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Last updated: Thu. Jan. 24, 2008 - 10:38 am EDT

Blizzard of '78

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On the 30th anniversary of Fort Wayne's largest snowfall in recent history, The News-Sentinel asked you, our readers, to share your memories of the “Blizzard of 1978.” Here's what you had to say:

Rookie cop sees it all

On Jan 26, 1978, I was nearing completion of a six-month probationary period as a Fort Wayne Police Department recruit. I was assigned to the late shift with then-Sgt. Marty Bender of the Traffic Division.

My short six-month career on the streets consisted of demonstrating many of the skills and techniques learned in the several weeks of training. Since graduation I had been involved in the apprehensions of armed robbery suspects, arrests of dope dealers and car thieves, and assisted in the investigation of fatal automobile accidents.

In the late evening it became obvious the citizens of Fort Wayne would be in serious trouble due to the massive snowfall that we were experiencing. Preparations were already under way for the city that would be paralyzed for several days, if not weeks.

All of the experience and expert training that I received at the Fort Wayne Police Academy was of little comfort in the 300 block of West Wildwood on the evening of Jan. 26, 1978. A female passenger was reportedly in labor as she was attempting to make her way to the Lutheran Hospital on Fairfield Avenue. I heard someone yell “Her water has broken.” Perhaps routine to some, that was without question a scary event for this inexperienced rookie. - Jerry Ridley

Man, dog trek to drugstore

A week of being snowbound was hard on us since we were smokers at the time. My husband took off after two days of no cigarettes and trekked his way with our dog, Lady, from Tacoma Avenue to Hooks Drugs on Rudisill and Calhoun; no one could drive, of course. This being about two miles, he came back hours later with one pack of cigarettes. What was he thinking! The next day he walked from our home to work at Strahm Inc. with blueprints hooked to the dog and walked to U.S. 27 and Paulding Road. A week we will never forget, great memories! - Pam Wolfe, Fort Wayne

Adventures in friend's 4x4

I was out in a friend's new 4x4 that evening before trying to make money pulling out stuck vehicles. The weather worsened and we finally made it to the old Marathon station at Lafayette Center Road and I-69, which was next to an old L&K Restaurant. (Both facilities were demolished when the I-469 interchange was built.) We spent the night and most of the next day in the Marathon station, and the gracious manager at the L & K opened up to fix breakfast for all of us, approximately 25-35, most of whom were brought in off I-69 by snowmobiles and other rescue vehicles the night before.

At about 4 p.m. the next day we were getting stir-crazy and were anxious to put this new 4x4 to work. A guy came to the Marathon station in a huge all-wheel-drive tractor by the name of “The Happy Farmer” or something like that. We gave him $25 and hooked a chain onto the back of his tractor, and we were the first ones up I-69 northbound from Lafayette Center Road to the Illinois Road interchange, where we got turned loose. My biggest memory was hitting the massive drifts on I-69 (10-15 feet deep) and this huge tractor with all-wheel-drive twisting and turning its way through these drifts. Then the chain would catch and jerk the truck and us through, about every 50 yards or so, until we would hit another drift.

We passed numerous cars buried along and in the road, and I still marvel how we missed all of those cars when we worked our way through those drifts. Once we got to Illinois Road, it was still very difficult even for a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate the main roads, but we were able to put on the snowplow attachment and worked for three days straight! - Dave Huffman, Fort Wayne

One baby wouldn't wait …

Jan. 27, 1978 — the phone rang, “Don't have your baby today!” I laughed, not due for another four to six weeks. However, our baby girl was ready! Contractions began and we headed from New Haven to Parkview at midnight — on a snowmobile! Imagine a nine-month-pregnant lady squeezing into a snowmobile suit! And then having contractions all the way to the hospital. The scene was amazing — everything was snow-covered, and no one was in sight. We glided over drifted mailboxes and headed down U.S. 30. We got there just in time. Our beautiful Tonya Renee was born at 2 a.m. Jan. 28. Four years later, when we were living in California, people asked when she would turn 5. She replied, “When it snows!” - Sandy Strubhar, Lake Worth, Fla.

… and one would!

My due date for our first child was Jan. 28, 1978. When the blizzard started, my husband worried more and more as the snow fell. When we couldn't get out of our house the next day, he called the Maplewood Association for help. He was so worried we wouldn't get to the hospital. They sent a tractor in and plowed a one-car path to our driveway. Despite that, I didn't deliver for another week! - Deb Baresic, Fort Wayne

A friend indeed

Having a husband in school in Virginia and two children with fevers and ear infections, I called the Flickingers (friends). Ron walked from North Highlands to Keltsch, getting an antibiotic and delivering it to my house by the YWCA, and returned home another mile. Walking 2 miles in the blizzard … an extraordinary act of kindness! - Jim and Carol Keller

A few days of stress

Our family of four plus was living in Peru, Miami County, on that Wednesday, Jan. 25, 1978.

My husband was in a bowling league that night when the snow started. One of the league bowlers was lost for three days!

On Thursday, I hollowed out an area for my rather pregnant tummy so that I could dig out our beagle, Freckles, from her snowbound doghouse with my gloved hands!

On Friday, our 10th wedding anniversary, I walked around our neighborhood collecting cash for a farmer to plow us out. My husband had hitched rides for two days so he could open the local pharmacy he managed. Snowmobiles and four-wheelers — we had neither, but we did after that year!

