January 6, 2018
Growing up in Louisa – SNOW!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
As I write this, the east coast is under a winter storm warning. Blizzard conditions are possible and even expected in parts of my region. No doubt, based upon predictions, we will soon have heavy snow and wind to deal with. This ‘mother of all storms’ is forming off the coast of the southern states, which will turn into a frenzy that more resembles a hurricane or blizzard than a mere winter snow event. Making matters worse is that the good people of my region are not used to driving in, or dealing with significate snow. In fact, a dusting around here causes shutdowns and sends some into panic. What we may expect tonight here in the Mid-Atlantic States will be much more than a dusting. Predictions are that all of New England and ‘down-east’ Canada, will suffer even an even greater impact since they will experience the full fury of the flurries. (Please excuse me for that sad play on words.)
Watching the national weather maps I see that Louisa may dodge most, if not all, of this storm. A small front may bring you a wintery mix, but that one will likely be short-lived. I wish the best for you and rejoice that ‘lucky you’ may dodge another bullet. I’m very aware that slick roads are bad anywhere, but far worse in the mountains. You will completely escape, but get an arctic blast of bitter cold. It is winter, you after all, so we’ll just rack this one up as a ‘normal’ event when compared to the history of Januarys past.
I remember many snow storms during my high school years there on the banks of the Big Sandy. One, in particular, was so heavy. It left the little town looking very much like a Currier and Ives print. The branches of evergreens were loaded and weighted down with a fluffy layer of white. This storm had sneaked up on me that night. I was with my girlfriend in the northern end of Lock Avenue at the time that outside conditions worsened. I enjoyed the distraction of my visit with this sweet young lady, but found that when it was time to go home, the walk was to take place in a nearly pristine and deep blanket of white snow. I don’t remember the peace being broken by any automobile traffic, and I didn’t see another living soul. I was alone, but somehow warm and altogether happy. Snow had coated the telephone cables, street lights, the bare branches of the wintering trees, and had created drifts covering bushes, porches, and sidewalks. It would have been easy to read the footprints left showing where I had been that night. It was quiet and lovely, but it took a while longer getting home since many of my steps sank deeper when I stepped from sidewalk to street. I used caution to avoid ditches, although in town, only the drains along the gutters were likely to cause serious problems if encountered.
I remember another storm that took me out of my home when the town’s fire alarm sounded. I grabbed my gear, ran and met the truck on Madison Street. I clambered aboard not knowing where there was a fire, but the other firemen holding themselves down on the bed of hose, told me what they had heard. The trip was along the tracks where a house was fully engaged in flame not far from the newly opened laundromat, but across the tracks. We sprayed the house with water that immediately froze, making beautiful designs of ice, much like frozen waterfalls. Even our ‘turn-out’ gear, jackets and helmets, were coated with ice. At some point, we had to break down the firehose that had been laid across the tracks, because a train was coming from the south. The break in the action ensured that there was little hope to save the house. We watered down neighboring homes in hopes the fire wouldn’t spread.
It was spitting snow on another night when we traveled on the bed of the firetruck to Blaine. Their high school was in flames. It was to be a long night as we worked hard in our attempts to save the building. I was overcome with smoke while in the building trying to hose down the classrooms. Inside, through an open door, I could see that the floor had given way so we were able to spray water directly into the basement, where the fire seemed particularly bad. Even though I stayed low beneath the level of smoke, I was overcome. My fellow firefighters carried me out and laid me on a little hill. After a short time I recovered and headed back into the fray. At one point, Fire Chief Compton called us out of the building. I looked up and saw that the fire had broken through the roof, which was ready to fall. I remember that a friend had climbed a ladder and was up on the roof. Chief Compton frantically called him down. He had just gotten to the ground when the roof imploded.
Blaine didn’t have a water system with fire hydrants, so we had to drive the firetruck to the edge of the creek bank, maybe two or three hundred yards away, to reload the water-tank. The bank was too high to use a pump, so we had to use the old-fashioned ‘bucket-brigade’ to refill the firetruck’s tank. The creek was the only water source we had. History will tell you that it wasn’t enough. Even though firetrucks and men from Paintsville, Prestonsburg, and Grayson where there in support of our efforts, the building was a total loss. The heat from the fire melted the snow for quite some ways, so while the fields were white, there was no snow sticking around the burning building. I remember as I huddled down on the hose-bed in our ride back to town that it snowed the whole way, but many of us were too tired and cold to care. I was wet and cold to the skin, black with soot, and ‘dog-tired.’ Chief Compton bought us some coffee, I think at the ‘Hamburger Inn,’ when we got back. It was the first cup of coffee I ever really enjoyed.
Back in the day when snow storms commonly blanketed the area, the school system would not run the buses out on the rural roads. Still, the town-kids would walk to school just as they did normally. Once there, we’d gather around the stove and try to dry our wet socks. We didn’t study or engage in lessons, but just visited and swapped stories. We would break outside from time to time for a snowball fight, but never for any major battles. We’d usually leave school early and tramp home, each in his/her different directions. For some of us it was time to break out the sleds and head for town hill.
I also must mention that a strange thing seemed to happen in certain yards around town. Snowmen magically appeared as if to announce they were somehow in charge. Many were draped with scarves, hats, and had coal or rocks for faces. A week or ten days later their remnants were the last reminder of the snow. Little mounds of dirty, often nearly black, was all that remained. In thinking aback, the dirt was likely cinders from the many passing coal trains that broke the silence in our little valley. I suppose the soot was less when diesel fuel replaced the steam engines, but even day two after a storm, the sludge on the streets was dirty, already.
One winter’s day I was visiting my mother in Michigan when an ‘Alberta Clipper’ visited overnight. It was the first snow of the season for them, but it was a doozy. I’m sure it was something like two feet deep when I was sent out to shovel the front sidewalk. Once I cut a path through the frozen snow, high mountains were piled making a steep cliff on both sides. My mom and my half-sister were watching me work from the comfort of the living room, noses pressed hard against the crystalized glass. As it would happen, my foot hit an icy place and both feet went up in the air. I ended up sitting in the snowbank with only my feet, the snow shovel, and my arms sticking out. After the ladies enjoyed the sport of laughing at me they finally came out to pull me free. A good bit of the icy material had worked its way under my jacket and into my trousers, so I warmed up quickly while trying to shed the snow away from my uncovered shins. I never had that happen in Kentucky, so I was content to return to the little valley in the foothills. This event may explain my dislike for shoveling snow.
Another day has passed in writing this, so I have to report a phenomenon that so rarely occurs. THE WEATHERMAN WAS RIGHT! We got a little over a foot and are facing several days of very cold temperatures, which means it will hang around for a time. Roads are impassible and many, though not all of us, are out of power. It’s pretty, but has come at a cost. My TV dish is covered with snow and naturally just out of reach of brooms, etc. I have movies recorded that will help us entertain ourselves and the three toddler grandchildren spending their days with us. No cabin fever here, for sure. Just lots of noise and sweet little pumpkins running off their unspent energy. I think I’ll look for a room in which to hide. (So far they haven’t thought of making a snowman. Shhhh…)