With all of the extreme weather shows, warnings, and education we have access to these days, one would think that blizzard related deaths would quickly become a thing of the past, but it never seems to go that way exactly. Nevertheless, it used to be much worse. In bygone years, the warnings we have today simply didn’t exist, and blizzards were very much feared by the people, and with good reason too. The storms would come up, seemingly without notice, and I suppose that was how it was. People couldn’t turn on their radio, television, computers, or smart phones, and get the weather forecast. They could look at the sky and feel the temperature changing, and maybe guess at what was coming, but if they were wrong, it could be deadly. Such was the case on January 12, 1888, when a blizzard blew into the Northwest Plains region of the United States with little or no warning. Some people said that the temperature dropped 100° in just 24 hours. A lot maybe, but I’ve seen temperature changes of more than 60°, so it’s possible.
It was a Thursday afternoon and the weather had been unseasonably warm the previous day from Montana, east to the Dakotas, and south to Texas. Within a matter of hours, the Artic front blew in, plunging the temperature to 40° below zero in much of North Dakota. The freezing temperatures were joined by high winds and heavy snow. It was lethal combination that created a blinding blizzard, just when the children were on their way home from school. The storm, coupled with the time of day, set the stage for a disaster, and unfortunately it would take the lives of 235 people…mostly children making their way home from school in rural areas and adults working on large farms. Both of these groups of people were taken by surprise, and were unable to find their way to their destinations.
Some areas decided to err on the side of caution, and that resulted in lives saved. Schoolteacher, Seymour Dopp in Pawnee City, Nebraska, kept his 17 students at school when the storm began at 2 pm. They stayed overnight, burning stockpiled wood to keep warm. The next day, parents made their way over five foot snow drifts to rescue their children. I’m sure they were wondering if they would ever see their children again, because they couldn’t call to check on them, after all. Some areas ha drifts over ten feet too. In Great Plains, South Dakota, two men rescued the children in a schoolhouse by tying a rope from the school to the nearest shelter to lead them to safety. Minnie Freeman, a Nebraska teacher, successfully led her children to shelter after the storm tore the roof off of her one room schoolhouse. Sadly, not all efforts to save the children were successful. Teacher Loie Royce tried to lead three children to the safety of her home, which was less than 90 yards from their school in Plainfield, Nebraska. They all became lost. The children died of hypothermia, and Royce lost her feet to frostbite. The January 12th storm was dubbed the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard, because most of the 235 victims were children. It is considered one of the worst blizzards in the history of the area, to this day.
When most people think of Hawaii, they think of a tropical paradise, but for my husband, Bob’s uncle, Butch Schulenberg nothing could be further from the truth…at least not during his days in the service. When we think of Hawaii, snow does not come to mind, but in reality, “It snows here every year, but only at the very summits of our 3 tallest volcanoes (Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Haleakala),” says Ken Rubin, geology and geophysics professor at the University of Hawaii. “The snow level almost never gets below 9,000 feet in Hawaii during the winter, but since these mountains are taller than 13,000 feet, 13,000 feet, and 10,000 feet, respectively, they get dusted with snow a few times a year. It rarely stays on the ground for more than a few days though.”
I had no idea, as I’m sure many of you could also say. I don’t know if Butch knew what he was getting into when he and the officer he was driving for, went to one of those areas where there was not only snow, but it was cold…really cold. In fact, the only way that Butch could even begin to stay warm was to bundle up in his sleeping bag. He probably would have tied it all the way over his head, if he could breathe that way. It was a complete shock to his system, as it would have been to mine. Being stationed in Hawaii would be the dream assignment, and here Butch was…in the snow. In fact, I can just hear him telling his parents, “It’s freezing here!!” The thought is almost laughable, or would have been if it weren’t so cold.
