My last blog post about the stories behind the deserted buildings in the ghost town of Glenrio was about a dark occurrence in the local history. But these same buildings witnessed happy times, laughter, friendship and, occasionally, a heroic act.
Thirty-eight year old bus driver John David Hearon braved a blizzard on foot for 8 hours to save his passengers, and his struggle came to an end in Glenrio.
At nine in the morning on a Saturday in February 1956, Hearon was driving 15 passengers from Amarillo westward in his Continental Trailways bus. Even though he was only driving 25 mph in the driving snow, the bus became stalled in a snowdrift between Adrian and Glenrio.
Because radios weren’t required on public buses at the time, (and obviously it was long before mobile phones) there was no way to call for help. There was half a tank of gas left to keep the engine running for heat, so Hearon decided to wait for assistance to arrive since the passengers were remaining calm.
The snow was soon piled waist deep.
Fuel began to run low about 2:30 p.m. and no search party had arrived. There was no food or water on the bus, and some of the passengers hadn’t eaten before leaving Amarillo (luckily, Hearon had).
He made the decision to go for help telling his passengers to stay together on the bus, and which way he was headed. Though he felt the Adrian might actually be closer, he headed west toward Glenrio to avoid walking uphill and into the wind.
The driver was only wearing his bus line uniform of trousers, a jacket, a cap, gloves and low shoes. As he began walking the snow quickly packed into his shoes and caked his pant legs before freezing into heavy ice. He later commented that though it made it more difficult to walk, the ice probably kept his legs from freezing.
He raised his jacket to cover his mount and nose for protection.
While it was still daylight he came across several stalled cars, three with people inside. He stopped to get warm in one before returning to his search.
After dark he could only tell if he had wandered off the road by the depth of the snow, and had to struggle to get back on it.
Hearon struggled on foot through the blizzard for eight hours and ten miles. When he would fall, he forced himself up knowing that his passengers were depending on him. He had lost all sense of time by the time he reached Glenrio, totally exhausted and suffering from frostbite.
The blowing snow hurt his eyes and he lost all sight in his right eye by the time he reached Glenrio. He could barely see out of his left eye, only being able to see the glare of light coming from Joe Brownlee’s gas station (the same station mentioned in my two previous posts).
He fell, exhausted, 1,000 feet before reaching the station, too weak to call out for help. He started whistling, which drew the attention of the men inside who hurried in to help him inside. They warmed him up and as soon as the ambulance arrived set out to find the bus.
Brownlee was the first to arrive at the bus in his power wagon, and brought supplies for the passengers, who had been without food for half a day. The two sandwiches that were on board during their wait had been given to 21-month old Patricia Henderson, daughter of Ruth Henderson of Rayville, Iowa.
State police followed snowplows to reach the bus next, and rescued the passengers soon afterward. The bus was pulled from the snow with heavy equipment and driven to Glenrio, where the passengers were cared for and fed. By the time the passengers were rescued they had been stranded for 23 hours, but none required hospitalization.
They were driven to another bus in Albuquerque to continue their trip without ever having the chance to thank the brave man who risked his life to save theirs.
His doctors said that if he had ever stopped moving that it was likely he would have frozen to death.
While he recuperated in the hospital, his eyes covered in bandages, he recounted the experience to visiting journalists. He received cards and letters from all over the country.
Continental Trailways offered Hearon two extra weeks with pay, and the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce in Florida provided he and his wife with a free vacation when he recovered.
After all this time, its unlikely that anyone seeing Brownlee’s abandoned station now remembers the story of the heroic bus driver who suffered through waist high snowdrifts to help his stranded customers.