Every few years, tiny Snow Hill lives up to its misleading name

mquillin@newsobserver.comJanuary 29, 2014 

— The wide open farm fields of Greene County were white on Wednesday, a marshmallow landscape but for the occasional spark of color: a stand of evergreens, a blue water tower and, spinning circles in a snow-covered soybean field, a bunch of Dan Pate’s redneck go-karts.

“He’s just a big kid,” Pate’s daughter, Teresa King, said as her dad turned doughnuts on a souped-up Snapper Yard Cruiser. “He’s the first one out to play.”

Eastern North Carolina doesn’t get a lot of snow like the six inches that fell overnight Tuesday, and when it does, there isn’t enough natural slope to make sledding much of a sport. But if you’re inventive, and let it be said that Pate has a tinkerer’s heart, there are ways to enjoy the kind of weather that, incidentally, did not give his hometown of Snow Hill its name.

Pate, 64, works in home improvement. In his spare time, he has made a hobby of taking broken-down yard-maintenance machinery, swapping out wheels here, adjusting gear ratios there, to create fun-mobiles. He has about 15 of them; it’s hard to say exactly. Some are still in pieces.

“I don’t have more than $300 in any of them,” Pate said.

In warmer weather, they’re fun to run along farm paths and through the woods, which he does with his grandson, 12-year-old Dawton. But snow is a special treat; the little off-roadsters buzz around, kicking up snow spray and bounding over the frozen ground in a friend’s fallow fields a couple miles outside tiny Snow Hill.

“They don’t have a lot of power,” Pate said, “but they can go really fast.”

So sure was Pate that the winter storm predictions would be at least half right that on Tuesday – long before the first flake fell – he gassed up a mini-fleet of four-wheelers and modified lawnmowers so they’d be ready to hit the snow right after breakfast. Not long after sunrise, he coaxed 10 family members out in the 6-inch accumulation and sub-freezing temperatures.

When they got bored with making crop circles, they moved down the road to the ball fields in town, and Pate tied a giant water-sports tube to the back of his truck and dragged that around in swooping O’s.

“He likes to throw us off it,” King said.

Periodically, a sheriff’s deputy rode by and waved.

There wasn’t much else happening in Snow Hill, named not for the rare winter storm but, according to local lore, for the white sand on Contentnea Creek observed by native Americans who camped on its banks.

Chartered in 1828, the town, the county seat, has about 1,600 residents, only a few of whom ventured out onto the two topographical features that, however briefly, lived up to the town’s name on Wednesday. One is a long, slow incline near St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, the other a short but steeper drop behind Hardy’s Appliance & Furniture. They’re within a couple of blocks of each other in Snow Hill’s small downtown.

Scott and Christal Crocker, their son, Braeden and a friend, Piper Mattingly, spent about two hours climbing up the 10-foot incline behind the furniture store and scooting back down on plastic sleds the size of garbage-can lids. Christal had found one of the sleds for $5 and stashed it in the barn last year.

“I knew we’d need it eventually,” she said.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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