The Blizzard of 78 (Part 2)

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hankshowlsfinalNearly everything was closed –  factories, stores, restaurants and of course schools.  South Bend Community Schools were closed for two and a half weeks. Grocery stores were open if they could get some staff there.  Biggest sellers were bread, milk, diapers, beer and cigarettes.  The lungs of smokers in rural areas had nothing to do as they couldn’t reach any source of cigarettes.

A friend told me that after several days he walked down to a nearby Martin’s to see if it was open.  It was, but they were out of nearly everything.  As he left the store the first bread truck since the storm pulled up.  A crowd quickly gathered and started thrusting hands full of of cash toward the driver who kept explaining that he couldn’t sell them bread from the truck.  He would take the bread in the store, and they could buy it there.  This prompted a bidding war in which people were willing to pay well over the list price of the bread, if he would just sell it to them on the spot.  My friend left at that point so I never learned how it turned out, but it was a real life lesson in supply and demand.

All our shut-in days were about the same.  Get up, eat breakfast, shovel snow, see if anything good is on TV, turn off the TV, call friends, see  if anything good is on TV,  turn off the TV, read, shovel snow, read, eat lunch, shovel snow, see if anything good is on TV, turn off the TV, talk on the phone, shovel snow, eat dinner, pray that there is a basketball game on TV for me that night or a sappy movie for Bonnie. If prayers are answered watch TV, if not, shovel snow, read, go to bed.  Next the day same.  Third day – do it again.  Fourth day – repeat. Fifth day – more of the same.  Sixth day – no change.  Seventh day – cabin fever sets in and there is no end in sight.

At one point we were completely out of crackers.  I had no choice but to mush to the nearest grocery store, a mile away, and hope that it was open. I checked with our next door neighbors but all they needed was cigarettes, and I refused to get those.  Just as I was going out the door, Bonnie insisted on giving me her own list – vegetables, food staples and other unimportant items.  I told her that with the deep snow and my hands full of cracker boxes I didn’t think I could carry her supplies, but she would not be swayed.

As soon as I got to US 31, a car stopped to give me a ride.  I wasn’t expecting that because there were so few drivers on the road.  Thank God, the store still had some crackers left.

When I headed home with three bags of groceries, another car quickly pulled over.  These were my first two lessons on how everybody helped everybody else during the snow emergency. I even helped someone once – briefly.

Our street didn’t get plowed out for one week.  No traffic of any kind traveled or moved in our neighborhood during that period.  Finally, the plow appeared.  It couldn’t function in its normal fashion because of the amount of snow.  What it did was to back up  about 100 feet in the area already plowed,  then take off as fast as it could and rammed into the snow pile. The plow kept going it forward until its momentum stopped.  Then it backed up for the next charge.  It was a slow process, but little by little, a single lane was opened on our street.

Eventually all roads were open.  The caveat was that the width of streets were effectively cut in half because there were massive walls of snow on each side. Roads that normally carried two way way traffic now had only one lane. This made for some interesting situations when cars going in opposite directions encountered each other.

The loss of traffic lanes created driving gridlock as people went back to work, and finding a place to park was almost impossible.  Parking spaces on the sides of streets were inaccessible and parking lots were mostly filled with mountains of snow dumped there by front end loaders.  Where to put the immense quantity of snow became a major problem.

In those days there was an area behind the old Granada Theater and near the river which was commonly called “the hole.”  It was a good place to finding a parking space in normal conditions. “The hole” became the repository for much of the snow that fell in the downtown area.  As the mountains of excess snow grew, a local radio station started a contest.  Listeners guessed the day that the last of the snow dumped in “the hole” melted.  The winning guess was well into into April.

The blizzard of 78 was an extraordinary experience for everyone who lived through it.  It was, to put it mildly, an inconvenience, but the way everyone helped each other was inspiring.  Perhaps the greatest lesson was that no matter how advanced we humans become, Mother Nature is still in charge, and she always will be.


Get get enough snow and ice?  Here are some books on polar exploration:

Race to the Pole by Sir Ranulph Fiennes

The Endurance by Caroline Alexander

Fatal Journey by Peter C. Mancall

Journeys of the Great Explorers by Rosemary Burton et al

Polar Wives by Kari Herbert

Charting the Sea of Darkness by Donald S. Johnson

The Last Explorer by Hubert Wilkins

The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester

Explorers by The Royal Geographic Society



Author: hank

I am married with two daughters and one grandchild. After teaching in the inner city of South Bend, IN for many years, I now work at the St. Joseph County Public Library. I started keeping track of the books I read when I was sixteen years old, and now have read over 1700 books with a page count of more than 500,000.

One Comment

  1. Correction: “Mother Nature” cannot do anything to us that Father God does not allow in the first place. Father God is in charge and I wish our meteorologists understood this.

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