How The Blizzard Of '78 Put Me Off Both Beanie Weenies And Winter

Nov 9, 2018

Winter soon will be upon us and, although I don't know about you, I am not one bit happy about it.

How could anyone look forward to winter after struggling through the Great Blizzard of '78, which dumped over three feet of snow on most of western and southwestern Ohio, with wind gusts of 50-60 miles per hour that created snow drifts everywhere 25-30 feet high?

No mas.

I want no more of it. Bears have the right idea; they hibernate during winter.

When I was a kid, I loved it – even though I went to a neighborhood school that didn't take a "snow day" every time there was an inch of slushy snow on the ground.

I played in it; pummeled my little sister with snowballs; barreled down the steep hill behind Cleveland Elementary School on a sled and generally had a good time.

And when I was a little older, my buddy Mike and I had a very successful cottage industry shoveling the stuff for the neighborhood's old folks, who would pay us enough to go out and buy all the comic books and baseball cards we needed.

I could even tolerate it after an auto accident I had when I was 22. In the middle of a tremendous snowstorm, my car slid off a steep downhill road in front of the Richfield Coliseum, then the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The front end of my little yellow Ford Maverick slammed into a snow drift and I was stuck.

I had but a few seconds to consider how I would get out of this mess before a giant land yacht, an Olds 88, slid off the road at the very same spot and crashed into the back end of my car, folding it like an accordion, slamming my head into the front window, breaking my eyeglasses into pieces.

The back of the car was literally pressed up against my back and the only way I could get out was to crawl through the driver's side window, plopping down on the snow.

I didn't know it then, but I had a concussion and whiplash. By the time I got out of the car, the Ohio Highway Patrol and an ambulance had shown up.

A trooper found me wandering in the middle of the road, reeling around and directing traffic around the wreck. No one in the Olds was hurt.

Get him the hell out of here, the trooper yelled at the EMT. I was stuffed into an ambulance and taken to the nearby hospital in Medina, Ohio.

There, I was surrounded by the ER doc and some nurses, all of them shining lights in my eyes and peppering me with questions: Do you know where you are? What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you?

Eventually, they came to the conclusion that I had a concussion and left the ER cubicle to let me rest a bit. I asked them to call my friend Becky's parents in Cuyahoga Falls, the only people I knew in the area and the family I had spent the day with.

I was laying there when I heard a TV playing down the hall in a family waiting room. It was the police drama Kojak, starring Telly Savalas (Who loves ya, baby?). I decided I wanted to see Kojak and crawled out of bed and started wandering down the hall in my little hospital gown, which was somewhat immodest.

A nurse caught me; she wasn't buying my explanation that I wanted to see Kojak. She consulted with the ER doc and the decision was made to call Becky's dad, who was good enough to drive through the snow to get me and take me to their home. The Medina hospital had all of me they wanted to take on an otherwise quiet Sunday night.

And there I stayed for the next few days.

That was a bad experience with snow, but it didn't make me despise winter.

About two years later, I found myself in Troy, Ohio, working as a 25-year-old reporter for the Troy Daily News, known to one and all as the TDN.

I had only been working there about five months when the blizzard hit.

The snow had been piling up steadily over a 10-day period, but, on the night of Jan. 26, more than a foot of new snow was dumped on the Miami Valley and everything stopped.

Weird things began happening. The Miami University men's basketball team was on its way back from a game in Toledo when the blizzard halted the team bus. The Miami team was forced to spend the night in Vandalia – in the town jail.

Interstate 75, which ran past Troy, was completely shut down. It didn't really matter because the snow drifts had the exit and entrance ramps completely blocked.

I was up very early in the morning, as I always was, and looked outside to Mulberry Street to see an incredible sight. Every vehicle parked on the street – including my old 1969 Mercury Cougar – was completely buried in snow. There was not one inch of my car I could actually see.

I got dressed, including long underwear, Dickies work pants and a pair of rubber boots I used for fishing that came up nearly to my waist. Like King Wenceslas, I went forth through the cold wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

Fortunately, I lived less than two blocks from the TDN. Still, you try walking two blocks in snow up to your waist.

It was just before the break of dawn and I was the first one in to the office. The front door was covered with snow from the drifts. We all had keys to the building. The good news was that the power was still on. 

I made a beeline for the coffee maker and fired that baby up. In a little while, most of the editors and reporters began drifting in – they had much farther to come than I did.

One of the first things we did was go across the street to a 7-Eleven store and buy up as much food as we could. We had no idea at that point how long we would be stuck there. And it was clear that once the grocery shelves in Troy were empty it would be days before trucks could get through to replenish them – although, in a few days, the Ohio National Guard rumbled into town in its armored vehicles, delivering food, water, medical supplies and baby diapers and formula.

By this time, though, the roads were nearly impassable, unless you had a snowmobile or a major big wheel truck.

Our editor, Jim Morris (the man who hired me at the TDN; a good man who passed away recently) came up with an idea that was pure genius.

We all knew a heavy equipment dealer in town – a fellow with a somewhat shady reputation – who had some snowmobiles. Jim called him and offered him a generous amount of money to rent three of them.

His business was at the end of Market Street, within walking distance, so we trekked down to get them.

The snowmobiles had two functions for the TDN: Reporters and photographers could ride them around town gathering news about the blizzard (and helping people who were stranded get to the shelters that were being set up around the city) and, secondly, to deliver the paper.  

We were absolutely determined to publish and distribute a newspaper (a little thinner than usual) on that day.

We could get the stories, the photos and lay out the pages and prepare them for the press room that was in the basement of the building. It was right beneath our feet in the newsroom. I used to love to hear the rumble of the presses running every day at about noon.

The problem was that all of our pressmen lived in Piqua, which was only 10 miles north of Troy. But it might as well have been 10,000 miles because none of them could get out on the roads.

So those of us who were there and available called Bill Pummill, the chief pressman. He walked us through what to do to prepare the press and run the 11,000 or so copies of the weekday Troy Daily News.

Roger Stilwell, the vice president of finance of the TDN, ended up pushing the button that set the presses rolling.

We were cheering and patting ourselves on the back when a question occurred to us – how are we going to get 11,000 newspapers out to people?

The normal delivery by carriers was impossible – many of them lived out in the countryside of Miami County and couldn't get into Troy.

Again, the snowmobiles were pressed into action. We loaded the snowmobiles with bundles of papers and began running them around town – not to individual homes, but to retail businesses, gas stations, convenience stores, any place that was still open for business – and dropped off bundles of papers. We told the proprietors to just let anyone who came in have one for free.

This one's on us.

It was more important to get the information out to people than make a buck on a daily newspaper.

Our friends at the local commercial radio station, WPTW in Piqua, helped get the word out about where the TDN was available.

We were never really sure how many of them were picked up by the good people of Troy. Maybe not many. But some is better than none.

As each day passed, conditions improved. The National Guard was a tremendous help. Plows had busted through the Interstate 75 exits and entrances, so some provisions were getting through again.

And a good thing too. I was getting tired of a steady diet of Beanie Weenies and corned beef hash.

After about a week, I was able to dig my car out from under the snow. I brought it over to the TDN parking lot in case I needed to go out on a story.

I was working from my desk, unaware that, outside, my fellow reporters, Michele and Ann, were busy packing the entire inside of my car with snow.

Finally, I came outside and found the two of them standing by my car, giggling. I opened the door and discovered the mess inside.

They were very proud of their little prank.

And my hatred of winter was cemented forever.

  Read more "Tales from the Trail" here.