mean, you know, you’re just one step away from trouble. Just one minute, just one step, all of us I guess have just taken that one more step too many and crested our wagers or something. I mean, but this is, you got a sky full of ducks, the likes of which dreams are made moving ahead. This massive continent front blowing all the way from the Rocky Mountains. I mean this thing’s blowing birds out of Canada, and from the West end of Minnesota. It’s got to be like every duck in the world to some of these folks. They’re sitting out in the boat, and it’s been warm, and all of a sudden ducks are coming in, and I’m sure they’re not just flying there acting stupid. They’re ready to get out of this weather and land up in something safe themselves. And it’s just one of those days and you have no idea of what is fixing to happen. On the bad side, all you see is all these ducks coming in. Did your dad ever say whether or not he ever saw the likes of ducks like that again?
Jon Steffes: No, never. He said that was – and a lot of these guys I’ve talked to since just said that they will never experience anything like that. That wave after wave of ducks trying to get out ahead of that cold front. They said it was just unbelievable. The cover of my book is illustration, a painting by Michael Steve. He’s a pretty well-known artist, and I talked to him, and he let me use his painting as my cover of my book. It’s an amazing painting if you ever get a chance to see that.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen it, it’s beautiful.
Jon Steffes: Yeah. And he’s done a second one since then, I got the second one in my basement. He kind of sums it up with a couple of guys with a black dog and when I saw that, I’m like, oh, that would make the perfect cover for my book. You got the snow coming in sideways, you got piles of ducks heading towards you in that painting, it’s amazing. I was in Kansas not too long ago duck hunting during a blizzard and you start to see some crazy stuff as the ducks are moving and heading towards the river bottoms. We got into a river bottom; the weather can really move those ducks and impact things.
What Makes Ducks Stupid?
Ducks get stupid, and they can get stupid in that kind of weather, and best duck hunters ain’t known to be the brightest bulbs in the box when ducks get stupid.
Ramsey Russell: Nowhere near a comparison to this, but I can remember hunting in Arkansas, and I guess in the early 90s, the limits were very low, two mallards, and short seasons. I was a new duck hunter. We went out into some timber and it was warm, like nobody wore a coat warm. And we didn’t fire a shot until later in the morning and you had to be off that particular property around noon. It’s government owned and somewhere around 10:30, 11:00, we started picking up birds, and it’s like before we got the decoys picked up, I meant, before we got him picked up, your teeth were almost chattering. Just a front hit and ducks were coming in and landing in the wake of the motor. So we just backed up and toughed it out for a little bit and shot our ducks. We didn’t take long, I mean, two mallards a piece, but I’m going to tell you what, by the time we got back to the boat ramp – nowhere near like what these men went through – but it was bad cold. For somebody just out there and you know, blue jeans and shirt sleeves, it was bad cold. It’s just that front hit. But the ducks just acted stupid. We’re out in the middle of a boat, bent over picking up decoys with an outboard running and ducks are coming through this tight little timber hole and just falling on top of that movement. Ducks get stupid, and they can get stupid in that kind of weather, and best duck hunters ain’t known to be the brightest bulbs in the box when ducks get stupid. I mean it’s easy to be seduced when you see that many ducks, most ducks you have ever seen in your life.
Jon Steffes: I like that word seduced because I think that’s what got people in trouble. Like I said, Canada fishing, it’s like those walleyes are biting, and you stick it out, and I think that’s kind of what happened on Armistice Day. Ducks were pouring in and it had been poor duck hunting prior to that, earlier. It wasn’t very good. So, guys were saying they’re finally here, and I’m going to stick it out as long as I can. But then once that snow started flying, and that the winds picked up, and the waves kind of prevented them from getting back.
Ramsey Russell: Was it just Minnesota that had duck hunter mortalities or was its other surrounding states? Are you aware?
Jon Steffes: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, I heard stories in Iowa about turkeys. Huge batches of turkeys dying, and a lot of farm animals lost. I heard stories about people who were trying to get from their barn back to their house and got turned around, and almost died walking from the barn to their house because they could not see. Midwestern states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa. I talked to people as I’m kind of talking about my book to different organizations. It seemed to kind of a lot of – it stretched from Central Iowa up along the Mississippi River up to the Twin Cities, up through Lake Superior where some boats were sunk. So just sort of just went tearing up through the Midwest and it kind of brought all that moisture from down South. Some of these meteorologists have talked about it, I think they called a fishhook storm. It just sort of came down out of the Rockies, dipped down into towards Oklahoma and on up to, well, basically pretty close to the Canadian border.
