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North Dakota’s most famous photo

Posted 12/14/22 (Wed)

By Christa Kiedrowski

Published: Dec. 13, 2022 

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - As we’ve discussed, there have been lots of legendary blizzards throughout North Dakota history. The Blizzard of ‘66 is one that many recalled being the worst.

There’s a very good chance this photo will be displayed If you Google North Dakota winters. This iconic picture was taken by Ernie Feland, who worked for the North Dakota Department of Transportation during the Blizzard of 66 and shows co-worker Bill Koch standing on a snow drift, next to a telegraph pole.

“This was at Windsor exit, I think it(exit) 245, this train had been stuck. So, we walked over to take a look at it, and that pole was there. So, I told Bill ‘Go stand by the pole, I’ll take a picture of you’. So that’s how it came about”, said Feland

Bill and Ernie were out taking photos like this of the winter storm’s impact on North Dakota highways when they happened drove by the enormous snow drift that almost completely covered a railroad telegraph pole.

The aftermath of the blizzard of 1966 left those who lived through it with many other incredible photos. Strong winds created snow drifts so tall and deep even trains were stopped in their tracks.

“Not far from where we were standing there by that utility pole, there was a railroad track. And there was a train stuck in there, and we took pictures of that too. The train came along and I’m just assuming they didn’t think it was that deep. They drove into that thing thinking they were going to go through it, but they didn’t,” said Koch.

Both men say they had no idea they would be making history when they snapped the classic photo.

“Not at all, not at all. And even when I took the picture if it would ever be used or shown you know,” said Feland.

Koch never imagined he would become a poster boy for North Dakota winters.

“And there was no thought given about that that was a unique picture or anything. In fact, that picture, I made a copy of it and put it in the file at the state office too. But we made a picture for ourselves and we forgot about it you know,” said Koch.

Koch says he can’t imagine how many publications the photo has been featured in, but he recalls seeing it in waiting rooms and in many books and magazines that have been published. If you Google “North Dakota Winters,” Bill and Ernie’s photo always surfaces. In Bismarck, I’m Christa Kiedrowski reporting for your news leader.

The Blizzard of ‘66 dropped 32 inches of snow in south central North Dakota. The strong winds made the wet snow freeze over allowing people like Bill to walk up to telegraph poles and cattle to walk out of fenced pastures.