Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weather outside, frightful......

For the raccoon news' distant readers

we reprint today's final episode from The Freeman on Waukesha blizzards

which includes some testimonials of interest. Also noteworthy, yesterday's episode placed the total snowfall at 27.5 inches, which with the blowing drifts explained the snow depths spoken of below. These tales transcend a snowstorm such as 1947's as entertainment:

BLIZZARDS: Part 5 of 5

by John Schoenknecht

Residents remember Blizzard of ’47 decades later
Forty years later, in 1987, The Freeman commemorated the blizzard by reprinting the front page of the special edition. They also collected and printed memories of the storm from it subscribers. The recollections of those who lived at the time bring the reality of the difficulties into focus.

From Roy Christoph of Waukesha: “... I can recall events as though they happened today. Immediately after World War II, I came to Waukesha and began teaching biology at Carroll College in January 1946. I had been working at the college just over a year when the first day of the storm hit Jan. 29, 1947. I had not yet married, so I lived with Alice and Bill Biegemann on Wilson Avenue. When I awoke at 6:30 in the morning in my second floor bedroom, raised the shade and looked out, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not a track in the street, no cars, no people – just deep white everywhere and continued drifting to boot! What worried me was that I had a final exam in biology to administer that morning at 8 o’clock to several hundred students. It was to be given on the second floor of Main Hall, then the location of a large, amphitheater-type auditorium/chapel where lectures in the course were given. I was quite sure most, if not all, the students would get there because the vast majority were dormitory students. In those days, I never knew the college to cancel classes because of weather. So, after breakfast, I bundled up, got out into the street and trudged through waist-deep snow in many places toward East Avenue and then north to the college, quite tired but satisfied I had made it. Maintenance crews at the school had made a bit of progress on the sidewalks but not much. By the time 8 o’clock had arrived, I was amazed that only six persons were missing. But a more amazing thing happened at 8:20 a.m. Into the hall stumbled the most wornout pair of students I had ever seen. Red-faced, snow-covered wet and exhausted, Bruce Bertram and his wife, Beverly, had walked from their housing project home near the old Waukesha Motors plant all the way to Main Hall second floor. And they were voicing apologies for being late! (Bruce’s father ran an auto agency on St. Paul Avenue for years). I insisted that they should postpone the exam or at least take a good rest in a nearby room before attempting it. Both replied, “No.” The happy ending is that both did very well on the test.

From Eileen Deimel of Waukesha: Robert and I were married Nov. 9, 1946, so when the big storm hit almost three months later, we were newlyweds living in a trailer home on land owned by the Furrer family – or better known as Smith Pond. Bob made a path to Highway 59 and we walked in the road past the Motor Works to town. Walking was the only way to get around unless you had skis. It was two days before any of us living at Smith Pond could get our cars out.

From Dolly Rasmussen: I went out to shovel the driveway. I lived alone and there were chores I had to do. While I was shoveling the drive the phone rang. I rushed in to answer. It was a neighbor telling me “shoveling” was not a job for a lady.

From John W. Leerance: Working on the fire department at that time, our normal shift was 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty. But the storm was considered an emergency, so we were required to remain on duty for five full days, at both stations, No. 1 and No. 2. There were 22 firefighters, plus the chief and the fire inspector, at that time. The only fire call I can remember is a chimney fire in the 400 block of North Street on the afternoon that the storm hit. That call was made from No. 2 station at 824 N. Hartwell Ave. with the 1940 65-foot aerial ladder truck. The afternoon of the third day the electric car plow had opened Lincoln Avenue and Broadway. Engine No. 4 was dispatched to open a track from No. 2 station to Lincoln Avenue. With some difficulty, this was accomplished. Now we could give the city some fire protection. With some of the pressure off, on the fourth and fifth days we were allowed to go home for one meal a day, one man at a time, for only one hour each. Later on, I can recall responding to a call out on Summit Avenue. One lane was plowed with small turnoffs now and then. We would stand up on the fire engine to see if any traffic was coming, and to look ahead to see if we could make it to the next turnoff. ... These are other firemen on duty at that time, ... Emery Downie, Glen Land, Ed Panawash, Erv H. Goerke. Frank Stark had a slightly different recollection of the firefighter’s situation. He recalled: I remember it well. I was a member of the Waukesha Fire Department and was on duty when the storm hit. All offduty firemen were called back and we were at the station for three days. Of course we had chains on all of our vehicles and apparatus, but we were very lucky because we did not have any calls except for a chimney fire on the third night. I believe when the people at home found themselves snowbound they were extra cautious. I was stationed at the old No. 2 station on the corner of Hartwell and Arcadian avenues, and the snow on the south side of the building drifted 15 to 20 feet.

From Wilma (Herbst) O’Halloran: I have a vivid memory of that night. I know it was a school night, as I had left (Waukesha High) school after some extracurricular activity and gone directly to my job of selling tickets at the Park Theater. After working all evening and watching the weather get worse and worse, I and my coworker, Jackie Clark, decided to risk the walk home – as no buses were running by then and the roads really weren’t open to cars. We both put on theater uniforms (with pants) because of course we had not dressed properly for a winter storm. Like everybody else, we wore short pleated skirts and bobby socks and saddle shoes. Jackie set out for her house way south on East Avenue and I set out for mine way north of town. I had to walk right down the middle of the roads as drifting was so bad by this time, 10:30 or so. There were no cars at all and all was eerily quiet except for the wind. Most of the houses were dark and it was really a weird feeling. Most of my walk was uphill, against the wind, and through deep drifts. It was really exhausting work, and I got so tired at one point that I sat down in a nice soft drift to rest. I really don’t know what made me get up and get going again, but I did. I was getting near home by this time and I only had one more hill to climb. I trudged up it and rounded the corner and boy, what a welcome sight to see the lights of my house and my parents anxiously looking out for me. (I had called them to let them know when I started my walk of about a mile and a half.) So guess what I did the next day? Called my friend Jean Cotter, and we trudged all the way downtown again to check out the excitement of digging out. Of course there was no school, and lots of the kids earned some extra money shoveling off roofs.

