“25 to 30 foot high snowdrifts”
I remember being told by well-meaning adults not to stand near the icicles that hung along the edge roofs. One might fall and stab you, they said. Many kids scoffed at these warnings and actually broke off the icicles as high as they could reach, so that they could be used as swords while playing King of the Hill. I never heard of anyone being struck by a falling icicle, that is until I found the following article.
Hit by Icicle Falling from Tank ~ Deer River News 12-24-1936
“John Martin, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Marsh Martin and a junior in the local high school, had a narrow escape last Saturday that he will remember for a long time.
“John was going to the high school manual training room for some work. He was walking up North Street past the water tank, when he was struck upon the head by an icicle which dropped from the water tank. A high wind was blowing, and it is believed this broke the chunk off and carried it to the east 15 or 20 feet to the sidewalk.
Though badly stunned, John kept going until he reached the school building, when Stanley Gibbs took him to a doctor’s office. Three stitches were required, to close the wound, but John, with his usual pluck, was around Monday night distributing the Duluth Herald as usual.
“Because of the conditions of the tank and the danger of falling ice, the village council had decided to close the sidewalk on the west side of North Street for the remainder of the winter.”
Some winters are snowy, some are bitter cold, and some are unusually warm. Below is a sampling of all conditions. My grandfather, Conny Scheer, remembers the February storm of 1921 because he had just turned six-years-old and was disappointed that school in Bigfork was canceled.
North Country was Snowbound ~ Itasca News 2-25-1921
“What was generally accredited as being the worst snowfall of the northwest in years was the northeast storm of Tuesday and Wednesday. There was a driving wind during the forty-eight-hour snowstorm, and this made piles, together with the fresh fall, 25 to 30 feet high snowdrifts, according to Duluth newspaper reports
“While four feet of snow winter after winter was common in the inland area a quarter of a century ago, the present drifts of 2 to 4 feet were not equaled in the memory of the older inhabitants. Unlike a northwester, there was no time during the storm period that the temperature was cold. For the first time since this line of the Great Northern road was built in 1898, trains were abandoned for two days.
“In Deer River all vehicle traffic and the M&R road was tied up most of the time until yesterday morning. The railroads had cars in snowbanks at different times notwithstanding it had two engines working the snowplow. As the county snowplow has not yet reached Deer River, the bus runs and all auto vehicles over roads leading to this village are still hung up.”
In February 1927, John Duncan, the caretaker at Winnibigoshish Dam reported that the official total of snowfall at the dam to date is 44 and a fraction inches, but that settling due to its own weight and thawing days have brought the depth down to approximately 32 inches. The newspaper editor explained, “A more understandable statement of what the snowfall means in precipitation can be gotten from the fact that the season’s fall to date is equivalent to nearly four inches of rainfall. Such an amount of precipitation coming at one time would flood the country. When the snow melts in the spring it will have a material effect on the lake levels of this region.” [Itasca News2-17-1927]
Two years later, Guy Bilyeu, the tender at the Pokegama Dam shared data about November temperatures there.
Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, the recorded temperature was 19 degrees below zero. It was the lowest November temperature recorded since 1919. Other unusually cold temperatures were: 11-24-1903 ~ 37 below, 11-26-1919 ~ 26 below, and 11-30-1927 ~ 16 below.
Spider Spins December Webs ~ Itasca News 12-22-1923
Sure sign of warm winter on shortest day of year
John Yuill, superintendent at the lumber yard sat on a log.
There wasn’t anything strange about that, or John, or the log.
It was Thursday, December 20, 1923, the shortest day of the year. John had a friend sitting beside him and they were lost in wonderment.
They weren’t holding hands. There was no chance for a scandal, no grounds for a divorce suit.
John and his friend, Jacobson, just sat there watching a spider spinning its web on the sunny side of a nearby balsam.
Two other warm days warranted mention in the Deer River News. The first was December 26, 1928 when the low for the day was 27 degrees above zero and the high was 35. The second was December 30, 1931. “Mrs. Edwin Johnson of Zempel brought to the News office root vegetables pulled from her garden that morning. They were in splendid condition, unharmed by any condition of the weather. Mrs Johnson also reported that she has strawberry plants in bloom under their light covering. What a winter! And yet people go to Florida!”
It appears that there are fewer news stories reporting deaths caused by winter calamities during the 1920s and 1930s, but there are certainly some close calls.
