colstrip

My husband’s uncle, Eddie Hein has always been a soft-spoken man, who had a big impact on the lives of those around him. I remember the first time I met Eddie. I liked him and his wife, Pearl very much. They were kind and welcoming, and to this day, we love to go to visit them in Forsyth, Montana, although we don’t get to go nearly as often as we used to. Before his retirement, Eddie worked long, hard hours at the Peabody coal mine in Colstrip, Montana. It was shift work, and it was hard on the body, but Eddie made a good living and supported his family well. The long hours always seemed twice as long as they were…especially at the end of a long week of them.

Coal mining was Eddie’s occupation, but it was not his life…not his heart. His heart belonged to his family. Eddie remodeled their home largely by himself, and did a beautiful job. Eddie worked hard, alongside Pearl, of course, weeding their garden, and growing their vegetables, and then canning the vegetables for use all year long. It was a project they did together, especially after Pearl went to work too. Eddie and Pearl were always there to help their friends and neighbors too. People only had to call, and they would do whatever was needed. I suppose that is just the way it is in a small town, but more likely it is just they way they are. Eddie and Pearl are very helpful people, just ask anyone.

Eddie has always loved tractors. He was always working on one or two, and there were always tractors in their back yard. He used them to help friends with their haying, or digging something for someone when needed. I’m sure he used them in their own garden too, because you can’t really have a successful garden if you don’t plow it and such. My husband, Bob remembers those tractors well, but then I guess he would. It’s kind of a guy thing, and being a mechanic, just like his Uncle Eddie, working on tractors would have a draw for him too. I’m sure those tractors gave them lots to talk about, and I know that they both enjoyed those visits very much. Today is Eddie’s 74th birthday. Happy birthday Eddie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

FlyingHay RunA few days ago, my father-in-law received a phone message from an old family friend. She was calling to wish my mother-in-law a belated happy birthday, and to ask my father-in-law what he remembered about the 1949 blizzard in reference to Colstrip, Montana.  Since my father-in-law was in the hospital at the time, I called her back and told her that I would have him call her. Meanwhile, my own interest was peaked about this blizzard, of which I had been totally unaware prior to this call. I got on the Internet and did some searching of my own, and I was quite surprised at what I found.

The 1949 blizzard began on January 2, 1949, and it was soon to be called the “worst winter ever” by anyone who had the misfortune to go through it. The storm roared across several states, and was actually a series of storms that raged on until February 22, and dumped between 50 and 60 inches of snow, depending on where you were. It put a whole lot of people, especially farmers and ranchers in dire straits. Before long everyone knew that something was going to have to be done. Emergency flights of supplies began bringing everything from food to hay to the desperate people in the area. Snow plows pushed through in an effort to get truckloads of hay into the ranchers. Still, it would not be enough to stop the massive loss of livestock that the coming spring would reveal, not to mention the 235 people across several states who lost their lives. My father-in-law told me that the cows tried to stay above the snow by walking on it as it fell. When the snow got very deep, the cows ended up walking above the trees. Then the weight of their bodies caused them to fall through the snow and into the tree tops, where the were trapped and died of starvation. Some ranchers lost entire herds of cattle, either to falling through the tree tops, or being buried alive. My father-in-law told me that the spring brought a horrible sight. Dead cattle hanging in the trees…everywhere.

Transportation came to a standstill too. Before long trains were unable to move forward, and became buried in the snow, right where they stood. When the tracks were finally cleared, the snow would stand as much as 18 feet high beside them. I’m quite sure it was an eerie sight when the trains finally began to move again, because the piled snow was much higher than the trains, and so prevented any view from the train. Not that it mattered much, because there was nothing but snow to see anyway. I can imagine that if a person was at all claustrophobic, however, the feeling that they would encounter going down that track would be almost more than they could bear.

The spring of 1949, would bring to an end, “worst winter ever” and the beginning of healing for many people. Blizzard_1949_SnowWalls_smLocomotiveRanchers would have to begin again. Their herds would have to be rebuilt, and it would take much time and a lot of work. I can imagine that the flooding from all that snow was devastating too. Still, healing would take place too. That spring was also one of beginnings, such as the beginning that is so special to my father-in-law, because on June 6, 1949 he would marry the love of his life, my mother-in-law, and so began their years of marriage…63 years and counting.

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