renae vander schaaf 2022

Last week the weather forecast was for a warm day. Consequently, my farmer and I made plans to work outdoors after dinner. It was January, so any day warm enough to get work done outdoors is extra special. This year, without any snow cover, there are a few different jobs that can be worked on.

The day began with sunshine. There was no wind, so the heat of the sun felt very good. At noon I was beginning to think maybe my insulated coveralls might not be necessary. The sun was so bright I just had to remark on the loveliness of it.

As quickly as those words were out, I glanced to the north. It showed a very different sky. Dark clouds were moving in. Although very beautiful, they had an ominous look at the same time.

As if to draw my attention away from the sky, the wind picked up. One could imagine the furious wind chased the sun right out of orbit. With the sun’s disappearance, the 40-degree temperature plummeted to single digits in a matter of hours. My insulated coveralls did not provide enough protection.

The only thing missing was snow coming down.

If it had been snowing, this day would have been similar to a day in the life of Gerrit Draayom on Jan. 12, 1888.

Two days earlier, Draayom had just celebrated his 37th birthday. He had grown up in Diepenveen, The Netherlands. His mother had died when he was just a young lad of 10. Because he had to earn his living, his formal schooling was very limited.

Draayom was 18 when he sailed to America, first settling in Alto, Wis. A few years later he relocated to Hospers, Iowa. In 1872 Hospers was just a watering stop for the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad.

Draayom was poor. He had to get along with the cheapest oxen, horses and implements — in other words, the stuff no one else really wanted. He had married Loetje (Susie) Beukelman in 1874. Their son was born in October of 1875. Susie died before the year’s end.

Draayom then married Egbertje Libbes (Elizabeth) Dijk in 1877. They were blessed with a son and daughter before she died of typhoid fever in 1881. He married Jeltje (Julia) Dyjk (Elizabeth’s sister) in 1883. She lived a good long life. Seven children were born to this wedded couple.

Possibly to support his farming habit, or perhaps it became his only job, Draayom became a grain buyer. The Alton Democrat newspaper reports he was buying grain for H. B. Wyman in 1884.  The Oct. 31 issue states that Hospers had already shipped more flax that fall than during the whole last season.

In 1888, Draayom was the manager for an elevator which later was owned by Hubbard and Palmer from Mankato, Minn.

Jan. 12, 1888 was just a beautiful day that hardly required a winter coat. Draayom and an employee, Johan Waanders, took advantage of the warm weather to fill in holes in the elevator’s stable. He did not want to see snow on the flax seed which at that time was an important crop for the area. The elevator was full of flax seed.

Later in the day, Draayom went over to the train depot to write out his report for the day. The depot also served as his office, as the elevator had no stove to provide any heat.

While at the depot, the telegraph was busy transmitting warnings of an incoming storm. Because Draayom was concentrating on error he found in the day’s report, he wasn’t paying attention to the warnings. The numbers were not adding up and that was enough to worry about.

Mr. Orton of Maurice, Iowa, a cattle buyer, came in to the depot and told Draayom he had planned to return to Maurice, but changed his plans when some of the older people who were at the depot talked about the fury of past storms.

Mart Ingold, a carpenter, stopped at the depot to let Draayon know it was snowing. The wind was blowing 60 miles per hour, but Draayom stayed right on working. His two dogs, Hector and Watch, were still there. 

Finally, the howling, shrieking winds caught his attention and he felt he should be getting home on his 10 minute walk. His dog Hector quickly ran ahead on the familiar trail. Watch stayed by Draayom’s side. He couldn’t see his hand before his face. The wind seem to come from all directions. It didn’t take very long for Draayom to become disoriented in the extremely cold, dark night.  

He walked for several more hours before he finally collapsed in a snow bank. He thought if he took a short nap, he would be refreshed and would be able find his way. Before long, Watch became impatient with his master. He barked and whined, tugged at his coat sleeve, began jumping in his face, even scratching with his sharp paws. Watch would not leave Draayom alone.

Draayom’s legs were numb. He knew death would come soon. Unable to walk, he followed Watch on his hands and knees. In a short time, he could walk again.

To his surprise, he found himself at the F.H. Peavey grain bin. This building was in close proximity to the depot, where Watch and he returned. The fire still held some warmth.

While he was wandering in the storm, Draayom promised himself he would do several things if he survived. First of all, he would move to a warmer state in the union. He didn’t. He stayed in Hospers all his life, dying in in 1937. He promised he would build a monument to his faithful dog. He did. Watch lived for another 12 years, dying in 1900. Draayom made a monument from concrete. For many years the homemade concrete monument could be seen from old Highway 60. It has now been placed outside the Hospers Public Library which also is home to the Hospers Museum.

Thanks to the Hospers Museum, the Genealogy Department at the Sioux Center Library, Hospers, Iowa Centennial Book, Iowa Gen Web Project and a written account by Gerrit Draayom (NWC Commons).

Renae B. Vander Schaaf is an independent writer, author and speaker. Contact her at (605) 530-0017 or

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