Dakota Datebook: Nye and the Isolationists
November 14, 2017 — The winter of 1949 is one that many people around the Minot area would not soon forget. Record snowfall and cold temperatures were the norm that winter. Of course the high winds only added misery to the 10 to 25 below zero temperatures. Local and area bulldozers, along with the North Dakota National Guard, tried in vain to unplug the 8-foot drifts covering Highway 83.
Those in the rural areas of Ward County were particularly at risk. Before long, calls began coming into the Red Cross, asking for help. The head of the Red Cross was Dr. Devine, who quickly contacted Ken Bischke for help.
Ken, born in Max, N.D., was a Navy pilot during WWII. His flying expertise was needed again — this time not for war, but to help his friends and neighbors survive this life-threatening winter. Without hesitation, Ken quickly got on board and was ready to fly.
His first mission was delivering hay to the stranded cattle. Using a DC-3, Ken would fly low over the drop zone and hay bales were pushed out the door.
Next he began making milk runs. Ken delivered empty milk cans to the dairy farmers, and returned with full ones for the children in Minot. He could only carry four full cans in one load, so his trips were numerous.
Bread was also in short supply during this bitterly cold winter. The Sweetheart Bakery packed Ken's small plane with 75 loaves of bread. Barely able to lift off, Ken delivered the bread and then flew off to Stanley for mail.
Many area farmers were without phones. Ken would drop a foot long spike with a colored streamer over remote farmsteads. The spike contained the message that he would fly over again in two hours. If an emergency existed at the farm, they were to stamp out a code in the snow, and Ken would then land his plane and take care of their needs.
Ken saved many lives during the winter of 1949. He flew more than 60 missions, picking up stranded travelers, helping fly doctors to deliver babies and transporting food, medicine and fuel.
"Dakota Datebook" is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org.