Mild weather marked the winter of 1913-1914 – mild until a three-day blizzard swept across Central Illinois.
By the time it ended, roads throughout the area were covered by 4-to-6 feet of snow. Some drifts were reported to be as high as 14 feet.
Lacking mechanized equipment, road commissioners assembled large forces of men, who dug the roads out with pick and shovel. It was a slow, difficult task. Frostbite was a common affliction. The work gangs would dig a path just wide enough for a team and wagon, piling up the snow high on either side of the narrow path.
Unlike the “Deep Snow” in the winter of 1830-1831, the 20th century had railroads. Though the iron horse was more reliable than the horse of flesh, the railroads were at first stymied by the blizzard.
At Virginia, three Baltimore & Ohio trains found themselves stranded. Using steam locomotives as battering rams and a large number of laborers, the railroad struggled for seven days to reopen the track between the state capital and Beardstown. In the meantime, mail and supplies destined for Cass County piled up in Springfield.
A mile or so south of Virginia, passengers aboard a Chicago, Peoria & St. Louis Railroad train found themselves stuck in deep snow out in the open prairie. The CP&StL dispatched relief engines to rescue the train, but they too soon found themselves hopelessly entrapped in the snow. When machines failed, the railroad called on crews of men to clear the rails, a task that took a week or so to complete.
The blizzard also impacted service on the Chicago & Alton Railroad through Ashland and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad south through Beardstown and Arenzville, but delays were of a shorter duration than on the B&O?and CP&StL.
Though incredibly fierce, the February 1914 blizzard was but three days in duration as compared to the three-month long event of 1830 and 1831. This fact minimized the impact on both livestock and wildlife.
Thanks to such advances as sturdier homes and central heating, people were better able to withstand nature’s fury.
Of course, the blizzard did give folks something to brag about in the years that followed. When a young man or woman complained about the winter weather, they likely heard their elders say something along these lines: You think this is bad. Why, you don’t know what bad is. Let me tell you about the blizzard of 1914. We were marooned for weeks and it was so cold that birds froze in mid air.
That reminds me, I need to tell my grandsons about those winters when I walked to school, struggling uphill both ways through three feet – or maybe it was four feet – of snow.
Yes, indeed. Those weather stories do get better with the passage of time.