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I usually look forward to a good snowstorm
so I can get out my Ford 2000 tractor and plow the lane, although
I must admit some years, when we have snow after snow, the novelty
pales just a little. Glen (the neighbor behind me) and I share
a lane almost one-quarter of a mile long. My house is about 300
feet back from a state route, while my barns are another 300 feet
or so beyond the house. The neighbor's place is about 500 feet
beyond that, so including the driveways off the lane to the various
buildings, there can be a lot of snow to move.
Glen has a Kubota tractor and a back blade,
while my Ford has a frontmounted blade that can be angled in either
direction. Since Glen works during the week, I try to plow things
out on weekdays and he does the job on weekends. This way we both
get to play in the snow, which works out really well.
I've noticed that when a big snow comes
along, all us old geezers feel compelled to tell about the terrible
storms of our youth, so here are my tales.
The details are pretty sketchy in my memory, but in December 1944 we had a blizzard where we lived in western Pennsylvania that snowed us in for several days. The milk truck couldn't get through Moore Road, the South Beaver Township road that ran past our place, so Dad and my uncle, Charles Townsend, built a wooden platform on the drawbar of our Farmall F-30 tractor and hauled the milk cans the quartermile or so to the state road. This state road, paved with blacktop by the WPA during the late 1930s, was kept open only with great difficulty, and then just one lane was clear. I remember riding with Dad, after we finally got ourselves out, through narrow lanes cut into drifts that towered over the car.
The great blizzard of 1950 is a little clearer
in my memory, since I was 17 years old then, had my own car and
was unpleasantly immobilized by the snow. I think the 1950 blizzard
was probably the worst one in these parts, at least in my memory.
I worked as a grease monkey for Marquis
Motors, a Nash dealer in downtown Beaver Falls, Pa., and was at
work on the Friday after Thanksgiving when the snow really started
to pile up. After work, I started on the 15-mile drive to our
farm in my 1948 Nash 600 sedan. The Nash went pretty well on slippery
roads (probably because it didn't have enough power to spin the
wheels) and I made it most of the way without too much trouble.
Two miles from home there was a long winding
hill that I couldn't get up, but that was no problem. In those
days, everyone who lived in the country carried a set of tire
chains in the trunk or on the car floor, and most folks were quite
adept at putting on and taking off these traction boosters. I
put on my chains, got home okay and put the car in the garage,
where it stayed for about four days.
On Saturday, after we'd shoveled enough
paths to do chores, I tried to get out with our Ford-Ferguson
tractor, but no luck. We had no blade of any kind for it and it
just sat in the snow, spun its wheels and hopped up and down.
I was prepared to wait for a snowplow to rescue us, but Dad -
knowing our township had no equipment even remotely capable of
clearing the roads - insisted we shovel our way to the state road.
I'll tell you, one-quarter mile of road, clogged with 2-to 5-foot
drifts, looked pretty daunting to two guys with shovels, or at
least it did to me. Dad seemed to have no doubt that we could
About all I remember of the next couple
of days is the unending thrust, lift and throw of shovel after
shovel of snow, as well as the snail-like pace of our progress.
Sometime on Monday, with us little more than halfway to our goal,
down Moore Road came a Caterpillar D7 bulldozer, driven by one
of the Watterson boys,from nearby Darlington, Pa. The township
trustees, bless 'em, knowing they couldn't deal with the snow,
hired the Wattersons(who owned a contracting business with lots
of heavy equipment) to clear the township roads, saving us from
having to shovel the rest of the way.
At last! I was free - free to go to work, see my girl and drive to all the places a busy teenager found it necessary to go. In those days, no salt was used on the roads. They were plowed and ashes from local steel mills were spread on hills and at intersections. Roads stayed snow-covered for a long time and the tire chains stayed on for a long time as well.
I remember the dreaded sound of a cross-chain
that suddenly broke and began beating against a fender. A box
of repair links (we called 'em "monkey links") was always
carried in the glove compartment for such emergencies, and you
had to stop and rejoin the broken cross-chain with one of these
links. If left to batter the fender, the broken chain would soon
beat a hole through the metal.
If tire chains were always run on muddy
or snow-covered roads, they didn't wear out very fast, but inevitably,
the main roads became bare while the back roads were still slippery.
The temptation to run across bare pavement with your chains on
was strong, and that is what quickly wore the crosschains to the
point of breaking.
Snow tires and road salt have virtually made tire chains obsolete. The owner's manual of my wife's new car warns that tire chains should not be used as there's insufficient clearance for them between the fenders and the tires. I'm sure no one misses them much. They were a pain to put on and take off, and tough to keep in repair, but they did get us through snow, ice and mud that would paralyze today's traffic.