Ramsey Russell: And a lot of times when we catch a Northern clip or come to the deep South, even any time of year that the front moves in hard from the South, it drives things. It’s kind of, to me it’s a dry front. But in this instance, they say the humidity was horrendous. I almost took a job one town in Jamestown, North Dakota. I was a young man right out of college, almost took an appointment, and I called an interview and the man said, how’s the Southern boy going to do up here in North Dakota? And I said maybe better than you’d fare down here in the deep South in the summer. And he burst out laughing. He said the coldest he’d ever been was in the deep South near where I hunt, Vicksburg, Mississippi because of that humidity. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, humidity just permeates fabric and gets down in your bones when it gets cold. So I mean when you got the wind chill, the humidity, you’re already wet. I mean you’re windchilled, you’re just in trouble in that kind of bad weather. And you have no shelter whatsoever because you’re out in the middle of a duck hole. That’s just what’s sad. I don’t even think I’ve heard of anything even by comparison. Duck hunting can be a perilous sport because we’re in the water. You hear about boats, capsizing, about things happening while duck hunting, unfortunately. But to hear about it at this scale is, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it, but I doubt it’s ever happened in history, has it?
Jon Steffes: No, and you said it a little while ago here that was ranked the second most severe storm in Minnesota. And I’m sure that it’s probably true for the other states as well. And I think I’ve seen things on like the weather channel where they rank that storm up there as far as barometric pressure on the National level. It was pretty severe and it was early on, they weren’t prepared, they didn’t know what the weather was coming, they didn’t have the clothing we have now and the ducks were flying and that sort of, that kept them there.
What was Hunting Equipment Like in the 1940s?
So yeah, I mean the stuff I’m wearing compared to what they were wearing, there’s really no comparison.
Ramsey Russell: Did your dad wear waders? Did he ever describe his equipment? Like I’m imagining just in 1940, I’m just imagining pure rubber non-insulated at best?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, I remember him wearing just like your rubber, trying to think of the brand.
Ramsey Russell: Red Balls or something?
Jon Steffes: Yeah, I don’t know, something like that, but I mean he wore hip boots a lot. And I think a lot of guys wore hip boots and I don’t even know if they had waiters, but they certainly didn’t have the 1200g weight. I like to stay warm now that I’m getting a little older, and that cold water in November and Minnesota is kind of tough. So yeah, I mean the stuff I’m wearing compared to what they were wearing, there’s really no comparison.
Ramsey Russell: No comparison at all. John how can people get and how can they connect with you and where can they find your book?
Jon Steffes: I got all my books on Amazon, I got six books out. One of my books is called 45 Days. It’s very similar to the Armistice Day blizzard book Wings in the Wind. Some of the same characters about my grandpa trapping during the depression, 1937. So that’s a good lead in book. So all my books are on Amazon. I got a website, I’m not sure if it’s up currently up and running. I’m good at writing books, but I’m not very good at marketing. So that’s been the challenge. My email is email@example.com. So, people can reach out and find me that way. That’s how you found me.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, well, actually my wife gave me a copy of your book one Christmas.
Jon Steffes: Yeah. So, my books are all on Amazon and yeah, I’ve enjoyed writing, I’ve enjoyed doing the research, I’ve enjoyed talking to groups, I’ve enjoyed talking to you tonight, and especially during duck season it’s kind of a nice time to do it.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, it is.
Jon Steffes: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And this episode will air on Armistice Day.
Jon Steffes: So that’s it.
Ramsey Russell: It happens to be 70° where you’re listening, just imagine, it being 65, and it’s horrendous, front blowing in.
Jon Steffes: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And it being one degree and you’re stuck out in a duck hole tonight. That’s sobering, isn’t it? Is there any one story before we part? Is there any one? I know you interviewed a lot of people, you talked to a lot of people, you heard these stories growing up with your dad. Is there just one story somebody told you that it’s just that one moment when you said, I’ve got to write this book?
Jon Steffes: A gentleman in Wisconsin. He – this was after I wrote the book – but he talked about losing an uncle, I think he lost the uncle and a brother.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Jon Steffes: They were trapped out there. They were worried about him the next day. They tried to go out in the morning in the back wires because they knew where these guys would be, him and his dad and another uncle, or something. They went out there, tried to get to this little island where they thought they were at and fell through the ice because the ice was kind of fresh. They got out and then they had to wait until the afternoon because the temperatures by then, that cold front came and sat on him, was 10 below 0 or whatever. And then they went out the later on in the afternoon and found the way back to this island and were able to, I think one of them made it out, two of them died. One of them ended up in the hospital, something like that. But they went out there to find they lost two relatives out in the storm. And I talked to this gentleman for a while, and it was kind of something that I was fixing in his memory. And some of these other people that have heard me speak at these other events say this was kind of like one of those big life moments – that storm where they knew somebody that passed away. They knew somebody that was impacted. So that kind of stuck with their memory. And talking about a neighbor, who was Sonny Ehlers from Winona, he’s a great guy. Talking to him and hearing about some of his storms, and his near-death experiences hunting with a friend up in Reeds Landing stuck with me, and that’s about when I started to think about writing the book.
Ramsey Russell: Folks you have been listening to Jon Steffes his book Wings in the Wind, The Armistice Day Storm of 1940 you can find on amazon.com. John, thank you very much for coming on and sharing the story.
Jon Steffes: Well, thanks for having me. Good luck with the rest of hunting season.
Ramsey Russell: Well, thank you very much. And folks, thank you all for listening. This episode of Duck Season Somewhere. We’ll see you next time.