WOODRUFF, Rich County — It's the dead of winter and the thermometer in downtown Woodruff reads 9 degrees. In Salt Lake, 100 miles away to the southwest, it's 15 degrees higher. Even notoriously frigid Logan is 8 degrees warmer.
Search the entire state of Utah high and low, all winter long, on any given day, and it's unlikely you'll find a town with a lower temperature — which explains the slogan on the Welcome to Woodruff sign: "Coldest Temps … Warmest Hearts."
To get a feel for what it's like to exist in such an environment, I'm talking to Louis Stuart, a man who has lived in Woodruff all his life.
What does living in a deep freeze do to a man?
"Well, you know how you put things in the refrigerator to preserve them?" he says, letting the obvious punch line hang.
Louis's comment might be shrugged off as local hyperbole, nothing more than hometown bias.
Except for one thing.
Louis is 98.
He looks at least 20 years younger, and acts like he's 29.
"This is a wonderful place to live," says a man who was born on Dec. 12, 1912 — 12-12-12 — which means he just missed being in Woodruff when the temperature plunged to 50 below zero on Feb. 6, 1899 — still the state record for lowest recorded temperature in a municipality. (There's a place called Peter Sinks in Logan Canyon that has hit 69-below but no one lives there, or even nearby).
Louis does remember a reading of 42-below when he was a kid working on his father's ranch.
"We were building fence," he recalls, "toughest job I ever had, trying to bend wire and trying to dig post holes."
This winter the lowest temp to date in Woodruff is 30-below.
"It's been quite mild," says Louis.
Living the high life in Utah's coolest town — Woodruff's elevation is 6,340 feet — certainly hasn't slowed Louis down any. He and his wife Joan, who is 94, have raised five boys here farming and ranching. They now have 94 grandchildren and 36 great grandchildren. If you want to find the warmest place in the state, check out the kitchen in their 1,500-square-foot home on Sundays when a large portion of that posterity shows up for dinner.
I ask if Louis happened to know the late Merlo John Pusey, the Woodruff-born writer who went on to become a prize-winning journalist for 43 years for the Washington Post and won a Pulitzer Prize for biography.
"Knew the whole family, they lived across the street," he says. "Merlo was the second of seven boys. As I recall he was eager to leave Woodruff."
Not Louis. He spent two years away in 1936 when he served an LDS mission to Nebraska — "now that's cold," he says of Nebraska winters, "that wind goes right through you" — and he and Joan served a senior mission together in San Diego.
Otherwise, that's about it as far as time away from Woodruff goes, unless you count the time he and Joan used to drive back and forth to Ogden to do temple work every Saturday.
"We'd tell the people where we were from and they felt so sorry for us because they'd heard of the cold," he says. "But for us, it was always sure good to get back home."
A farmer and rancher all his life, Louis has rarely missed a day in the fields, and that included this morning when his youngest son, Bill, picked him up as he always does at quarter to eight to go out and feed the cows.
"I don't do much, only open gates and drive his truck when he needs a chauffeur," says Louis, who is yet to miss riding his horse every summer in the 4th of July parade.
Along with good luck, he attributes his longevity to "a clean life, hard work, a bowl of rolled oats every morning and a lot of open air."
The colder the better.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. E-mail: email@example.com.