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The Blizzard of 1936

The Blizzard of 1936, courtesy of Norma G. (Foland) Becker

The Winter of 1936 brought in record bitter cold temperatures and record snowfall. It was followed by severe flooding in the spring of 1936 and record hot temperatures in the summer. The summer heat became intolerable to the point that many family slept outside to escape the heat of their homes.

  • January 18, 1936. The first of several blizzards, one after another, hit Iowa. Red Oak reported a record snowfall of 44.0 inches in the month of January. Spencer reported 51.0 inches.

  • February 6, 1936. Severe blizzard conditions over all of Iowa, the toughest recorded in modern history.

  • February 8-10, 1936. Heavy snow and strong winds created severe statewide drifting.

  • February 10, 1936. Snowdrifts reaching ten to fifteen feet blocked railroads and highways. Iowa's railroad workers and highwy commission engineers stated it was the worst blizzard they could recall. Trains could not blast through the drifts and had to be dug out. Coal supplies ran low and schools across the state were closed.

  • February, 1936. Temperatures for the month averaged 1.9 degrees above zero. Temperature readings were 22 degrees below zero on the 14th; 20 degrees below zero on the 15th; 25 degrees below zero on the 16th; and, 15 degrees below zero on the 19th. Four record lows in one week is not common. Some Iowa towns reported temperatures at 25 degrees below zero in the daytime, which dropped to 40 degrees below zero at night.

  • February 22, 1936. Many small Iowa towns were almost totally isolated. Farm families were cut off from mail service, fuel, and sometimes food. Many farmers stretch a rope from the house to the barn to avoid getting lost when going out to tend to the livestock. Despite the best of care they could provide under those circumstances, many livestock froze to death. Some buildings collapsed from the weight of the snow.

  • At Marcus, Iowa, a strong engine was sent out from either Cherokee or Fort Dodge to push a large wedge snow plow and pull a caboose carrying section workers in an attempt to clear the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad. The engine go until it was stopped by huge drifts on the tracks. The engineer would back up about a half a mile, then go as fast as he could in an attempt to plunge through the drift. The snow was often so deep that there wasn't any place for it to go but straight out and up. The plow would make it about 100 feet into the drift before becoming wedged in the snow. The crew uncoupled the engine and then shoveled out the plow, tossing show to men located above them midway up the drift. At times the drift was often high enough that you could step onto it from the top of the caboose. Once the plow had been shoveled out, it was hooked up to the engine, and the process started all over again. It was slow going with some drifts over 2,000 feet long. After the tracks had been cleared, another storm would bury it once again with snow.

  • The Weather Bureau of Des Moines reported at the time, "There was new snow a frequent intervals till the 20th or 21st [of February]. Huge drifts, 10 to 15 feet deep, were formed in nearly all portions of the state. Every highway was filled level full, as a result more than half of the 215,000 farms of Iowa were without vehicular communication with the outside world for a period of about 7 weeks. Farmers struggled against terrible odds day after day shoveling paths and tunnels through the snow banks. Highway transportation was impossible. Much corn worth approximately 50-cents per bushel was burned for fuel on many farms and many precious old trees were sacrificed. A south-bound Rock Island passenger train in central Iowa was snowbound for two days. The 61 passengers were put to bed in Pullman berths by candle light and were fed with food obtained from a nearboy freight car. Wild life, such as pheasants, quail, crows and other birds, and even skunks, were found standing out in the open, frozen or starved to death. At Des Moines the average temperature for the entire month was only 8.0 F, making it easily the coldest February as well as the fourth coldest of any month on record at that location."

    The Leon Journal-Reporter
    Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
    Thursday, January 30, 1936

    Sixty men shoveled snow for nine hours to clear the road from the HICKMAN home three miles west of Lamoni to the highway so that an ambulance could removed Ronald HICKMAN, 41, to the Decatur County Hospital. Mr. HICKMAN had suffered a relapse of pneumonia. Dr. WALKER of Kellerton walked several miles through a snow blocked road with drifts measuring four and five feet to reach the HICKMAN home.

    The continued sub-zero weather and snow blocked country lanes had forced the Garden Grove and LeRoy consolidated [schools] to close early last week. Two-thirds of the rural schools of the county were closed for part of last week. The school buses out of LeRoy which were horse-drawn, were forced to stop several times enroute home one evening to let the children warm their hands and feet at various country homes.

    The Leon Journal-Reporter
    Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
    Thursday, February 20, 1936

    The front page of the paper noted the deaths of several area residents to pneumonia.

    The little inland valley town of Hatfield, Missouri, located twelve miles southwest of Lamoni, snowbound for a month was finally reached by five horse-drawn bobsleds loaded with groceries and kerosene. After the coal and kerosene were gone the men turned to chopping wood, using fence posts, razing old buildings, and flooring from sheds and small buildings were burned as the residents grew desperate for fuel to keep warm.

    Leo BOATMAN, rural mail carrier out of Van Wert, used snowshoes to get the mail to his patrons along his route during the long siege of snow that plagued the area for days.

    One hundred CCC youths from the Leon camp and farmers of near Weldon shoveled two miles of snow from a road four miles south of Weldon to the highway so trucks could remove 178 head of Angus cattle which were faced with starvation. The cattle were trucked to the Bob AKES farm a short distance from Leon where food and shelter were provided.

    The Leon Journal-Reporter

    Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2011

    To submit your Ringgold County news items, contact The County Coordinator.
    Please include the word "Ringgold" in the subject line. Thank you.


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