It’s Time for the Annual Intelligence Test

15 Nov


Each year it happens sometime after the first snowfall in Minnesota and around Thanksgiving.  Time for the annual intelligence test.  This is the time of the year when ice usually forms on the lakes in our area of central Minnesota.  Avid ice fishermen and winter sport enthusiasts flock to the lakes and ponds in record numbers.  They want to be the first out on the ice-covered lakes for their various sports. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes a brochure that educates on the dangers of venturing out onto thin ice.  But it is largely disregarded by those who think they know better.   Their regulations suggest the following guidelines for safety but always maintain that no ice is truly safe and you should proceed cautiously in you choose to proceed at all on the ice.

For New, Clear Ice Only

  • 2″ or less – STAY OFF
  • 4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
  • 5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
  • 8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
  • 12″ – 15″ – Medium truck

Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.”

In the past five winter seasons there have been an average of 4 fatalities due to venturing out on thin ice in Minnesota.  Ice fishing used to be done by sitting on an upside down bucket on the lake next to a hand drilled hole.  It has evolved over the past years into mini cities on ice with large ice fish houses.    The ice fishing houses are pulled onto the lakes by pickup trucks or ATV’s.

A couple of years ago my husband and I spent an entire Sunday afternoon retrieving a fish house from the bottom of a local lake.  The owner thought that someone had played a joke on him and removed the fish house overnight when in reality the ice had grown thin and the ice house fell through the ice to the bottom. 

In Minnesota you  must remove your fish house, snowmobile, ATV or vehicle if it goes through the ice and pay all the costs involved.  It took an entire afternoon, our tow truck,  and two scuba divers to retrieve the fish house.  The divers had to go down and hook chains onto the fish house so it could be hoisted out of the water.  It was a slow and cold process but most of the town turned out to watch the event.  Thankfully no one had slept overnight in the ice house which has been the custom in the past few years.

The Minnesota DNR gives the following advice to people regarding driving on ice:

“Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.
If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry–keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.”

I wish that I could say that my husband and I heeded the warnings about driving on the ice but we did not.  My parents bought a lake home in 1992 about 8 miles from our home and we offered to help my Dad remove a cement retaining wall that had broken by their waterfront.  The cabins were too close together so we could not haul the cement chunks out with the bobcat so my Dad and husband came up with the brilliant idea to wait until the lake froze.  We would drive our flatbed truck across the lake to Mom and Dad’s cabin from the lake access about a half mile and load up the cement and drive off the lake. 

The day finally arrived  in February to put their plan in place.  They checked the ice thickness and declared they thought it was thick enough.  We loaded up the bobcat on the truck and drove across the ice to Mom and Dad’s.  We unloaded the bobcat and used it to load up the cement chunks on the truck. 

When we had a load my Dad and husband took the load to a local contractor that was looking for fill.  Back to the lake for a second load and a second unloading at the contractor’s.  Each trip they tried to take a little different path across the lake so it wouldn’t stress the ice too much.  They drove  the truck with the windows open and the doors partially open for a quick escape if they happened to go through the ice with the truck.

Time for the third trip across the lake.  They loaded up the bobcat back on the truck after they returned from dumping the second load of cement and my husband and I  headed across the lake for the third and final time.  We couldn’t drive too fast because if we did we tended to make a small wave in the ice ahead of us.  We didn’t want to drive too slow either because it would take too long, not wanting to spend any more time on the ice than necessary.

We  drove across the lake, passing a small village of ice fishing houses when all of a sudden everyone started coming out of their houses as we passed by.  Apparently the weight of our truck passing the fish houses was forcing water up through their ice fishing holes and flooding them out.  They just stood and stared as we were passing by. 

Mission accomplished!  We were young and foolish back then and I’m positive that we wouldn’t attempt it now.


Posted by on November 15, 2010 in Life Happens, New Challenges


Tags: , ,

14 responses to “It’s Time for the Annual Intelligence Test

  1. sunshineinlondon

    November 15, 2010 at 5:01 am

    With the local rivers and our little dock icing over last winter, I did wonder what laws were in place for venturing out on to the ice. I can’t believe you get ice 12 – 15″ thick, and ice fishing houses – it’s another world, and I love reading about it!

