boys with scoop shovels just went by on the road in front
of our house looking for people who will hire them to scoop
their driveways or their sidewalks. When our sons were young
they were always delighted when it snowed. They would put
on their warmest clothes, grab their shovels and off they
would go to do what they could to help get people out of
their snowed in homes and earn a bit of money along the
A blizzard-prone winter like the one we
are experiencing makes me wonder how people coped with
heavy snowfall back in the early days when Iowa was first
settled. Some really severe winters are on record from
those early days. The winter of 1857-58 was one of the
severest winters ever known in this climate. It began
much earlier than usual, and continued far into the spring.
There were thirty-two snow storms in all, and the snow
fell to the depth of six feet and two inches.
Drifts were reported from eight to twelve
feet deep. Business was almost entirely suspended everywhere,
and the streets were so blocked that no animals could
pull wagons through the snow to make their deliveries--
milkmen, bakers and butchers, even the mail persons. Snow
shoes were necessary if anyone went anywhere out doors.
Settlers in Iowa originally coined the
word blizzard, coming from the word blitzartig, meaning
"lightning-like." Pioneers and settlers were
astounded by the severity of the winters in the Midwest.
They were not used to the wind sweeping across the prairie
picking up speed as it went. The most pressing problems
for new settlers were shortages of wood and coal for heating
homes. People learned quickly to stockpile firewood and
other supplies in the winter. As needed, horse carts and
stage coaches were equipped with ski-like runners.
Home owners and merchants were responsible
for clearing their own streets. As a result, wintertime
travel in the early 1800s was still mostly by foot.
One of the first mentions of snow plows
use comes from Milwaukee in 1862. The plow was attached
to a cart pulled by a team of horses through the snow-clogged
The blizzard of 1888 sent three days of snow, wind and
freezing temperatures. Two-and-a-half to four feet of
snow fell, and drifts were reported to cover entire first
stories of buildings. Carts and carriages in the streets
were abandoned and buried by snow as drivers realized
the futility of trying to get them out. Schools, city
railroads and public offices were closed Tragically, over
400 people lost their lives in this storm.
The discomforts and perils of the old-fashioned
blizzards are largely things of the past. Settlement and
windbreaks check the storm's sweep in many localities.
More importantly, however, is the effective protection
against the weather provided by better built homes, more
adequate clothing, and improved communications which give
warnings of a storm's approach. The country blizzards
of today, although still a menace to farmers and stockman,
have lost much of their deadliness.
(This Attic was researched through the computer's Google.)