Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book
Stories of Early Nichols

Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 135

This story was taken from Elmer Merridith’s column,
Rowing Down the Wapsie, in the West Liberty Index of December 1983.

         I thought I would review a bit of that unforgettable winter of 1935-1936, a winter that we would much rather forget than remember. That was the coldest winter I can remember, 31 straight days of below zero temperatures, and most of those days the temperature was minus 20 degrees or colder. I cannot recall any winter when we had as much snow.
         In addition to the cold and great amount of snow, we also had an unusual amount of brisk winds. Remember, back in those days there was no mechanical means for removing the snow and the roads had to be opened by groups of men using scoop shovels. That was back in the W.P.A. days and many men were willing to face the vigors of the elements rather than starve. (Back in those days, there was no government give-away programs to help the poor. The W.P.A. wages were 25 cents an hour, and part of that was paid in script which could be changed for groceries.) Many times the snow and drifts were so deep that in order to be able to get the snow far enough back, benches had to be made where some of the shovelers could stand in order to throw the snow back, which was thrown up to them from the lower level of the road.
         What a winter that was! In addition to the bitter cold and the deep snow, there were continuous strong winds. Often times a road which had been opened one day had to be shoveled out again the next day.
         Fortunately there were bobsleds in those days, and many farmers would start out across fields to wend their way to town to purchase coal and groceries, not only for themselves but also some of their neighbors.
         In those days insulation had not yet been thought of, and automatic fired furnaces had not yet come upon the scene. The old coal and wood burning furnaces really got a work out. How many of you remember the practice of banking the fire for the night by shoveling in several extra shovels of coal and then throwing in a shovel or two of ashes to retard the burning of the extra coal during the night so that there would be a good bed of coals in the morning to ignite the fuel for that day?
         And do you remember the mountain of blankets and coverings you crawled under when you went to bed at night? And do you remember how in the morning you would dash out of bed, usually to the bathroom which was a small room? Of course the door to this room was always closed to retain the heat, since this was usually the warmest place in the house. And I am sure that many of you remember standing over the register (back in those days most of the registers were in the floor).
         I am sure the sound that awakened many of you was when the grates of the furnace were shook, then the scrape of removing the ashes and then the sound of shovels of coal being tossed into the furnace.
         Do you remember what a miserable job it was to carry the ashes up from the basement in large buckets or a large tub and probably scatter them in the alley or some muddy spot/ Many of you will remember checking the bucket of water in the kitchen or the tea kettle to see if there was ice in them each morning.
         Do you remember how at night you would open the faucets so a small stream of water would be flowing through the pipes in order to prevent them from freezing?
         Another thing that was common in those days was running water through a coil in the furnace which was hooked up to a hot water tank to heat your water. Often the coil in the furnace would become stopped from the lime which was formed by the water on the inside of the coil. Usually the warning was a thumping sound in the pipes, and on many occasions the coil would spring a teak in the fire pot, extinquishing the fire.
         Back in 1936 many houses were roofed with wooden shingles. Occasionally a slow burning fire would cause a build up of soot in the smoke pipe and the chimney. In order to remove the soot, one would throw into the furnace papers, or possibly a piece of an old tire, to burn out the soot. On such occasions many chimneys would belch flame and burning pieces of soot, and many a roof fire was caused by some of these burning embers landing on the wooden shingles on the roof. The fire company got plenty of exercise extinguishing roof fires in those days.
         But fortunately since those cold miserable days of that winter, insulation has come into being, automatic heat is installed in practically every home, and composition fireproof shingles are used almost entirely now. Since the hot water heaters were discovered, a coil in the furnace to heat the water has long since disappeared.
         Snow plows and snow blowers are now very common, so you see, great progress has been made since those winter days of 1935 and 1936.
         How fortunate we are that there are no more coal bins to be filled, no more furnace fires to be kindled, the fire fed by shoveling coat, and no ashes to removed. Yes, the first automatic firing many of us experienced was the stoker, but then there was the hopper to be filled and the clinkers to be broken up and removed. I wonder how many of us appreciate the fact all we have to do to raise or lower the temperature is to go over to the wall and raise or lower the thermostat?
         But in spite of all of our present conveniences, I am sure that no of us are desirous of another winter like the winter of 1935 and 1936.

Centennial Book Contents

Return to Muscatine Co. IAGenWeb, Index Page

Page created January 29, 2011 by Lynn McCleary