Tips from the Nation's Icebox


SWL: Marvin, you're living in a town that Rocky and Bullwinkle refer to as "Frostbite Falls." How did you end up there? Is this a prison term or something?
Marv: I was born and raised here--I didn't have any say in the matter! Actually, this is a great town of about 8,000 people. We're right near Voyageurs National Park, so if you like hunting, fishing and hiking, this is the place to come. Walter Mondale visits here on his vacations.
SWL: Yeah, and we all saw what's happened to his career. Tell us about the winters there. I mean, how cold does it really get?
Marv: It routinely gets down to 50 below during the coldest part of the season. You can tell it's been a particularly cold night if your house has been cracking and groaning all night long. Basically, what's going on is that the wood in the house is contracting...and contracting...and contracting. Sometimes, it's so loud it sounds like a gunshot. It'll keep you up all night long.

Sure, it's cold here in the winter, but we have our share of fun. We watch the TV news and laugh at all the stories of people in Boston, Chicago and New York who are suffering when it gets down to zero.

You know, there's a silver lining in every cloud. For example, we don't have to worry about the ice cream thawing out on the way home from the supermarket.

Sooner or later, though, it warms up to zero or so, and we can once again start thinking about uncovering the tulip bulbs in the front yard.

SWL: Let's say it's 50 below and you have to be at work. Could you walk us through a typical morning with your car?
Marv: First of all, keep your tank filled or close to filled. The condensation of water in the gas tank will do you in before you even have a chance to leave the driveway. Make sure you toss some anti-ice additive into your gas tank.

Next, your car has to be plugged in overnight, or it's hopeless. I'm also assuming you have winter-weight oil in your car, like synthetic 0W10. I would either leave my car plugged in overnight, or I'd leave it idling all night long. Leaving your car idling uses about four or five gallons of gas, but it prevents the interior plastic and vinyl from cracking if it gets bumped accidentally. Alternatively, you can plug in an electric space heater and leave it running inside your car overnight. That's a thoughtful touch--it makes it easy on the passengers when they first get in the car.

Tire pressure is very important. If your tires are underinflated, they'll "take a set," as we say up here. That means you'll be driving on tires that literally are not round for the first few miles. And, I can tell you from plenty of personal experience, that's not particularly comfortable.

Once you're off and driving, it's a bad idea to turn your car off before running it for at least 20 or 30 minutes. If you shut it off after, say, only five minutes, there's going to be horrendous condensation in the engine. A lot of folks will arrive at work and leave their car running for 20 or 30 minutes, just to make sure the engine gets up to normal operating temperature for a while. Otherwise, you'll find yourself having to go outside every hour or so to restart the engine and keep it warm.

SWL: How do the local businesses handle the cold?
Marv: The local paper mill has about 400 outlets for their employees' cars. Everyone plugs in when they get to work. The same goes for all the motels. A word of advice: if you're coming to International Falls in the winter, bring a 50-foot power cord with you.
SWL: What do you guys have in your car for emergencies?
Marv: I like the list in the Car Talk Winter Driving Tips. Basically, we do all that stuff every day, but we take it to an extreme. You're a fool if you leave here without blankets, candles, food, cell phone, tow chain, boots and plenty of warm clothes in your car. Also, 200 pounds of sand or kitty litter in the back is a good idea. The extra weight means extra traction, and it's useful if you get stuck.
SWL: One thing's for sure, you have an incredible list of tales from up there!(Better you than us, Marvin!) Of all those cold-weather tales, which one takes the cake?
Marv: Easy. That would have to be the drunk who was caught relieving himself on the lock to his car door. When the police came to arrest him, he claimed he was trying to deice the locks. Who knows...maybe it would have worked. I guess we'll never know.
SWL: Okay...this has nothing to do with cold-weather driving, but we had to ask. Our childhood football hero, Bronko Nagurski, grew up in International Falls. What was he like?
Marv: Actually Bronko owned and ran a small gasoline station on the main street of International Falls after he retired. One day, he gassed up a tourist car on its way south. When the vehicle needed gas again after a few hundred miles, the owner could not loosen the gas cap, it was screwed on so tight. He needed a wrench to open it!

Bronko had the largest and strongest hands ever seen. Supposedly, he required the largest ring ever made by a state jeweler when he was voted into the Hall of Fame.

SWL: Any final thoughts, before we bid you adieu and you start to hunker down for the long winter ahead?
Marv: There's a story of a Minnesota native who said he had had enough of the cold weather and was moving south to warm up. Someone asked him how far south he was going to move, and he replied, "I'm driving south until I get to the first gas station where the attendant comes out and asks me what that strange electric cord coming out of the radiator is for. Then I'll know I have arrived."

I'm not quite at that point yet, but maybe someday.

Check Out the Frigid Tales from Frostbite Falls Read Marvin's Extreme Winter Driving Tips Check out Marvin's International Falls Thermometer Read Car Talk Winter Driving Tips

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