Butch told my husband, Bob and me several stories about his driving days in the service, when we were there for a visit about a month ago. It was interesting to listen to the details that a driver would have known about the situations that the company would have been in…and probably a lot of responsibility too. Much of the details of the movements of the company and the battles they engaged in, were classified, and to say anything at the time could have put people in danger or get them killed. A good driver would have known when to talk and when to keep quiet. Butch was a good driver, and well respected. I am proud of his service. Thank you Butch. Today is Butch’s birthday. Happy birthday Butch!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
There is an old saying, “If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.” If that’s the case, then one must assume that the opposite is also true. And in the case of March, 2016…the opposite would definitely be the case. Bob and I were married on March first, and so we go to Thermopolis around that time to celebrate our anniversary. This year was absolutely beautiful!! It was warm with no snow, and our quiet little walks were just lovely. The groundhog had predicted an early Spring this year…and unusual prediction for him, so I was feeling very optimistic about the remainder of the Winter…or the lack thereof. Now it’s not that I’m superstitious, and I don’t believe that these predictions are superstition anyway, but rather God’s way of showing us little signs of His plans for the future. He tells the animals things that humans just don’t hear, like telling the geese when to fly south or to head north. We humans have somehow become so scientific that we fail to listen to the signs from God.
Of course, the scientists would say that they are able to predict the weather too, and perhaps they do listen to the signs of God, whether they admit that is what they are doing or not. Still, I find it odd that things like the groundhog not seeing his shadow on February 2nd, or the way March makes it’s annual entrance, can have such an impact of the weather over the next month or so, but they do nevertheless. One thing that many of us have come to look for is the time when the geese fly south. If they head out early, we have a pretty good idea that Winter will soon follow, but if the stay around into late fall, things could be very different for the Winter. They simply have been told that there is no hurry to leave. It is maybe the one sign from God that we humans have noticed over the years.
Be that as it may, we have arrived at the end of March in Wyoming. Enter Winter Storm Troy!! This Winter has been a relatively easy one, even though, the snow that fell in mid-December, didn’t leave the streets until mid-February. Nevertheless, I am pretty much over Winter after the first snow of the season, so I was looking forward to an early Spring. Now, with the end of March upon us, it decides to follow the old saying, and go out like a lion…since it came in like a lamb. That said, we are sitting here in Wyoming with about sixteen inches of snow on the ground, many businesses closed, and schools that would be…were it not for Spring Break. This storm is not supposed to hang around very long, but those unfortunate people in its path could get anywhere from 1″ to 47″ of the white stuff. I certainly hope we are not on the 47″ end of that scale. The snow is expected to continue through tonight and finally heading out around 6pm tomorrow. After that, look out, because when the temperatures heat up to the low fifties by Sunday, all this snow is going to melt, and become…a whole lot of water. I guess that is the April Fools Day joke in all of this weather prediction process.
As we sit here, with an early Spring upon us, I find it an odd thing to think about another year that had been rather balmy too. The year was 1888, and things were about to get serious along the northern East Coast. The day began with rain, but as the storm really came at around midnight, the rain turned to snow, and the area began to become a nightmare right before the very eyes of the people in the area. Snowfalls of between 20 to 60 inches were seen in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The winds howled…sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour producing snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet. The area railroads were shut down and people were confined to their houses for up to a week. The difficult thing here is that people didn’t have some of the weather predictors that we have these days, so many of them had no idea what was coming their way, and so had far k=less time to prepare for it.
Areas of northern Vermont received from 20 inches to 30 inches in this storm, with drifts reported from 30 to 40 feet over the tops of houses from New York to New England. There were also reports of drifts covering 3 story houses. The highest drift…52 feet was recorded in Gravesend, New York. A total of 58 inches of snow fell in Saratoga Springs, New York; 48 inches in Albany, New York; 45 inches of snow in New Haven, Connecticut; and 22 inches of snow in New York City. With the snow came severe winds, with gusts up to 80 miles per hour, although the highest official report in New York City was 40 miles per hour, with a 54 miles per hour gust reported at Block Island. Central Park Observatory, in New York City, reported a low temperature of 6 °F, and a high temperature of 9 °F on March 13…the coldest ever for March. These days Winter Storms have names, but they didn’t then. Nevertheless, the storm was named the Great White Hurricane. It paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine, as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada. The Telegraph was disabled because of all the downed lines, isolating Montreal and most of the large northeastern United States cities from Washington DC to Boston for days. Following the storm, New York began placing its telegraph and telephone lines underground to prevent destruction. From Chesapeake Bay through the New England area, more than 200 ships were either grounded or wrecked, killing at least 100 seamen.
