Monday, January 06, 2014

Warm hearts, cold morning; it was worse in 1912

In all fairness, it should be said that this photo was taken during December of 2007, when ice rather than extreme cold was the problem in Lucas County.

It's minus-11 here this morning with a high of minus-4 predicted, but my heart's a little warmer thanks to Chris Steinbach, who posted this remembrance of our friend, John Chamberlain, on his blog this morning. It seemed a little colder yesterday after John's bright flame burned low then flickered out on Saturday; this helps.


And I admit to being one of those complaining about the cold, but really now, doesn't it seem like we're getting a little wussy these days about the weather?

You don't have to got back that far, only to 1996, to reach one of Iowa's two days of record lows: Feb. 3, 1996, when it got down to minus-47 up there in the Northeast at Clayton County's Elkader. Go back 84 more years, to 1912, and you'll find that thermometers also had bottomed out at minus-47 previously in Washta --- on Jan. 12.

They were a little miffed about that 1996 record up there in Cherokee County since Washta had been known since 1912 as the coldest spot in Iowa.

And it was darned cold in Lucas County during January of 1912, too; so we've got a ways to go before we reach those extremes. 

S.M. Greene was editor of The Herald-Patriot in 1912, and here's the first part of his account of that cold snap from the Herald-Patriot of Jan. 11. Keep in mind that very few had furnaces back in those days, coal and wood heated homes and hot bricks wrapped in flannel served as heaters once you'd hitched up old Ned and set forth in the buggy or spring wagon.

"Last week broke all records of recent years for cold weather in this part of the state," Green wrote. "The first of the week the mercury crawled under the zero mark and stayed there until Monday morning, probably in an effort to keep warm. At first zero seemed frightfully cold, but as each day grew worse, people would have been thankful for a touch of only zero. The second morning five below looked awful, but the next morning ten below made five below look like a summer zephyr. Then the next morning, fifteen below made all the other mornings look foolish, and the next morning eighteen below took the prize for low-down work. That seemed almost the limit, but a genuine cold wave came in on a late train Saturday night, and Sunday morning the thermometers around here registered all the way from 25 to 30 below zero. That might almost be called crimpy weather. It put a crimp in attendance at Sunday schools and churches, some of them dismissing all the services. It crimped the coal pile in the editor's cellar, crimped the enthusiasm of the boys for playing outdoors, crimped the crowd of promenaders on the streets all day, crimped everything in fact except the appetite. That went up as the mercury went down.

Clark Burr, official weather reporter says the government thermometer at his home four miles southeast of town showed 27 below zero on Sunday morning. With the snow on the ground and a slight wind coming from the north, it made it too sharp for any use. No one wants to see it so cold again very soon. That will do very nicely for a record for the winter.

The extreme cold will do some good, however, besides keeping the coal dealers from starving to death. State Veterinarian Gibson says the cold will kill the germs of hog cholera and prevent the spread of the disease, which will certainly be some good done.

On Monday the weather moderated very much, and since then the weather has been almost sultry, with the mercury about zero."

Unfortunately for Greene, and everyone else in Lucas County, his Jan. 11 report proved to be premature and, on Jan. 18 he added a Herald-Patriot postscript:

"We wish to apologize for our article last week in which we called the weather here cold when it was only 25 below zero. That was like a whiff from a hot oven compared with what came the morning after our article appeared on the streets, probably as a punishment for what we said about the weather man. On Friday morning thermometers in Chariton registered from 30 to 33 below zero, which is the coldest it has been in Chariton since Noah's Ark passed over Whitebreast Hill in the winter of 2679 B.C. On Saturday summer came again with a temperature of only 18 below, and on Sunday it was hot at about zero. On Monday the heat wave was relieved with a drop to 20 below, since which it has been rather sultry again."

At least one Chariton native had a close call during the cold snap, as reported by Greene in his Jan. 11 edition:

"Conductor Wm. Johnson, who runs a passenger train between Albia and Des Moines, and his brakeman, A.W. Millisack, had an experience last Friday evening which they do not care to have repeated. As the train en route from Des Moines to Albia left Pleasantville, some passenger, who evidently thought the train was too cold, took it upon himself to close the vestibule doors. The conductor and his brakeman, who were on the outside, were unable to get in any of the cars as the train pulled out, and each caught the head end of the rear car and held on in the biting cold until the train reached the next station, Donnelly, a distance of about six miles. Conductor Johnson had his ears badly frozen. He is a son of A.G. Johnson, the shoemaker of this city, and is well known in Chariton. But for the heroic action of Conductor Johnson his brakeman might have fallen off the train and met a serious if not fatal accident. The brakeman was overcome with the cold and was about the give up, and realizing that it would mean probably mangling under the wheels if not a death by freezing on the right of way. Conductor Johnson threw one arm about the head of the brakeman and held him on, thus affording him shelter as well as protection from falling. In so doing he was unable to aid himself and thus the men rode in the piercing cold until the train stopped at Donnelly."

The cold spell also cut into the supply of coal in Chariton, as Green reported on Jan. 18:

"The coal supply at some of the yards in Chariton was practically exhausted the first of the week, and but for the timely arrival of several cars of coal, a coal shortage would have been experienced. The teamsters hauling from the Inland mine have been overloaded with orders during the cold weather, but with the coal consumption more than double what it is in ordinary weather, the drain on the coal supply has been the greatest known in many years. Besides the coal supplied by the Inland mine and the numerous smaller mines near Chariton, there are about 300 cars of coal shipped into Chariton for use here every year. The electric light plant uses about 55 cars a year, or just a little over a car load each week."

But bad news for some was good news for others --- including the purveyors of ice:

"There ought to be plenty of ice for use in Chariton next summer," Greene reported on Jan. 18. The Chariton Ice Company completed filling its two big ice houses at the fairgrounds the first of the week, and will also fill the ice house in the rear of the Yengel market, and the big building north of the Stewart lumber office, formerly a part of the McKlveen lumber office. The ice is more than a foot thick, and is getting thicker every day.

"The Spring Lake ice house is being filled by a new company consisting of  County Treasurer Ream, J.A. Snuggs, D.N. Rogers and W.B. Penick who will also run ice wagons in Chariton next summer.

"A third ice company has also been organized by Will and Chas. Kull who are filling two ice houses and will run wagons next summer.

"With three companies selling ice there should be no shortage of ice in Chariton next summer."

So stay warm, boys and girls, but buck up --- it could be worse; and it has been.

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