Snowstorm of ‘47 taught lesson
Resilience appears to be one of the common themes that run through the story of one’s life. Back home on the farm, I remember well the blustery, frigid, wind-driven snowstorms during the winters of my youth. I did not fully realize then, resilience seemed to be a way of life for my parents, grandparents, and folks of their generation.
For now, we turn back the pages of time to an event I remember as though it were only yesterday. From my upstairs bedroom in the century-old farm house, I could hear the frigid, swirling winds roaring from the prevailing southwestern direction. It was a little past midnight on Jan. 20, 1947.
I remember that date well, you see, it was the day after my 17th birthday. The frosty gales gradually picked up speed with increasing fury throughout the night. It was a restless sleep, as the wintry howling blast caused the house rafters to creak and the bedroom window to vibrate with the swirling heavy gusts. Finally, it was a few minutes before 5 a.m., the usual time to rise and help my Dad and brother with the dairy barn chores. To our amazement, the back doorway was completely encased with drifted swirling snow. Over two feet of snow covered the driveway leading to the barn. We were surrounded with zero visibility.
Truly, a wintry storm had hit us that night with a vengeance. A blizzard with heavy falling snow continued for the next three days.
Our family farm was located in the Boston Hills on Lower East Hill Road. We were about two miles from the Village of Colden. Many schools were closed that day, and for several days thereafter, including my high school, Springville Griffith Institute. I was in my senior year.
The town maintained most of the rural highways. Keeping the roads cleared of snow was an almost an impossibility. Being located at the highest point in Erie County, meant that the winds had a way of whipping the snow into gigantic drifts. It was not uncommon to find the roads, particularly roads running north and south, completely plugged with snow. This time, the snow drifted up to the level of the two strand telephone wires. Of course, the telephone service on our rural party line was knocked out of service.
It was almost impossible for the town single V-shaped snow plow to handle that amount of snow. For a period of over two weeks, our country road was completely impassable, blocked by hard packed snow with 15- to 20-foot drifts. Trudging one’s way to catch the school bus two miles away in blizzard conditions had its challenges. And the only way the farmers could get their milk to the milk plant, was to daily haul the nearly dozen or more ten-gallon cans, each weighing 120 pounds, to the nearest pick-up point in Colden. Daily, the team of horses was hitched to the farm sleigh and the milk was transported through the treacherous hilly terrain. More than once, my dad had to shovel the horses free when stuck in the overpowering snow drifts. Somehow, the farmers accomplished that task against overwhelming wintry odds.
The first week of February arrived, frigid temperatures were still with us, but the sun was shinning brightly on the horizon. The Town Highway Department decided that this was the day to try to open our rural roadway, which was clogged with massive snow banks.
With the largest V shaped snow plow I had ever seen attached to the all-powerful Autocar truck, the snow removal process began. Over a dozen of the neighbors, with snow shovels in hand, did what they could to loosen the hard packed snow banks in the pathway of the plow. The heavy-duty truck, going back and forth time and time again, fiercely bucked through the gargantuan mounds of snow. After 20 continuous hours, the plow cut through a single swath in the mile-long stretch of roadway. With resolve and resilience, the road was finally opened!
To this day, RESOLVE and RESILIENCE lives on. For you see, those pages from times past remain firmly in place, not for just that season, but for a lifetime!
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. All of the past columns can be viewed on Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com