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Winter in the Early '30s
Bill McIntire

620 S. Alton Way 1D
Denver, Colorado 80231

Rolfe High School Class 1936

Is this familiar? "Son, when I was your age, I had to walk 3 miles each way to school through 2 feet of snow and the temperature was 5 below." Statements like that have been around for a long time and I have wondered what the motivation of the speaker was. Bragging? Self pity? Trying to set a Spartan example? Whatever the reason, there was some exaggeration involved, even acknowledging that a northern Iowa winter was and still can be mean and nasty, even dangerous. One year in the early 30's was particularly rough. The right combination of meteorological conditions and flat prairie produced one of the worst blizzards on record. Snow drifts as high as the eaves of two-story farmhouses were common, creating obvious emergency situations. School was dismissed (a rarity) and those of us able to handle a shovel were enlisted to work ahead of a snow plow, digging holes in drifts in the road, weakening the drift so a plow could get a good run at the honey-combed drift and break through. The plow was a road grader fitted with a V attachment on the front. Town merchants paid us 20 cents an hour for our efforts, but the real reward came from actually rescuing people in some farm areas. In one case, a lady was due to deliver a baby and we were able to open access to her house so that Dr. G.A. Everson could get there to attend her. It was extremely difficult to get around town also, so Dr. Everson made calls on horseback when an emergency existed.

Of course, there was natural concern for survival of livestock and many cattle were lost. There were attempts to herd them to the safety and comfort of the barn, but in some cases, cattle were confused in the white-out conditions and simply milled around, or were hardly able to move in the belly deep snow. There was also concern for wildlife but in some cases they were able to survive as they had for years. Pheasants were particularly vulnerable and I found one in our front yard, frozen to death, his beak open, encrusted with ice.

Some winter sports were enjoyed, however, and skating on Thompson's Pond or Pilot Creek was a good antidote for cabin fever. There was an ideal coasting area about half way between Rolfe and Bradgate called Avery's Hill. It was long and steep and when the snow became sufficiently packed, one could coast almost to the road about a quarter of a mile away. My Dad had a toboggan which could carry 5 or 6 people going down the hill. Pulling it back up the hill was no fun but worth the effort. Sleds with steel runners did not work too well, but wooden skis with a simple strap over our 4 buckle overshoes worked better. They were certainly primitive compared to the skiing equipment in use today. I wonder if Avery's Hill is still being used.

Skating in Pilot Creek consisted mostly of going "somewhere" inasmuch as it was too narrow for attempts at anything like hockey. My sister Frances was living in Plover one winter and it was quite an adventure to skate up the creek, mooch lunch from her and return to Rolfe. I believe it was Ray Boles who was with me some of the time and it took most of a day to complete the trip. On one very cold day, Ray suggested we stop to build a fire to get warm. The only fuel we could find was dried cow pies. They didn't work well and all we got was smoldering and smoke. They will never replace hickory as a flavor enhancer at a barbecue. My experience tells you not to use them unless you want to shorten the guest list.

Obviously, aside from winter sports there were some enjoyable aspects of life in the wintertime. One of them might be that one did not have to endure the frustrations of golf. To many, the quiet beauty of soft whiteness had a certain ethereal quality. Any ugliness was hidden from view and there was a certain anticipation, wondering what was left in the yard, to be discovered only when the snow melted in April.

One risky, dangerous activity engaged in was to lie belly down on a sled hanging on to the rear bumper of a car, being towed on snow packed streets. The wonder is that we have lived to tell about it!

Fortunately, ice storms were infrequent but in some ways more difficult to endure. Even a half inch of frozen rain would cause extreme damage to power lines, trees and shrubs. Cars equipped with regular snow chains fared little better than cars with no chains because of the lack of traction on bare ice. I have motion pictures of my niece Susan Jones skating on the
sidewalk in front of her house.

Another bad blizzard occurred on Armistice Day November 11, 1939 and was so severe that there were no trains for 4 days. At that time, the M and St. L ran north and south through Rolfe twice a day and the Chicago Northwestern ran east and west twice a day. The area was not served by Star Route then, so there was no mail and conditions were similar to the ones described earlier. After a heavy snow like that, the town could be referred to as an ice burg.

It was been said that adversity and hardship can serve in positive ways to develop coping skills and strength of character. If so, it is no surprise that Iowans are strong, resilient and persevering. To quote Iowa author, Bill Bryson, "And if that is not a good thing, I don't know what is."

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