In New York, all transportation was at a standstill for days, and drifts across the New York–New Haven rail line at Westport, Connecticut took eight days to clear. Partly because of the transportation gridlock, it was decided that they needed a better system, and the first underground subway system in the United States, opened nine years later in Boston. The New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days…something that almost never happens. Firefighters were unable to get to the fires, and property loss just from the fires was estimated at $25 million. Severe flooding occurred after the storm due to melting snow, especially in the Brooklyn area, which was more susceptible to serious flooding. Efforts were made to push the snow into the Atlantic Ocean. More than 400 people died from the storm and the cold that came with it, including 200 in New York City alone. Among them was former United States Senator Roscoe Conkling. The blizzard also resulted in the founding of the Christman Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary located near Delanson, Schenectady County, New York, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Every year, I dread the beginning of winter. It doesn’t matter how late it starts, I still wish it was over the minute it begins. I know that many people would say, why do you live where you do, and to that I say…it is where I have always lived…or at least since I was three years old. Before that, up until I was three years old, I lived in Superior, Wisconsin, and I must say that the weather there would have been worse than the winters here, so I have moved to a better place…sort of. Don’t get me wrong…I love Wyoming. It is my home, and in the fall, spring, and summer, I am perfectly happy here. I would just love to eliminate winter all together. I can’t say that I always felt that way about winter, because as a kid, I probably didn’t. I think our parents had no trouble getting my sisters and me to go outside and make snowmen, or snow angels, or build a fort and have a snowball fight. It’s what kids do. In reality it seems like winter bothers us more and more, the older we get. Even my sister, Cheryl Masterson, who loves winter, really has no true desire to be out in it. She likes the beauty of it and the coolness of the air, but shoveling snow or driving in snow…not so much.
I guess it is a good thing that our lives have seasons too, because if they didn’t, I doubt if anyone would ever do those fun things that kids do in winter. If we all felt the way I do about winter right now, I suppose we would move to a different place every six months or so. That, of course is the snowbird stage of life, except that it would be something that happened much more often, and that is what I would be, were it not for my obligations here. For me, there is a love/hate relationship with the changing seasons. When spring rolls around, I will start to feel alive again, just like the flowers, trees, and birds. My heart sings as the warmer weather approaches, and I feel like hibernating during the colder months. The odd thing too, is that I love winter scenes…in pictures, but in reality, I have no desire to be there…just to look, and then to go out in the warm summer weather I truly love.
Perhaps I need to consider what the difference was when I was a child, and I really did like going out into the snowy weather. Was it that I didn’t mind the cold, or that I didn’t mind dressing for it? Is it that I have forgotten how to play? Probably, that is it. In fact the last time I can say that I really played was when my grandchildren were little. I think it would be great if I could travel back in time those 15 or so years to when I would gladly have gone out in the snow with my grandchildren, because…well, I would do just about anything for them. I suppose that even then I can’t say I loved the cold, but I did have a great time playing with those grandchildren…even if it was cold. I can’t go back in time, so here I am at the beginning of another winter. The snow has arrived, the cold is here…and so it begins.
When we think of hurricanes, we think of the ocean, but on November 7, 1913, there was a storm over the Great Lakes that would go down in United States history as the largest inland maritime disaster, in terms of number of ships lost. The storm was nicknamed the White Hurricane. The storm system brought blizzard conditions to areas all around the Great Lakes, with hurricane force winds. The nature of the storm was unique and powerful, and caught even the most seasoned captain by surprise. Two low pressure centers merged and rapidly intensified over the Lake Huron, with periods of storm-force winds occurring over a four day period. Surrounding ports signaled it was a level-four storm, but for some vessels, it was already too late. Major ship wrecks took place on all the Great Lakes except for Lake Ontario. Vessels at that time could withstand 90 mile per hour winds and 35 foot waves, but it was the whiteout conditions and accumulation of ice on the ships that turned an already dangerous situation into a deadly one. Ship captains were unable to maintain navigation, resulting in 12 shipwrecks, 19 ships stranded, and an estimated 250 lives lost. On land, 24 inches of snow shut down traffic and communication, causing millions of dollars in damage.
