East and North of
Fort Collins, Colorado
1940s AND 1950s
The recent snow storm last week here in North Nikiski, and what someone called a blizzard, does not hold a candle to the blizzard in northern Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska January 2 of 1949. I actually have not been in a so-called blizzard on the Kenai Peninsula. Blowing snow and whiteouts, slick roads — yes, but not an actual blizzard as I would define it.
The blizzard of January 2 through the 7th, 1949, that we endured on our farm,will be forever etched in many of our minds. The continuous 60 mph wind drove snow through window frames, doorways and attics, filling them snow. Ranches and farms were cut off for weeks. Cattle, horses, sheep and farm animals froze standing up and were found in the spring time after the snowdrifts melted.
Ginger and I remember snowdrift so tall that we could walk on top of the garage roof just by climbing to the top of the drift. Telephone poles stuck out of the tall drifts like men with their arms out asking for help.
On our farm as well as everyone else who had farm animals, we had to feed and take care of them through this vicious storm. Dad strung a rope from the house to the chicken house to the barn and during the worst days of the storm he used this rope to hold on to, to feed and tend to the animals. He had the barn full of most of his cattle and horses and they all had to be fed. I can remember how worried we were when Dad, bundled up in every piece of warm clothing he could find, several pairs of socks on his feet and with his big boots on, scarf around his mouth and nose, opened the kitchen door, quickly closed it, grabbed the rope line and headed for the chicken house and the barn. We all stood by the kitchen window waiting and worrying about our Dad until we could see him with one gloved hand on the rope and a pail full of milk. He would be totally exhausted and terribly worried about his animals. We all listened carefully as he described the awful conditions.
The first and second days of the storm did not cause too much worry as storms like that usually blew on through. This one stayed for 5 to 7 days! During the night of the first day we lost electricity. To this day I do not remember how Mom cooked for her family except it must’ve been a kerosene camp stove. To add to the worries we ran out of water. Our water was delivered to us by the “water wagon-man” who delivered water every two weeks to a cemented cistern located in the garage.
Two days after Christmas I had my big toe operated on and half my big toe nail was missing. Dr. Hoffman said it had to be soaked in hot water and a blue solution twice a day. Hard to do without water.
Dad would bring in a big dishpan full of snow and Mom would melt it, only to leave 2 or 3 cups of water, because the snow was so dry and it also was full of grit, sand and dirt. In those days we had a milk separator and Mom used the round white milk filters to filter out the dirt. Then Dad would go back out and get another dishpan full of snow, which was melted down again until Mom had enough water to wash dishes in the slightest amount of water, dampen one washcloth to wash our faces and for me to soak my big toe. This ritual was every morning after Dad came in from milking.
At night we would light a “coal oil” lamp and we sat around the table or in the living room around the fireplace to stay warm. We all wore several layers of clothing to stay warm in the house. Mom’s canned fruit and vegetables and meat in the freezer kept us from being hungry.
After the storm was over all the roads were drifted shut, the animals were in dire need of hay and some farmers were in need of food, the National Guard was called out to deliver livestock supplies and deliver food.
You were instructed to tramp a big cross or plus sign in the snow and the big cargo planes would fly over and push out hay for the animals and food supplies to the stranded farmers and ranchers. When ever we heard the big planes fly over, we all would rush out and stand on the steps to watch the hay bales and food boxes fall out of the sky. Mom warned us to stay close to the house so we would not be hit by a flying hay bale.
The day after the storm subsided, January 8, our neighbor lady said she was going to have her baby. Her husband walked down to our farm and Dad started his John Deere front end loader and dug through fields and around snowdrifts while they followed in a pickup to get her to the highway 2 miles away, which was open. They made it to the hospital in Fort Collins just-in-time! That night Dad thought the baby’s name should be something like, if it was a girl, Snowdrift, and if it was a boy, Blizzard. I do not have a clue what they named the baby.
Mary Becker Donnell says in her whole life she will never forget the blizzard of ‘49. They were at their grandparents home when the blizzard struck — no TV or radio warnings in those days! Her brother and her dad walked home, about 2 miles, during the blizzard, because they had to take care of the livestock. Mary, her sister and mom, walked home when the blizzard was over and she will never forget how happy her mom was to see smoke coming out of the chimney of the house. Only then did she know that they had gotten home safely in the storm.. Mary and her sister had a job too! They had to walk over the drifts of snow in the field and whenever they saw a hole in the snow they called either her dad or brother and they would dig out a live sheep!
Wayne Scott lived on a city street just outside of Fort Collins and the snow didn’t affect them very much but he does remember minus 42 degrees. There was an article about this storm in the paper about a horse that was stranded in the mountains. It had made a path about 100 feet long in the snow, walking back and forth. The National Guard flew bales of hay to it and kept her alive for weeks until they could get her out.
We had several storms after that. They did not last very long. The drifts in everyone’s yard lasted until spring. The electric was restored and we had electricity after two weeks. Dad cleared out the yard with the John Deere front end loader and then went to neighbors and cleared their yards out and checked to see if they needed anything. He would report to us every night on the conditions of our neighbors.
So last week here in Alaska when we were without power for 7 to 8 hours and the wind blew and the snow drifted, I could not help but be reminded of this storm of 1949. Farmers and ranchers lost an enormous amount of cattle. Everyone helped everyone around them recover. I feel like I can go through snowing in Alaska and enjoy the beauty of each and ever day. Oh! But wait — our winter has just begun!
Have a wonderful and bountiful Thanksgiving with your family and friends and do not forget to thank God for our United States of America!