Chicago — For most of the year, they are dots on the map. They're small towns - like Limon, Colo., York and Hebron, Neb. - where people fill up the gas tank and speed back to the highway. But for a day or two, when the record blizzard hit this Thanksgiving weekend, these small towns suddenly became ''home'' to a lot of people.
After police closed Interstate 70 on Saturday, for example, Limon took in some 2,500 to 3,000 stranded motorists, more than doubling its population. The visitors filled the motels, restaurants, the high school, the grade school, and kept the four-man police force busy all night. Some 600 were put up at Rip Griffin's Truck Service Center.
''Everybody was so friendly,'' recalls Rita Robinson, restaurant supervisor. On Sunday, two out-of-town ministers had the video games unplugged and held an impromptu service in the game room.
Although Limon, the major stopping point between Denver and the Kansas state line, was used to this sort of thing, tiny Hebron was not.
Some 200 people sought refuge in the town of 1,900 after police closed US Highway 81. Chuck Hinze, volunteer civil defense director for the county, put up seven people in his own house and began calling other nearby homes to take people in. No one turned him down.
''The name 'Hebron' means 'place of refuge,' and that's what it's become,'' Mr. Hinze says. Now ''I've got people coming in [saying]: 'How come you didn't call me?' ''
Nearby York, just off Interstate 80, offered refuge to some 220 travelers, many of them returning from Saturday's Nebraska-Oklahoma college football game in Norman, Okla. The National Guard unit opened its doors, the Red Cross served meals, and 10 households called to ask if they could take people in.
Volunteer efforts were repeated across the hard-hit Midwest.
In northeast Kansas, where the storm downed utility lines and left some 21, 000 homes without power Saturday, residents were reported helping crews put up utility poles. Two 2-man crews from the local electric company were stranded by the snow and were put up by residents Sunday night.
''That's not a bit rare,'' says Denis Cooper, line superintendent with the electric company in Belleville, Kan. ''A lot of people will bring out coffee and rolls and lunch and anything to the fellas. . . .''
As he always does after a snowstorm, Vernon Rietcheck spent much of Tuesday plowing snow to reach families in tiny Seguin, Kan. He gets only a ''thank you, '' he says, but out here, ''everybody has got to help each other a little bit, otherwise nobody would get along.''
Large cities had their share of cooperative efforts, too.
Des Moines didn't get snow, but the local Salvation Army unit served food to 200 bus passengers, stuck because of road conditions elsewhere. In Minneapolis, 7-pound, 11-ounce Adam Erickson was born Monday in his grandfather's truck as it sped toward a downtown hospital. The local press promptly dubbed him the season's first ''snow angel.''
The Rockies and northern Midwest are gearing up for still more snow, and some forecasters say another two weeks of storms are in sight for the Rockies.
But the blizzard just ended has left some of its own mementos.
At least seven people called to thank the National Guard in York when they reached their own homes, says unit administrator Charles Lux.
Back at Rip Griffin's in Limon, the management plans to frame old computer sheets on which maybe 300 grateful travelers signed their names.
''No one's counted 'em. We're all too tired,'' says the restaurant supervisor , who worked from 5 a.m. Sunday until 8:30 Monday morning. ''It was amazing how really helpful everybody was.''