The storm took place before the time when weather forecasters had the luxury of computer models, the detailed surface and upper air observations, weather satellites, or radar needed to make the most accurate predictions. Had weather forecasters then been able to access modern forecasting equipment, they may have been able to determine the likely development of this type of storm system in advance, as they did with Superstorm Sandy in 2012. As part of the forecast for Sandy forecasters were able to predict storm force winds over the lower Great Lakes five days in advance. The technology and forecast models available to forecasters today led to a more accurate forecast which saved mariners, recreational boaters, and businesses millions, as they were able to make preparations in advance of Sandy’s storm force winds and near 20 foot waves.
One hundred years later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the Great Lakes is commemorating the Storm of 1913, not only for the pivotal role it played in the history of the Great Lakes, but also for its enduring influence. Modern systems of shipping communication, weather prediction, and storm preparedness have all been fundamentally shaped by the events of November 1913. It’s strange to think that one storm could make such a lasting impact on so many systems, but then it is the need for something better that spurs great inventive minds to invent a solution to a serious problem.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a major role in protecting maritime relics of the past. Included are many of the ships lost in 1913. They have remained preserved deep below the surface of the Great Lakes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a 48-square-mile area of protected territory with one of America’s best preserved and nationally significant collections of shipwrecks. Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.” To date, more than 50 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary including the Isaac M. Scott, a 504 foot steel freighter lost in the storm of 1913.
This storm holds an interest for me, because at that time in history, my grandparents, Allen and Anna Spencer were living in the Great Lakes area. My grandfather was not part of the crew of any ship, and so any effect to them would have come in the form of very deep snow. My Aunt Laura would have been just 16 months old at the time. I’m sure that the thought of being stranded in her home, was not a pleasant one for my grandmother, considering Aunt Laura’s very young age, but they survived the White Hurricane, as did most other people, at least those on land anyway. It still seems incredible to me that a storm of that magnitude could have brewed in an inland setting, but then anyone who knows the Great Lakes will tell you that they are so big that they might just as well be considered a sea. The November Gales have long been known as killers, especially over Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. I’m glad that modern weather forecasting equipment had at least lessened the possibility of ships and lives being lost in the Great Lakes, as well as the oceans.
Over the years of my childhood, my dad, Allen Spencer would tell my sisters and me a story about his walk to and from school as a kid. He always said that he and his siblings, Bill and Ruth had to walk five miles through the snow to get to school, and it was uphill both ways. Of course, my sisters and I didn’t believe Dad’s stories…then. And my sisters still might not believe it, but I’m here to tell you that there are certain conditions in which such a journey might actually be uphill both ways, or at least seem like it.
On Saturday, Bob and I headed up to Hot Springs, South Dakota to do some hiking. Our plan was to finish the last 13 miles (26 miles, since we would hike out and back, thereby doing the 13 miles twice) of the Mickelson Trail. The Mickelson Trail is 109 miles one way, and with this last leg of the hike, we will have hiked the entire trail twice, for a total of 218 miles, because of the walk out and back.
Saturday turned out to be the hottest day of the three days we hiked…well over 80. To top it off, we didn’t get started until 1:30 pm, because of our drive over. Well into the heat of the day. We were hiking a five mile stretch, or ten miles total. As we walked, we were thankful that since we were going uphill the whole way over, we would be going down hill the on the way back…or so we thought. It was very hot all day, and several times we thought the trail ahead looked like a down hill slope, only to find that it was not. As the day grew hotter, we started back…noticing as we did, that we were still going uphill. My thoughts drifted back to all those times when my dad had told us his famous story about walking those 5 miles to school on the snow, uphill both ways. I think I now understand that while it couldn’t have been uphill both ways, to a kid walking to school, it could certainly seem like it was uphill both ways. Our hike on Saturday, couldn’t have been uphill both ways either, but somehow in the heat of the day, the trail caused an optical illusion that made it seem like it was uphill on the way over, when in fact it was downhill a good portion of it. Now we were faced with an unexpected uphill hike back.