  2. flyinggma

    November 15, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Rivers and springfed lakes can be tricky. The ice freezes to different thicknesses where there is moving water underneath. It might be 2″ in one spot and 8″ in another.

    You will have to try ice skating if you haven’t tried it before. Makes you feel like a little kid all over again in more ways than one.

  3. shadybrooks

    November 15, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I can’t imagine driving over a lake – and definitally not pulling a bobcat over one! (My family has one of those as well, so I know how much those babies weigh) Lol. You were very brave. 🙂 I’ve heard about the ice fishing camps – but have only “seen” them in movies. Pretty sure I’d never be brave enough to venture out into one. 🙂 I’ll bet the fisherman who vacated their cabins that day talked about the truck/trailer/bobcat/crazy people on the lake that day for a long time. 🙂

  4. flyinggma

    November 15, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I don’t know if I would call our driving on the lake as brave more like not too smart. We didn’t give it a second thought at the time who would raise our four kids if we happened to go through the lake and drown.

    We have been the subject of many stories over the years from this experience and others that I may write about some day. When my Dad, the engineer, and my husband, the mechanic and computer/math major, get together to hatch a plan for something you never know what you are getting yourself into. Add my two carpenter brothers to the mix and life gets truly interesting.
    Thanks for stopping by Shady! Jeanne

  5. 36x37

    November 15, 2010 at 9:37 am

    This made me think of a movie I saw years ago, called Never Cry Wolf. The protagonist, Tyler, is a scientist who goes to the most distant parts of Alaska to study canis lupis (just the scientific name for “wolves”) to see what they ate to survive. There’s a scene where Tyler walks across a vast sheet of ice. He hears something that sounds like a gunshot, then drops through the ice. He uses the butt of his rifle to pound his way out. I tell you, if I ever see my kids within 50 yards of a frozen river, that’s the last time they’ll leave the house. 😉

    Glad you made it across your ice safely!

  6. flyinggma

    November 15, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Rivers are so dangerous as well as large lakes like Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. If there are strong winds by large lakes the ice will open up and there will be large areas of open water where there was none the day before.

  7. planejaner

    November 15, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    holy moly–talk about taking a gamble!
    i don’t know whether to laugh…or just shake my head…

    thanks for the view into life in Minnesota!
    (my dad’s side of the family hails from Elk River…)


  8. flyinggma

    November 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Like I said in the post it wasn’t our smartest move in the world but we are still here to talk about! My mom’s sister used to live in Elk River and now makes her home in Forsyth, MT. My younger son just bought a home last year in between Elk River and Big Lake, MN so I know the area well. Thanks for stopping by. Jeanne

  9. Thomas Stazyk

    November 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    I bet you were popular with those ice fishermen! When I lived a Cleveland every so often some genius would try to drive to Canada when the lake was frozen over. Usually it wasn’t frozen in the center and you can imagine the result.

  10. flyinggma

    November 17, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Thankfully we didn’t have our business name on the side of our truck at the time so I don’t think any of the fishermen knew where the truck was from.

    I imagine the outcome wasn’t good for the Canada bound genius. Can you decide to just drive to Canada without going through customs?

    The one thing people never think about is the rescue workers that are put in harms way trying to save people from their stupid decisions. We certainly didn’t think about that at the time when we were crossing the lake.

  11. Thomas Stazyk

    November 17, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Good question about customs. I imagine they were expecting a heroes welcome like Lindbergh or something! You’re right about putting the rescuers at risk. Down here there is talk of billing people for rescue helicopters, etc. if they contribute to their problems.

    • flyinggma

      November 17, 2010 at 6:26 am

      Seems only fair…Might deter a few idiots.

  12. The Sidebar Review

    November 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Fear of the ice cracking is one thing; but how can you even stand to be out in such cold weather? Now that I’m in Florida, I can’t even be outside if it’s below 50 degrees!

  13. flyinggma

    November 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Each winter I keep thinking that I’ve got to move to some place warmer but with all my family here it won’t be anytime soon. I try to plan a short trip or two each winter to get away from the cold if only for a few days.


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