The front page of The Lincoln County News reported on Jan. 11: “Blizzard, high tide cause flooding power outages in Lincoln County.” I can relate to this storm well, as I had to measure the snowfall, and the wind was moving it around so freely that it was an almost impossible task. Maine isn’t noted for its good winter weather, and blizzards happen here often.
In meteorology, a blizzard has three factors. It has intense cold, blinding clouds of fine snow particles, which can be coming from the sky and/or picked up from the ground in the high winds, which are the third qualification of a blizzard. The storm of Jan. 11 also had high tides and flooding, which made it an even more dangerous storm. But it will not go down in history as the snowstorms of Feb. 2, 1898 and Feb. 18, 1952 have done.
These two storms are told about in the 1820-1970 Maine Sesquicentennial Lincoln County Edition. In the 1898 storm, the snow fell almost steadily for three days. This was in the days of the horse-and-buggy, when most families lived on the farm. Methods for moving snow were mostly by human muscle. Slow-moving oxen and horses were the only assistance men had. The good thing about it was that most families had a stock of food in their cellars and electric power had not been heard of.
By 1898, workers had developed a crude method to take care of the heavy snow so horse-drawn traffic could move again. They had devised a huge wooden roller made of thick planking that the teams of horses could roll over the roads, pack the snow down, and make it useable with sleighs. Almost every family owned a sleigh for winter travel and, following a storm, good sleighing lasted for days.
It was said in the villages of Damariscotta and Newcastle that workers cleared snow drifts from the front of the business establishments. Then they shoveled a swath with enough space for a rig to pass down the center of the street. Then they piled the snow up between. This made for giant piles of snow, so the merchants dug tunnels through the snow from the street to the sidewalk (see accompanying photograph).
No storm as severe as the 1898 snow has hit Maine since that time. One which nearly approached its proportions blew in from the northeast on Feb. 17, 1952. Tom Gay, owner of the Thomas E. Gay and Son store on Main Street in Newcastle, writes about it. He calls it the biggest storm of his life.
It began to snow soon after church on Feb. 17. He and Iome had a supper engagement with Mabel and Spencer Gay in the evening. They left for home about 11 o’clock. Going through Main Street into Newcastle, they realized the full fury of the storm. There were several cars stopped and apparently the occupants were talking with the night watchman about where they could put up for the night. The wind had sprung up, adding to the difficulties.
Of course, as soon as the Gays crossed the bridge into Newcastle, they were home. They kept the car in the cellar under the rear of the store. With a little shoveling, they made it down the driveway between their store and Weeks-Waltz Motors and into the cellar.
When they woke the next morning, it was still snowing. It was a white world with almost no traffic. They hurried down to open the store in case someone needed something, but it soon became apparent there would be few people in that day. Records show Tom Gay took in $53 that day. Later, he slogged (his word) over to the bank to deposit what he had taken in the Saturday before, and was later told he was one of 12 customers the bank had that day.
It was customary for Milliken-Tomlinson Co. to call him on Monday to see what the store would like for the day. They called, but it was Wednesday or Thursday before the order came. There were no deliveries of milk. So few people could get to the store, it really didn’t matter.
Trucks back then were much lighter than they are now and they broke down trying to remove the drifts of snow. Thus, with the buildup, streets got even more clogged. Luckily, it was the February vacation for the schools, so the children could stay safely at home.
Kenneth Bosworth either snowshoed or walked down from the Mills to get a couple of gallons of kerosene, which Gay’s sold, as the oil trucks couldn’t get though. Tom’s son, Tommy, was driving a bread truck for Calderwood Bakery in Portland. He could not get his truck out on the road, so he gave up.
On Wednesday, Howdy Wright was hired to clear the road with his bulldozer. That opened things up and people began to get back to their regular lives.
I remember the snowstorm of February 1952 very well! George and I had married in June 1950, and nine days later the Korean War started. We knew he would be drafted. After preliminaries, his day of departure was Feb. 4, 1952. I took him to Wiscasset, where the Army bus was picking the men up. They were taken to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass. There they were processed: given their uniforms, a batch of shots, many aptitude tests, and then assigned to what would be their first location.
On Monday morning, Feb. 18, he would be heading out for parts yet unknown. Could I come down to see him at Camp Devens on Sunday? Of course, I could! But they did not think I should go alone, so George’s buddy, Carroll Dinsmore Jr., agreed to ride with me. I packed an assortment of food and we left early Sunday morning. We were just getting into New Hampshire when we saw our first flakes of snow. We found George and spent the day with him. It was snowing hard when we left Camp Devens. Days are still short in February. The snow intensified as we neared the coast and it was dark.
By the time we reached Portsmouth, N.H., we felt we could go no farther. I found a place to leave the car and we were directed to a hotel that was open. Stranded people kept coming in, and by morning the rooms, corridors, and lounge were filled with travelers.
The next morning, I found they had towed my car. I got it out of hock and we headed north. Breakfast was what we had left over from the food I had packed the day before. We got as far as Wells, Maine. There, the traffic officers informed us that Route 1 was drifted and blocked north of Wells. We could not pass. They were trying to keep people from being stranded in their cars. If we stayed in Wells, there were facilities or we could take the train home. Passenger trains were running every day, and we lived very close to the Newcastle train station.
Carroll was anxious to get home, as he worked at Pictorial Studio for Ivan Flye and he was supposed to be at work. He suggested we take the train. I did not want to leave my car. So we split. He wallowed up to the Wells train station and headed home by rail. I found an overnight house. The older couple who lived there were not usually open in February, but they opened up for those of us who came in off the road. The fellow was familiar with the area and he found a spot for my car, and I bought some food at a local place that was open.
The next morning, I headed north and got as far as the railroad tracks on Academy Hill Road. Above them, the entire hill was one drift of snow. Ralph Dinsmore and Johnny Pottle, who worked for Newcastle Grain Co. next to the tracks, recognized my car and they found me a place to leave it at the grain store. I walked up the road to my in-laws, Raymond and Isa Cole. I called Carroll at the studio. He had just gotten in. The train had spent all night getting to Newcastle, clearing drifts along the tracks and stopping at overpasses to rescue stranded drivers.
My father-in-law had put a fresh bottle of kerosene on to supply my kitchen cook stove, so my house was warm. I walked up to it, after they had given me lunch. It was good to be home. The next morning, Howdy Wright went down by the house with his bulldozer, clearing the road for traffic. I walked down to the grain store and drove my car home.
A couple of days later, I got a letter from George. He was assigned to the ordnance branch and would be taking his basic training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. His tests had been good. After basic training, he was being assigned to a new opening in guided missiles and would be sent to school. I closed the house and headed out of the Maine snow to become an Army wife for two years.