The hike Sunday and the one today were far more pleasant, and the really good news is that as of 10:00 this morning, Bob and I can say that we have hiked the entire Mickelson Trail, from Edgemont to Deadwood…twice. It is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that we have today. It took us a few years…about 15, I would say, but since we don’t live in the area, that’s not too bad. There were beautiful sections, where we walked for hours through the trees, and boring times, when we found ourselves hiking along the highway, but all in all it was a great journey. Would I do it again? Hmmmm, maybe some sections. Others…well, I don’t think so. Nevertheless, if there was another trail like it, I might consider it. Call me crazy.
I don’t know if it was because Bob and I had been on vacation or what exactly, but when we went to visit my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg, she decided that she had been on vacation too. Her travels took her to San Francisco and to Oregon before finally arriving in Butte, Montana. I don’t know why she chose these particular destinations for her travels, but it is my guess that she thought she had traveled, because we told her that we had been in the Black Hills this past week. When my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg retired, they did a bit of traveling. They liked to winter in Yuma, Arizona, and then drive to Winnemucca, Nevada to visit her sister Linda Cole and her husband, Bobby. Then, they would drive up the coast to Klamath Falls, Oregon to visit his sister, Esther Hein and her significant other, Keith Leistikaw. I suppose they would have very likely driven through Butte, Montana on their way to Forsyth, Montana to visit family in that area.
It’s hard to say for sure what things trigger my mother-in-law’s past memories to come back to her so vividly, when at other times, she doesn’t really recall them much at all. I suppose it is just the way Alzheimer’s Disease works. Sometimes the memories are there and pretty clear, and other times they are just gone. For that reason, you enjoy the memories when she has them. It is always a surprise. Unexpected, and yet always fun. When the memories come, they come with clarity, so I get a glimpse into what her life was like at that time. It’s also at times like these, that I’m thankful for the research I’ve put into her life for the different stories I have written about her, because that has enabled me to converse with her on things she remembers too.
As our time with her went on, she noticed that the clouds had begun to roll in a bit, because there was a chance of rain. But since she didn’t know what month we are in, she said it looked like it might snow. We all told her that since it was the middle of July, it most likely was not going to snow. She was not convinced, however, because as she put it, “When I was out riding my horse earlier, it was snowing.” She said it in such a matter of fact way, that I knew she would not be convinced otherwise, so I changed the subject to her horses. We talked of Molly and Pie Face…her colt, of Danny and Twinkles, and of course, Bing. For her, it was like just yesterday that she last saw her beloved horses, because like her mom and dad, Nettie and Bob Knox…who passed in the 1980s, her husband, Walt…who passed in 2013, and her daughter, Marlyce Schulenberg…who passed in 1989, her horses are not gone. They are just at home, outside, or in the corral. They live right there, in her world, and there they will remain for as long as she lives.
After a recent storm dumped eight to twelve inches of snow on the Casper area, I noticed just how beautiful the white blanket was, as I looked across the grounds of the nursing home where my mother-in-law lives. Not being much of a winter person, I can’t say that I always appreciate the white stuff, and in all reality, I do hope that storm was Winter’s Last Hoorah for the year, but whether it is or it isn’t, on this particular day, it looked very pretty to me. A thought came to me that maybe I should take a walk through the snow with my camera because there might be some beautiful sights to see, but we were on our way in to visit my mother-in-law, so I did not go for that walk. Nevertheless, the picture of that white blanket of snow has stayed in my mind.
Some people love all the different seasons, and they get out and do different things to enjoy each of them, but I usually prefer to snuggle up wrapped in a warm blanket and watch a good television show or movie on those cold winter nights, and not do as my sister-in-law, Jennifer Parmely, or her son Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli do, which is to get out and ski or snowshoe through the winter scenes. I do, however, enjoy looking at the pictures they post about those activities. I guess I am more of a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade type of winter person. I’ll take a beautiful snow scene on a card or picture over the real thing any day, because while a card or picture leaves you with a warm, cozy feeling, the real thing is inevitably cold, blustery, and most generally just not fun.
