The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 28, 2014

Another look at winter memories

By Gary Herrity
Special to the Herald

---- — Recently, a newspaper proclaimed, “It’s Official, 2014 is Worst Winter in Memory.”

Not so fast, 20-somethings. Don’t discount many octogentarians who will recall those swirling winds of 1936.

Winters of old are legendary for hard times caused by severe weather, provable by the way we coped then…using things that we don’t see now. When did you last see someone pull on boots or galoshes? Wear earmuffs? Put chains on their car?

People now enjoy insulated homes, good heaters in their cars, and much more stylish clothing, (compared to the thick coats, mufflers, and fur hats of yesteryear).

The Herald’s archives are replete with tales of 1936’s constant blizzard conditions — at least two weather articles per day. Train traffic often ceased, or at least waited for plows to clear rails. Winds were reminiscent of dust-bowl-type “white outs.” But some have fond memories of that year.

Ullainee Wareham, 102, says, “It wasn’t so bad. We got married in 1936, so I had Lyman to keep me warm then.”

She recalls, too, her father’s story of how he walked to Mercy Hospital in deep snow to see her April 10, 1912…the day she was born.

Her son, Jerry, remembers that, “Anne and I used to skate crack-the-whip with Gus Witt on a frozen slough, and loaded up toboggans with high school kids in weather so cold your breath might freeze.”

Anne recalls skating on the slough and missing her ride home once, and crying tears that froze to her cheeks walking home.

Later years had their stories too. Tom Koester tells of one Christmas Eve, while managing Pizza Hut, “I got stuck in a drift up by Whittier and had to call friends Dave Nissen and Chuck Belik. While they worked to get my car free, Hoyt Holmes took me to work. Since nobody else came in, I closed up at 1:00…Found my car outside, all clean and warm.

However, Chuck was low on wood for heating his home. So, we went to Morrison to get wood. North of two-mile-house, however, we had a flat tire. So, it was really snowing and blowing (and freezing!) by the time we got our wood. I called my wife to take our kids to 5 p.m. Mass and said I’d meet ‘em there. Mass let out just as I arrived, frozen and tired. But, that was my best Christmas Eve ever — for both helping others and for being helped by others.”

Bob Hammer remembers his parents’ (John and Minnie Hammer’s) 25th wedding anniversary — the day of a terrible ice storm on April 2, 1950.

“An open house was planned at our home after church,” Bob said. “Fortunately, they never lost power, as many did. The party went on, even though some couldn’t come. However, everyone who made it had a great time.”

David Quinn writes: “What do I remember about winters in Clinton? That, no matter the temp or how much snow, we never had a ‘snow day.’ In addition, no matter how far, everyone walked to school. No buses. Street plowing? — What street plowing? They only plowed main roads. During a spring melt, we’d have boat races in the street — with sticks or anything else that floated — plenty of melting snow.”

“In grade school, somebody always got goaded into putting their tongues on portable metal stop signs in below-zero weather,” Quinn continued. “Every time, the tongue stuck to the sign. There was usually hell-to-pay, but a nun with a hot wet towel in hand always saved the day. Some of my best memories center around Sixth Street hill…between Seventh and Eighth Avenue. When it snowed, the city blocked off the street so kids could go sledding. Great times. In both elementary and high school, rooms were toasty warm, but the radiators always clanked and were noisy and steamy.

“Sheriff Kai Petersen, had trustees set up an ice skating pond near the courthouse. We loved it. That sheriff was a great guy — who did a lot for kids, both summer and winter. Had some great hockey games there. I went every evening after school. We skated on various sloughs off the Mississippi also. It was ridiculously dangerous, and someone always fell in. No one helped them either; they had to crawl out on their own. But, no one drowned or got injured — despite zero adult supervision.”

And Quinn remembers making a lot of money shoveling sidewalks.

“I remember my numb hands and hearing, ‘You can’t run hot water on your hands; stick ‘em between your legs’ — yeah,” Quinn wrote. “I always ran hot water on them. It hurt like hell but it worked.”

Don Walton checked in with this: “Personally, I recall truly great sled-runs on the former golf course hills at the corner of 13th Avenue North and Fourth Street — an easy three-block walk for us... Sled runs going from the top of the highest hill on the course all the way down to the fence. The run on the east hill allowed a ‘no-holds-barred’ easterly fast-track to the west edge of North Fourth Street. Our family’s 1939 move from Pershing Boulevard to 10th Avenue South switched our winter sledding loyalty to hills behind CHS, just behind ‘the power house’ at the rear of the building. 1930s winters seemed to come and go, without school buses or snow days, as we Ringwood/ Saint Pat’s scholars walked eight to 10 blocks every day, cutting through Kirkwood’s playground and then going down North Second Street, past the Clinton County Jail and, finally, up an outside stairway at Saint Patrick’s Church. We often encountered the good sisters, as they concluded their walk to Saint Pat’s from Mount Saint Clare.”

In Lyons, Donald E. Farr (and wife, Sally Brauer Farr) remembers, “I had a paper route on 16th and 17th Avenue North, and I stepped off the side of the road into a ditch, and the snow was over my head.”

They slid on Foy’s Hill, too.

Pat Schmitz notes that 1978-1979’s winter was the snowiest period on record, according to Jim Blaess, the Clinton-area weather observer for the national weather service. During those snowy weeks, Clinton citizens were being cautioned to check on garage roofs, and even houses, for possible damage due to the snow’s weight.

I was confident my garage would sustain the weight, but I was wrong. I looked out the kitchen window one Sunday afternoon and noticed a slight slope in its roof. As I continued looking, I realized the roof wasn’t slightly sloping but had a big dip in the middle. I was housing student-teachers then, and Mona and her fiancé helped me shovel it off.

We climbed up and began shoveling furiously to ease the load on the roof. Fortunately, snows eased up for the rest of the winter, and my roof did not collapse. That spring, the roof was rebuilt. No snows of that magnitude have taken place here since.

Many winters were tough but 1936 is yet to be surpassed. All three ingredients of weather severity were present: snow, cold and high winds. People survived because they were strong.

Sources:

David Quinn, Norma Hammer, Tom Koester, Ullainee Wareham, Jerry Wareham, Jim Wareham, Don Walton, Linda Rayburn, Dorothy Rayburn. The Don Farr “Memories Network” Bug Holle and Rita Waage.

Gary Herrity is the historical columnist of the Clinton Herald.

Sources David Quinn, Norma Hammer, Tom Koester, Ullainee Wareham, Jerry Wareham, Jim Wareham, Don Walton, Linda Rayburn, Dorothy Rayburn. The Don Farr "Memories Network" Bug Holle and Rita Waage.