The oldest house in Deer River, built by P.R. Brooks in 1893, was destroyed by a fire on January 22, 1923. The home was owned by Claude Merritt and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lasher. Mrs. Lasher heard the roar of the fire, grabbed her small granddaughter off the floor, and had to duck under flames at the top of the stairs to get out the back door. No one was seriously burned, but the Lashers lost everything they owned and there was no insurance on the building.
“The house was first erected on what is now Creamery Hill. The body [framework] only had been made and Mr. Brooks bought it and moved the logs. From the house to the Brooks store, forty rods south, about ten rods west of where the City Blacksmith shop now stands, a walk of double railroad ties were laid over what was then a wet swamp.” [Itasca News 1-24-1923]
Sought Wild West but Nearly Froze ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 2-21-1928
“Raymond Somerville and George F. Tuttle, two 14-year-old boys from Superior, started out to see the wild west last Friday night but got no farther than Grand Rapids. At this place they were rescued from their precarious position on the blind baggage [railway baggage, express or postal car that has no door or opening at one end] of the midnight train by officer Carno and placed in safe keeping until relatives in Superior could be reached.
“When discovered on the back end of the tender of the night passenger train, the boys were so nearly frozen that one of them could not speak and neither of them was able to walk without great difficulty. They had left Superior early in the evening and ridden in the below zero temperatures and high wind which prevailed. It was considered by those who learned the circumstances that the officer probably saved the lives of the boys as a comparatively short distance more would have sufficed to chill them so they would have tumbled from their perch while the train was moving.
F.J. McGibbon, a deputy sheriff from Douglas County, came up on Sunday and took the two boys to their homes in Superior. The two young lads expressed repentance and said they had had enough of adventuring to the far west at least until warmer days would make travel easier for those who had little money.”
In January 1929, Mrs. John Lehto, walked three miles to the Mack Post Office. When she arrived both her legs were frozen from her knee to her ankle. She was immediately brought to Deer River and placed under a physician’s care at the Miller Hotel. Three days later she had recovered enough to return home. I could not find anything more about Mrs. Lehto, but imagine that no matter her age, she was wearing layers of skirts and stockings under a knee length coat rather than woolen pants. I shudder just thinking about walking three miles in the cold wearing a skirt and stockings. The extreme cold weather was blamed for three fires in January 1930. The Cut Foot Sioux Ranger Station garage caught fire and the building was destroyed. The home of Ed Minton, a few miles west of the Itasca County line caught fire and was destroyed. Some household furnishings were saved. Julius Van Overschelde of Bass Lake Township credits the local telephone system for saving part of his home. “The upper story of the home was burning fiercely when the first neighbors reached there, but with plenty of help called by the telephone the fire was put under control and extinguished before the contents of the lower floor were seriously damaged.” [1-22-1930 Grand Rapids Herald-Review]
There were more stories about organized and ongoing outside winter activities in the 1920s and 1930s than in previous decades. Here is one in Grand Rapids and another in Deer River.
Skating Rink is Nearly Completed ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-18-1929
“Young people, and older ones as well who like to skate, will soon have an opportunity to indulge in this sport. Work was started this week on a skating rink, at a convenient place, and within a few days the ice will be ready for the pleasure of those who go skating.
“The rink is located on Crystal Lake, at the north end of Leland Avenue, just a block from the high school campus. The snow was removed from the ice and banked at the sides. The surface is being scraped smooth, and water will be pumped over the ice, so that all cracks and crevices will be filled, and a smooth surface obtained. The work will all be completed this week, and the rink made available for the young people during the school vacation.
“The skating rink is being sponsored by the Grand Rapids Lions’ Club, assisted by the village council, and the Boy Scouts. James Duffy has been engaged as caretaker and watchman, to see that order is maintained, and all comers given equal privileges on the ice.”
Blueberry Slide Work Progressing ~ Deer River News 12-2-1939
“Taking advantage of the fine weather, the large crew of men working on the WPA project repairing the road into Blueberry Hills and constructing a ski and toboggan slide west of the tower, have made fine progress this week. Forty-three men are employed on the work. Milton Rhodes, area supervisor for the State Forestry Department in Hibbing, was here and visited the project and predicted the new slide would be a popular spot for outdoor sports this winter.
“The slide is located a little southwest of the [fire] tower. Slides are being arranged for persons of all ages, the kiddies and the grownups. The main slide is on a long, steep, hill, at the bottom of which is a bog about two hundred feet long, and on the opposite side is another and smaller hill, to stop the sliders. A track about twenty feet wide is cleared for the entire distance. From the stopping place a path has been brushed and cleared along an easy route to travel back to the starting point. A large parking place will be cleared at the top of the hill, and a warming house built and furnished.”