We have made a little arrangement with the Minden City Herald to exchange stories from time to time. Nathan and Amber Mark’s weekly paper has covered the lower Thumb since 1889. We are thrilled to offer some of their content. Editor Nathan Marks published a great article about the 1947 snowstorm that absolutely walloped Michigan’s Upper Thumb. It’s an interesting bit of history that many don’t know about.
About the featured picture showing South Huron Avenue in Harbor Beach a few days after a massive snowstorm hit the Thumb in 1947. Some cars along the streets were still covered in snow. The Community Theatre is in the background. The photo was taken by Lapovson Photography of Harbor Beach and was located in the Pic DeFrain Collection at the Harbor Beach Area District Library.
What We Will Cover Today
The 1947 Snowstorm That ‘Paralyzed’ The Thumb
Seventy-five years ago this month, the Thumb experienced its heaviest snowfall in living memory. It was March 1947, and then-editor of the Harbor Beach Times, Carl Mizener, wrote of how when he was a child, one of his favorite story topics to hear about were “old-fashioned winters his forefathers experienced.”
“One of those old-fashioned winters is back playing an encore for the winters of many years ago,” he wrote in the 7 Mar 1947 edition of the Times, published every Friday. “In fact, the writer has never seen so much snow in his life, nor has anyone else in this neck of the woods.”
1947 Snowstorm Halts Pere Marquette Rail Service
The previous weekend brought a blizzard with such heavy snow that Mizener said, “By Tuesday morning, not a thing was moving in or out of town. In fact, up to Thursday morning, a Pere Marquette train had not been in since last Saturday; no parcel post had arrived since Saturday with first-class mail being brought in by having it routed to Bad Axe, and the local post office crew would pick it up from there.”
Mizener reported that M-51, now known as Ruth Road, was “all tied up.” The State Highway Department was sending rotary plows to clear them while the Huron County Road Commission worked on US-25 south of the city and struggled to buck the snowdrifts. “They would hit the drift just south of the Toppin Road with all power, go ahead about four feet and stop. Then, they would back up and try it again,” he explained. “When one has a drift the width of the road for about a half-mile and with the snow higher than the plow, four feet a try is slow work.”
Residents Dig Out
Note that Mizener said the snow was piled higher than the snowplows themselves. This fact obviously complicated the abilities of those plows to make their way through with any amount of speed. In Minden City, rather than wait for the plows to make their way into the village, 44 of its residents bound together to do the work themselves.
“Forty-four snowbound Mindenites, with the aid of a tractor, several trucks, and plenty of shovels, opened the county road east of town to the corner of M-51 Wednesday morning,” the Minden City Herald edition of 7 Mar 1947 reported. “The crew started out of town after ten o’clock in the morning and expected an all-day job. However, as work progressed, it became apparent that things were not so tough as expected; forty-four shovels can throw a lot of snow. At noon everyone was back in town in time for lunch, and the road was opened.”
1947 Snowstorm Paralyzes Travel
The editor of the Minden City Herald, Bill Engel, wrote of the community’s struggles to receive necessities like milk, bread, and grocery deliveries amidst the storm and was frustrated by the Sanilac County Road Commission’s slow progress to reopening the roads. These frustrations were likely compounded because he got himself stuck while out driving on two occasions.
“The editor has been in for a lot of ribbing the past few days after getting stranded twice a week,” he writes. “Last Wednesday, I started for Deckerville at 3:00 in the afternoon and arrived there at 8:00 p.m. after using foot power the last 3½ miles. Again, on Sunday evening, I was coming home from that whistle-stop; I got tangled up with some snow east of town and walked the last mile and a half. At least I am improving.”
Engel was far from alone among his neighbors in getting stuck and having to walk to safety, where, fortunately, there were area residents ready to help. “Several cars were stranded at various places throughout the county,” the Herald reported in an article describing the Thumb as “paralyzed” by the storm. “Five cars were stranded between Minden and M-51. At the corner of M-53 and M-46, several people were fed and housed in the church there. In addition, many rural people were hosts to very grateful guests who were stopped by the storm.”
Snow As High As the Utility Wires
As the roads were being cleared, some still braved the conditions to visit and check on friends and relatives, as former Minden City resident Dick Clor recalls, despite the snowdrifts looming well above them in places. “We drove to Harbor Beach to visit our mother’s parents,” he recalls. “The road north of Ruth was only one lane wide, with an occasional wider area to pull into when a car was coming from the opposite direction. It was said that a snowblower from an Air Force base was used to open the road. In some areas, the snowdrifts were almost to the wires on the electric poles.”
Relief Comes By Air
The storm has brought ground travel in the Thumb to a halt, and residents looked to the skies to get supplies. Small planes managed to land in nearby villages to deliver mail and groceries in some places. The landing of an aircraft in Minden City caused a stir in the village, with many residents going out to witness the event. Clor says that the plane landed in a field south of the schoolhouse.
The Port Huron Times-Herald newspaper also managed to deliver subscriptions to area villages. They used the No. 3 fairway at the Harbor Beach Resort golf course as a landing field when delivering to Harbor Beach.
Planes were also used for rescue needs, including in Ruth, although the only ‘emergency’ was Our Lady of Lake Huron School in Harbor Beach, needing two of their basketball players to rejoin the team. “Last Wednesday, a ‘rescue’ plane was used to bring two members of the Trojans basketball team in from isolated Ruth,” the Times reported.
“Robert Woychowski and Clifford Essenmacher were snowbound at their respective homes. However, with the tournament at Bay Port, some transportation had to be provided, and the airplane was brought into play,” the report continues. “A Piper cub from the Bad Axe air service equipped with skis landed in a cornfield on the Essenmacher farm, picked up the boys, and brought them in.”
While we endure several snowstorms a year in the Thumb, it has been quite a while since there has been a storm where drifts reached the powerlines, stranding whole towns in place for days. It is hard to imagine small aircraft buzzing around making deliveries to small towns; if a storm of the same magnitude struck today, it would probably be Amazon drones bringing supplies to everyone’s doorsteps.
The 1947 Snowstorm was One for the Ages
Folks living here 75 years ago likely could not have imagined a future of personal flying robots coming to their rescue any more quickly than many of us could imagine living through a massive snowstorm as they did in 1947 with limited television access and no internet. Will we see another such storm in these parts any time soon? Who can say? But if we do, we can hope for more fun and exciting stories like these that our grandchildren will hear and enjoy one day.
Special thanks to Dick Clor for bringing this event to our attention and providing clippings and memories.
Reprinted by permission by Nathan Marks; editor of Minden City Herald. To subscribe, visit the publication’s website at MindenCityHerald.com