Fremont County, Iowa

"Blizzards & Travel"
by Lona Lewis and Evelyn Birkby

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of Week of January 10, 2010

The Christmas Blizzard, of 2009, is in the record books. It joins the other great blizzards, the most recent being 1996 going all the way back to the 1840's, when we began keeping written records of the weather. This year's stories about being stranded related more to passengers at the airports with a few problems out on the highways.

In Fremont County, the drifts along Highway 275 from Tabor to Hamburg were the top story. For a time, they were totally impassable making some wonder what would happen if an emergency made it necessary to get a person to the hospital. Eventually, they were cleared with massive trucks with snow blades taller than the average person. Residents living on the back roads of the county had to wait a day or so for their roads to be opened. While they waited, they watched television to keep in touch with all that was happening.

Back in the forties and fifties, gravel roads were more prevalent than in earlier times. They allowed for better travel, but they were still not everywhere. When bad weather threatened families that lived up long dirt lanes, or near dirt roads would park their cars on the good roads. Then they got to the car down the mud road by using a tractor pulling a wagon. In winter, that required lots of warm clothes, but it was the only way out until roads dried up.

When the farmers cleared their roads they used horses, and the occasional tractor pulling a drag. The drag, was a system of chains forming a "V' and weighted down to break through the drifts.

In the thirties, children living in the country accepted that getting to school meant walking to their country school or to the bus route to go to town. Sometimes they walked on hard crusted drifts with fence poles sticking out only a few inches. And yes, they could get very cold before they arrived in their classroom.

If a storm blew in while the children were in school, it could be difficult to find their way home. Stories are told of students, especially out on the prairie, who were wise to stay in their school houses until a snowstorm ended. Those who tried to walk through a blizzard, did not always arrive home.

Imagine what it would be like, without our modern communication that can tell us where our children are at any given time. Imagine a time when houses were not insulated, when central heating was infrequent. And even imagine a time before snowplows and emergency vehicles could come to your aid. Many a baby was born during a blizzard with only family members to help.

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