From Marvin Schultz: We lived in the 900 block of Oakland Avenue. There was so much snow on our street that the snowplow couldn’t come for four or five days. No one could get through. On the fourth day all the neighbors came out with their shovels and shoveled the whole street down to Arcadian Avenue, which was Highway 59. It took many hours and it was night before it was finished. The first day of the blizzard there was thunder and lightning during the storm. The children made tunnels in the back yards that they could stand in. A lot of fun. They put rugs inside. We were thankful to have electricity.

From Jessie Biegemann: It was a Sunday morning, Jan. 26, at First Methodist Church. I was at the piano playing for beginners’ Sunday school, when suddenly someone came to me with the message that my dad had died suddenly of a heart attack at Northview Home. During the time of preparation for his funeral, rumors began to creep in about the big snowstorm that was headed in our direction. We already had plenty of snow and cold weather, but at the time we were so concerned with funeral arrangements for Dad that we paid little attention to what was ahead. But I’m telling you we no more than got out of the cemetery when it started snowing. And it snowed, and snowed and more snow and the storm got worse. Our school had to close. The milkman didn’t come to pick up our milk. We couldn’t get out anywhere. We were walking around in snow waist-deep doing chores, taking care of the cattle and chickens. We didn’t have cans to store all the milk so we fed the pigs and dumped the rest. Farmers worked all night down River Road or through the fields where they could get a way out, leaving banks so high you couldn’t see over them along the way. Pantries ran low on food. And it was a bitter struggle. When spring came we had flooded roads.

From Eugene Kraus: I was living in Watertown at the time and commuting daily, by auto, to my job at the International Harvester Foundry in Waukesha, where I had been employed since early 1941. I had several passengers who also worked in Waukesha. We left work in late afternoon, as usual, and braved the lonely road back home. We were fortunate enough to get through a number of drifts until we were about four miles from home. Then we encountered one that was too much for us and we were stalled. My brother, Harold, was with me as well as the two Kreuger brothers (Bill and Walter). After waiting for a while for a plow to come through, the two Kreuger brothers walked about a halfmile to a farmhouse to call for help while we waited in the car. The weather was really bad – visibility was about zero. One could not see where the road was except for the electric and telephone poles on the side of the road. After waiting about an hour and no help arrived, my brother and I decided to walk to the farmhouse down the road. We could not see it, but knew it was there from our daily travel. The snow by then was very deep all over, with drifts that were almost impossible to conquer. We got to the farmhouse finally (about 8:30 p.m.) and found out that there were no plows even trying to get through to our location, so we stayed the night, sleeping on the floor. The next morning, with no apparent help in sight, we walked home using the railroad tracks, which run parallel to the highway, as a path because trains were running and had cleared a path. We did have a close call, however, by using the railroad tracks. We were passing through a long “cut,” as it was called in those days, where there were high banks on either side of the track. The snow was very deep alongside and when we were about in the center of it a train was coming behind us. We scrambled to get up the bank out of the way of the train and just barely made it. We got nearly covered with snow from the cow catcher.

And finally, from Carol Honeyager Miller: My brother and I were delivering the Freeman, believe it or not. It was collection night, too. Grandma bundled us up. When I say bundled I mean earmuffs, two pairs of mittens each, scarves across our faces, double stockings, the works. She didn’t want us to catch cold. We were tired before we even got out the door. We put the newspapers on our sled and covered them so they wouldn’t get wet and started off. It was dark outside on the corner of Maria Street and St. Paul Avenue, where we lived at that time. Our route was St. Paul to Barstow, Barstow Street up the hill to Buena Vista to Pewaukee Road, North Street to the bridge, all the little side streets like Union, Collins, Albert etc. Most of the old streets and houses are gone now. It was a big route. Seemed like a hundred miles that night. By the time we had to climb up Pewaukee Road the snow was over our waists and we were soaked to the skin. I made the path for us. I was the oldest by about a year over my brother. We didn’t miss a house and delivered right to the doors, plus collected. Going home was the best. All downhill, pulling my brother on the sled. We were very late and the family was beginning to worry. We made it, weighing, it seemed, like a ton. Grandma stripped us, made us take our hot bath and put on our PJs, made her famous cold remedy and put us to bed. Well, at least we didn’t have to deliver papers the next day and school was closed. That was great. We couldn’t get out the door anyway until we grabbed a shovel. I have one bad memory of a Waukesha snowstorm in the mid-1970s. Because there was no school, a bunch of school kids and other people on Randall Street began helping each other dig out their driveways. We had just finished my with my neighbors (the Al Williams family), who lived at the intersection of Randall Street and Chicago Avenue. The snowplow came down the hill there and deposited a HUGE pile of snow in their driveway entrance. Frank Finman, Paul Williams and I dug it open again, and then the two boys helped dig out my driveway. I wonder how Waukesha would handle such a storm today. With modern plows and snowblowers, I imagine the roads would be cleared sooner and more easily – the big storms I remember only seem to delay us for a day at the most. I know that the good people of Waukesha would pull together, and although there might not be “Mulligans Guards” marching through the streets as in 1881, I am sure that as in 1947, strangers would greet each other on street corners with the words, “Some storm, eh?”

(John Schoenknecht, a retired Waukesha art teacher and a local historian, is the author of “The Great Waukesha Springs Era: 1868 – 1914.” He can be reached at