John Eby: Blizzard of ’67 socked us with 18 inches of snow

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, January 14, 2010

ebyI ran into John Hrycko outside Commercial Press Jan. 5 and I got so excited comparing Dowagiac’s 17-inch New Year’s snowfall to legendary storms that I came back and dug out 1967 coverage to see how it stacked up.

I was in fourth grade at Patrick Hamilton and remember wading into waist-deep snow, leaping from the second story of Huston’s barn into drifts and having days off from school.

It might be the last snow days I ever had because we didn’t have any in high school when Lionel Stacey was superintendent and I have never had one at the Daily News since 1980.
Perhaps my memories have been embellished by time.

According to the Friday, Jan. 27, 1967, edition of the DDN, headlined SNOWBOUND!! in letters two inches high, “the worst storm in Dowagiac and Cass County history” dumped … 18 inches.

It was wet snow, whipped by strong gale winds, prompting my old neighbor, Mayor James H. Mosier, to declare a state of emergency.

The weather forecast predicted continued heavy snowfall, with considerable blowing and drifting.

To illustrate “The Great Blizzard of ’67 … Shall Long be Remembered,” there was a photograph of the collapsed awning at Underwood Shoes.

A caption states: “Merchants closed their doors and lost valuable business, factories have ceased production, families have been separated and school children stranded away from home, funerals postponed, schools closed, ball games delayed and countless other inconvenience, both tragic and trivial, too numerous to mention.”

The Daily News canceled production of the Saturday paper.

Thursday’s and Friday’s editions were delivered at carriers’ discretion.

“The Daily News staff considered it unwise to make carriers, many of whom are still in grade school, carry papers after dark into the dreary hinterlands of the city.”

Some scheduled advertising had to be left out of what was published because of the “absence of skilled employees.”

As a final note, “If this paper is not delivered, please disregard the above.”

Employees stranded at the old ivy-covered office adjacent to Huntington Bank where Dogwood’s animal stack is today spent the night at the paper or with friends in town.
Heavy snow accumulation collapsed the roof of a 40-foot by 200-foot steel pole construction lumber storage building at Jessup Door.

Twenty to 25 percent of the lumber inside was damaged.

The roof of a one-story, 2-year-old Hughes Plastic factory in south St. Joseph collapsed, injuring three of 35 workers on duty.

James Wright, 19, of Cassopolis, had his car demolished by a Grand Trunk freight train when it got stuck on the crossing in Penn Village Thursday afternoon.

Wright and passenger Bill Dussell went to a nearby farm to borrow a tractor.

It was reported to have been the third vehicle hit on the crossing, but the other two were moved before encountering trains.

The Associated Press reported Kalamazoo received the brunt of the “paralyzing blizzard” during which snow fell an inch an hour for 17 hours.

“Glazed highways turned into parking lots. Several persons died shoveling snow. That was the bleak picture today as snow and ice storms thundered out of the Great Plains and swept across the Midwest and into the Ohio Valley. The snowstorm to the north hit Chicago with a knockout punch.”

The 16.4 inches of snow which buried Chicago broke a 24-hour record of 14.9 inches set in 1939.

Lakefront winds whistled at 63 mph.

Six-foot drifts blocked I-94 exit ramps from Benton Harbor to Battle Creek.

Six Dowagiac school buses were mired in the northwestern part of the district, Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Reinke reported, but five Good Samaritans – John Scherer, Norman Wendel, Joe Jerue, Larry Stoops and Ferris Pierson – helped evacuate their passengers with trucks and tractors.

Reinke said even more buses would have been stuck had it not been for four National Guardsmen with trucks and shovels who freed three coaches – Gerald Lott, Charles Sarabyn, Ivan Gwilt and Les True.

They toiled until 11 p.m.

Marie Michalke, Justus Gage secretary, stayed late on duty to field phone calls and to notify parents where their children went.

As a result, she was unable to drive her own car out of a snowdrift.

Her husband, Paul, and a neighbor drove in from Brush Lake to rescue her, only to become stuck, too.

Mayor Mosier, the principal, also tried to go to the rescue, with the same result.

They passed the time in the Justus Gage kitchen, stocked with coffee and “goodies” teachers bring in for snacks.

Six persons were stranded overnight at Union High School.

Reinke asked cooks to stay when it was thought DUHS might have to shelter the Du-Wel Aluminum Co. second shift.

Citizens in the vicinity of stuck buses even helped call parents to notify them where their students ended up.

By Monday, Jan. 30 (Snowbound community digs out), lots of digging had county primary roads open to one lane of “pretty rocky driving.”

Schools remained closed as overworked snow removal equipment began breaking down and slowing the progress of clearing unusually wet and heavy snow on the still-warm ground underneath.

A photo showed a roof being lightened of its load at the Don Kephart farm on M-62 east of Dowagiac.

Heavy snow was blamed for cave-ins at the Cupples Corp., Consolidated Die Cast, Jessup Door and Clark Equipment (the former Farm Town).

In town, on Saturday, “Streets were literally filled with pedestrians who were walking down town or in from rural areas to get groceries. Many brought sleds or toboggans with them.”
Police Chief George Grady announced “20 mph is too fast” for conditions, which included snow piled six to eight feet high along Main Street.

In truth, it looks about like now.

Gordon and Janet Gwilt, raising their seven children at 707 Spruce St., played hosts to eight stranded school children from three lakes families.

Two of the children the Gwilts had never seen before.

School would not reopen until Feb. 1 with 65 to 70 percent of normal attendance.

About 40 percent of bus students were able to reach school.

Not that we were out of the woods yet.

“Gale winds of high intensity” struck in mid-February with a two-inch snowfall “whipped up into a blinding froth that reduced driving visibility to zero.”

Plate glass windows at the Economy Drug Store and the Elks Temple were blown in.
Marcellus schools closed.

Wicked weather slowed construction of Southwestern Michigan College’s new vocational-technical complex, Dean Francis Hiscock reported.

Oddly, an article Dec. 8, 1966, “Weather sets new records,” talked about December record rainfall of 2.65 inches and 64 degrees – breaking a Dec. 8 mark of 60 degrees in 1946.
Three miles north of town on M-40 at the Charles Wales farm the Dowagiac Creek overflowed its banks.

Cass County Road Commission reported a number of washed out gravel roads.

Creeks ran over in Porter Township.

Pussy willows, encouraged by the spring-like weather, started to bud.

Another blowing storm lashed the county Feb. 24. Schools closed at 11:15.

Penn Township High School in Indiana went home early in the morning when South Bend received 10 inches of snow. Niles state police reported six inches of snow. “Conditions west of Niles were bad.”

Road Commission plows worked constantly but roads sealed up again within an hour due to strong winds.

“Roads in Berrien and west from Niles to New Buffalo are practically impassable.”
Feb. 25 the Daily News reported the winter’s total snowfall at 93.2 inches