Still, on that day, I felt just a slight tug…almost a desire to walk through the snow, just to see where it took me, and what beautiful scenes it lead me to. I have a feeling now, that if I had gone on that walk, I would have been somewhat disappointed. It’s hard for a summer person to actually experience that cozy feeling when they actually get out in that blustery cold. Somehow, the coziness is lost in winter’s cold, snowy air. It’s funny how something so cold, can look so pretty though. I think that if there is snow in Heaven, I’ll have to ask that it somehow feel warm…at least to me. I suppose that some people, like my sister, Cheryl Masterson will feel just the opposite, but I’m sure God can work it out to suit both of us just fine.
Nevertheless, on that day, and with that particular snow storm, I could picture in my mind’s eye just how beautiful it would be to take a solitary walk through the cold, snowy park in the moonlight. I could picture the moon’s light creating snow diamonds across the pristine snow. I could imagine that I didn’t feel cold at all, but rather that a cozy feeling prevailed over the evening. I could even picture a deer quietly walking in front of me, seemingly not afraid at all. And maybe I could even picture the two of us walking through the snow in quiet, peaceful harmony. At least, that was what I could picture in my mind’s eye, even if the reality would have been very, very different.
Years ago, long before refrigeration was safe to use, most people had a more primitive way to keep foods fresh or frozen. I say that this was before refrigeration was safe to use, because mechanical refrigeration was actually invented in 1748 by William Cullen and was demonstrated at the University of Glasgow. This version was not used for any practical purpose, however. In 1805, an American inventor named Oliver Evans designed the first refrigeration machine, and the first person to make a practical refrigerating machine was Jacob Perkins in 1834, using Ether in a vapor compression cycle. American physician, John Gorrie, built a refrigerator based on Oliver Evans’ design in 1844 which he used to make ice to cool the air for his yellow fever patients. German engineer Carl von Linden, patented not a refrigerator but the process of liquefying gas in 1876 that is part of basic refrigeration technology. Refrigerators in the late 1800s and up until 1929 used toxic gasses, such as ammonia, methyl chloride, and sulfur dioxide as refrigerants, which were responsible for several fatal accidents in the 1920s. I suppose the cost and the dangers of these early models were the main reasons that people continued to used the old fashioned version.
The old fashioned way to keep foods fresh or frozen, involved using ice and snow, which they would bring in from the mountains, or use what was on the ground, if it was available. They would dig a cellar in the ground, and line it with wood or straw. Then they packed it with snow and ice, and the food was placed in the cellar. It was this type of refrigeration system that my grandparents, Allen and Anna Spencer, were using at the time my Aunt Laura Fredrick was a very little girl in about 1913. My grandparents were living in a wooded area in northern Minnesota near American Falls. Grandpa was working in the lumber business at that time.
According to my Uncle Bill Spencer, who was their second child, the cellar was probably not needed much in the long winter months, because the house stayed pretty cold up there anyway. I’m sure that they had wood for a fire, but then again, I suppose that everything they burned, was something that could not bring in money. Also, they lived in a log cabin, that was apparently not very well built, or at least the spaces in between the logs were not really well packed with mud to keep the cold winter air on the outside of the house, where it belonged.
I’m not sure how far the cellar was from the house, because, I can’t see the house in the picture, so it might have been a little way from the house, or the picture might have been taken from the house. Either way, getting food from the cellar was a bit of a process, because you don’t want to upset the cooling process by removing the straw too often, as it was part of what kept the ice and snow from melting.
I can’t say when my grandparents got their first real refrigerator, but I expect that like many people of that time, they were a little bit leery of the early refrigerators, after hearing about people dying because the gasses leaked out of the unit. I suppose it was the price people paid to be able to use some of the early inventions, but many people felt that the price was too high, so they waited until these new fangled gadgets were proven safe before they took a chance on them. And, I’m sure that like any new thing, they were pretty expensive early on too. The cellar would work just fine for now, and therefore, that is what my grandparents were using at that time in our family history. These days, we would be shocked at such a method of keeping food fresh.