I was working at the ice and fuel oil company with my father at the
time and going to night school, working on getting an A.A. degree in
accounting. I was just 18 and I enjoyed the check more than college,
so I was a full-time employee and a part-time student.
The day before the great snow was a perfect day, hitting 60
degrees. The warnings that day, however, told of a cold front with a
decent 4-inch snow headed our way the next day.
Boy, did the weather forecasters call that one wrong.
I worked the 7-3:30 shift with my dad, and when the snow started,
it was obvious that it was going to be a big one. Thick and fast, it
took no time at all for the snow to defeat the warmer surfaces and
start piling up. In just a few hours we had already surpassed the
amount in the forecast, and if anything, it was coming down heavier.
By end of shift it was obvious tomorrow was going to be a rough day
to get to work. I also knew dad always got to work, which meant I
would as well -- no matter how much snow was dropped on us.
The drive home that afternoon was a little chewy, but we were
able to make it with just a few harrowing experiences as cars
started getting stuck right in the middle of the streets. There was
about a foot of snow by then, and it was coming down in a blindingly
heavy amount that later would be reported at 3 or 4 inches an hour.
I remember dad pulling the car into a drift in front of the house
and telling me we would have to take public transportation tomorrow.
The reason for the storm being so much more than the forecast was
that winds had changed and started to swirl off Lake Michigan,
causing the storm to stop dead in its tracks right over the city,
and it just snowed and snowed well into the night.
The next morning dad woke me about 5, telling me we had to get
going as he wasn't sure there would be any buses running. Since the
nightly news had shown even downtown streets filled with abandoned
cars and buses, I knew he was right. I also knew it was five miles
It was truly preposterous walking in this snow, which officially
came in at 24 inches but, as always, was well short of a real total.
Even in the streets we were up to our knees and there were drifts as
tall as I. The plows could do little, as everywhere there were
vehicles abandoned that prevented pushing the snow off the streets.
I noticed hundreds of cars just plowed in as snowplows tried to open
at least the center of the streets.
We did catch one break, as out of nowhere a bus jammed with
people came by and we were able to ride about halfway to work before
we needed to go in another direction. The bus was filled beyond
capacity, and as my dad struggled to get up to the bus driver to
pay, the driver just waved dad off and said to forget about paying
the 25 cents.
When we got off we still had about three miles to go and walking
was a chore. It took about another two hours to get to work, and it
was a strange journey to say the least. Due to the winds, nature
played many tricks on the inhabitants of Chicago. In one spot maybe
only 4 or 5 inches were on the ground. Another spot, where something
acted as a windbreak, there was snow as high as my head.
All along the streets were cars. There were cars in the middle of
the street. There were cars half off to the side, and others were
buried at the curb to the point that the make and model was
impossible to tell.
My dad continued to say how dumb those people were to try to
drive in these conditions, and they deserved having their cars
stuck. I remember a few times thinking of saying they were as dumb
as we were going to work when the whole city had in fact stopped and
bowed to nature. But I didn't. Dad was my teacher. He taught me
through his actions rather than words how to handle obligations, and
I sensed that this lesson was going to be one of the most important
and memorable in my life.
When we arrived at the plant, a part of the yard was only about a
foot deep in snow. The other side, the side that would need to be
opened for the fuel oil trucks, was a wall of snow taller than I by
The two factories within 30 feet of each other had created a
trough that allowed snow to blow in but not blow back out, and as we
looked, dad showed me a horizontal piece of wood about 30 feet down
the alley. "That's the top of the door," he remarked.
We went into the factory through the office area, with almost no
snow around it, and walked through the ice plant. I laughed as I
told my dad we could warm up in the plant since it was only 28
degrees with no wind.
When we got to the door in the alley and I opened it up, it was
just like in one of those comedy movies. Snow actually filled the
entire doorway, and dad and I had to laugh at our predicament.
Only we two and four men from the night shift who couldn't get
home were on hand to try to clear the 300-foot alley of snow so that
the heating oil trucks could get out and deliver their much-needed
fuel. But there was nowhere to put the snow. Besides, the big end
loader was buried in a drift at the other end of the alley.
[to top of second column]
My dad was always the thinker, and he came up with an idea that
went straight into company legend.
Ice back then came in 400-pound blocks that were cut into chunks
and then into slabs and then into cubes, using hot water running
through beryllium rods. That meant that we had several huge water
boilers to make sure the tubes never went cold and stopped the
Dad had us find all the hose we could in the factory, and there
was a lot, as we used hoses to wash the trucks. It was quicker to
walk the truck line than drive each truck up to a spot for a
scrubbing down, so we had tons of rubber hose.
My dad put a piece of conduit into the ends of two separate hoses
and then flattened the ends with a hammer to make them like a power
That was the plan. There were two sewer grates in the alley and
we were going to melt the snow down the middle till we found the
grates. Then we would branch out and start working on melting all
the snow in the alley, letting the water run into the sewer.
It was a surreal job as the very hot water really did cut through
the snow, but before long we were like coal miners, as we actually
were walking along digging tunnels in the snow.
When we hit the sewers, we were sure the idea would work, but we
were also sure it would take a very long time.
As three of us took turns manning the two hoses, two others with
my dad clawed through the back entrance and freed the end loader to
begin scooping up a shovelful of snow at a time and clearing the
back dock for loading the oil trucks. It was obvious it would be a
long time before they would be able to help us clear the alley.
It was one of those times when you go somewhere else in your
mind. The solid white always in front of you made your mind go numb.
By midday, the night shift guys had to sleep, and they just curled
up in their clothes in the locker room. Dad and I were fresher and
we walked along slowly most of the night, spraying down the snow and
telling stories to each other. By then the old end loader had broken
down after a half-day of constant use.
I never did get to ask my dad before he died, but I think I
learned more about him that very strange night than I did all the
years I knew him. I wonder if he would say the same thing about me.
In the middle of the night we were relieved, but I don't think
either of us slept much. I do recall being up and having coffee with
the guys before dawn.
As all of this was going on, the city was trying to get back to
normalcy. Streets were starting to open and thousands of cars had
been towed to city parks, waiting for an owner to claim them.
I remember being sent to a nearby grocery store to get some food
for everyone, and it was like a scene in an apocalyptic,
Armageddon-type movie. The shelves were almost completely bare and
there were items strewn on the floors. It seems everyone had
panicked and decided food might become scarce since there weren't
going to be any deliveries for a while. And on that first day, the
feeling was it might be days before city life would return to
Meat counters were empty, canned goods were few, and the area
where milk and juices would have been didn't have a pint of
I did find a few cans of beans and some jarred sausages, but that
was about it. I do remember the store owner at the checkout looking
worn and tired. He was telling another regular customer that he had
stayed open all night since he couldn't get home anyway. He shook
his head as he said that people on foot had streamed in all night
and bought anything they could carry home.
Late that afternoon of the second day after the storm, the owner
of the company finally made it in to work, and with perfect timing a
fuel oil truck drove down the alley on its way to deliver oil as he
It was 40 years ago, but I will never forget the look on his
face. From the front gate all the way back to the oil depot, a full
600 feet, the ground was perfectly clear of snow. A great deal of it
He came up to all of us, now into either a 32- or 40-hour shift,
and said it was the most remarkable thing he had ever seen. To this
day I still agree with him on that.
There might be other snowstorms in my life. But there will only
be one great snow, and it was in January 1967.
All these other snowstorms are just flurries.
Logan County residents: Do you have a great snow story to tell? Send
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 737-3979.
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