The Big Snowstorm of 1985

snowstorm1

It had been a banner year, heading into the busy Thanksgiving weekend. Sweaters, turtlenecks and Oxford shirts had been flying out of our warehouse, and we had high hopes for the holidays, having just mailed out a 124-page catalog filled with the usual clothing and soft luggage plus gifts ranging from nautical jigsaw puzzles to a classic 1947 Chris Craft Runabout.

Then Mother Nature intervened, with a loud WHUMP!

Two feet of snow whipped by 40-knot winds turned into four and five-foot drifts. The back roads around Dodgeville quickly became impassable and even driving on Highway 18/151 was dicey, although there were plenty of fools willing to test their luck. Of the 300 people scheduled to work the phones and the warehouse, only 80 could make it in.

snowstorm3 We put a message on our 800 line, letting our customers know what was happening, and asking for their patience as they tried to place their holiday orders with Lands’ End.

Teri Odgers had just started working on the phones at Lands’ End. She remembers:

“I had gone to a hockey game in Madison on Friday night, and it just cut loose. Coming home, we only made it as far as Verona. Then it took us 4 hours to get back to Dodgeville the next morning. Lands’ End was all over the radio, asking for help. I packed a bag and caught a ride into work with the mailman. People were sleeping on the floors, eating Pizza Hut and sandwiches Gary had sent in. I worked late into the night. 4-wheel drives were shuttling people back and forth to their homes and hotels. What made it fun was the way everybody worked together, and how nice our customers were – they’d heard about the blizzard, and asked how we were doing.”

“There were plenty of people who slept overnight in the building,” remembers Lisa Hanson. “They couldn’t make it home so they would sleep for a while, then go back on the phones and takes more orders. At one point Lands’ End called a snow day and asked people to stay home unless they worked in the call center.”

snowstorm4Coffee fueled people through one shift after another, as the wind howled like a banshee outside, and the drifts piled higher and higher. Our tired people on the phones sometimes lost their train of thought, or even began to doze with someone on the line, but a neighbor would give them a poke, and customers were good-natured about it.

Karen James remembers Lands’ End president Gary Comer walking around, patting people on the back, bringing them coffee and sandwiches and snacks, doing whatever he could do to keep spirits up.

“He had one pant leg tucked into his boot, and the other one over his boot,” remembers Karen. “It was rather adorable.”

Some of the call center people worked for 16 hours, then came back for more the next day.

“We felt like we were all in it together,” says Terri. “It was important for the company to come through for the customers.”

Finally after a few days of almost complete chaos, the winds died down, the snow stopping falling, and the roads began to clear. Many of our hard-working people shuffled home bleary-eyed for very long winter naps.

In the meantime, the rest of us got caught up on our orders, and the holiday season began looking merry after all. But we kept one eye on the weather-man for the rest of the winter, and a blanket in our desk drawer, just in case history repeated itself, as it’s wont to do in Wisconsin.

It sure was a hell of a blow.

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