The country roads had snow piled way over the roofs of cars going by - WOW! - Debby Doehle Kinney

Rescuing one bird

As a teen, I was walking south in the middle of Harrison Street with my head down to protect my face from the wind and to step carefully between the 3- and 4-foot snow drifts when something hit me on the side of the head. I turned to discover a small bird lying in the snow next to me. After placing the bird … in my pocket, I made the short trek back to my house and took it directly into my bedroom, where I wrapped it with a T-shirt and placed it under a radiator to thaw. Later the sash was raised, and out it flew. - Stephan Leffers

On the air at WOWO

My daughter, Suzanne Leffers (Katt), was a new employee at WOWO when the blizzard struck. She worked as a news announcer. The early morning of the blizzard, she was called by WOWO and asked to go to the station, as she lived closest. The station was downtown at the time, and we lived on Leith Street. She agreed and called her youngest sister, Katie Leffers (Gore), a South Side student, to come with her. They were picked up by someone on a snowmobile (I think) and delivered to the station.

Katie doesn't remember how long they were there before being relieved, but she does remember answering the phone, writing a rough copy of cancellations and after gathering so many, she either handed them to Suzanne or she came and got them to read on the air.

The neighborhood had lots of cars and few driveways - who was going to shovel the alley? Many cars were parked at the curb and it was a long time before this block was shoveled. - Jeanne Leffers

Surviving on cookies

The blizzard stranded my husband and a co-worker at our garden shop for three days. They survived on cookies and slept on bags of fertilizer. They eventually trudged to Maloley's, purchased T-bones and cooked with firewood under an improvised grill. Heading home, they had to park five blocks away and walk. - Jane Morris

They lived near grocery

Our first year of marriage included the Blizzard of '78. Living in Waynedale, we were fortunate to be able to walk to Rogers grocery. Most shoppers were men arriving on snowmobiles or walking/pulling sleds buying beer and bread. Our neighbors invited us over for a pizza party. - Kathy Wilson

To go to work or not?

The night the blizzard hit, it was a whiteout and my husband debated on going to work or staying home. Work won, as he was a new employee at B.F. Goodrich. John was stranded, as were 300 to 400 other employees, for three days. By then all the vending machines were empty.

When a team of 14 snowmobiles showed up, John was one of the guys lucky enough to get a ride home. Traveling in the caravan down U.S. 24 was like riding the waves of a white ocean; abandoned cars were buried completely all along the highway.

At New Haven, they separated, taking John to the fire station on Main Street, where they treated his frostbite on his exposed skin. A phone call to our neighbor let us know he was safe and on his way home. We had to call them back to let them know our newborn twins were out of formula. The firemen made a special trip to a grocery store, where stranded employees let them in.

Upon leaving the grocery store, they proceeded to the fire station on Meyer Road and could go no farther. John enjoyed chili, a station tour and the hospitality of the firemen. When the report came in that they were clearing the road, John, a WANE-TV cameraman and two firefighters got into a 4x4 and made it as far as the Harvester Test Track on Oxford. They radioed that they were stuck. Within 10 minutes, a huge payloader came from behind, clearing a path, and a huge piece of machinery was coming from ahead. In no time, John was climbing over the 4-foot drift in front of our house.

Days later, John went to repay the firemen for the formula. They refused to take any money! So we made a donation to them.

Although the names of all the kind people are forgotten, their kindness will never be forgotten. - Tami Mizzel

People helping people

The blizzard of 1978 was the worst snowstorm we had seen in many years and had the city at a standstill. My husband and I lived on Broadway at the time and by midmorning, one lane had been cleared by a city plow. The sidewalks were impassable, but people made their way down the middle of the street, most pulling sleds. There was one grocery open for business on West Jefferson near Broadway and it was doing a brisk business. The most popular items we saw on peoples' sleds were milk cigarettes, and Pampers, the absolute essentials of life.

We owned an RV with four-wheel drive that could navigate unplowed streets so my husband went out looking for people who needed help. One friend was a night worker who needed to get home, another needed to get to work. After he returned home for a quick lunch, I joined him and we started out again. On Fairfield, we saw an elderly couple struggling to walk through the snow. We stopped and they told us they were trying to get to the hospital where she needed some kind of treatment. We ferried people about until dark.

Sometimes a common calamity tends to bring out the best in people. We didn't see anyone angry or cursing the weather. People were often busy helping others, shoveling sidewalks and driveways; most seemed cheerful, especially the children who had no school and enjoyed playing in the snow.

I'll have to admit, I rather enjoyed the experience, the nice warm glow you get from helping others. The only downside, as I remember, was we ran out of milk. - Mary Koeneman

Driving bus ‘scary'

I drove a big FWCS bus then. Additions had paths only on curves and corners. Most buses that year had caved-in sides from trying to get around snow-packed corners. We carried a shovel and kitty litter in case we got stuck — no radios then! It was really hard to pick up children stuck in driveways!

A neighbor lived on Indiana 37. They had to tunnel out. There was a big arch for weeks in front of their drive. She has a picture of her children (my pickup stop) sitting on top of that arch holding an American flag. The snow was that hard!

As the blizzard started, plows just pushed the snow aside, then started throwing it up on hills; then there was no place for it to go.

I came off St. Joe Center Road going south to school (Jefferson) and snow was up midway on the side windows of the bus. It was a dark tunnel on Wheelock Road. I had to meet a Lutheran bus in an addition out there, and we had a time. We had to back up till we found a clean spot to pass each other. I had driven 12 years then and came very close to quitting as it was “scary.” Really had to pick up children so unsafe as they were in the streets!

I had country roads, and you centered your bus as you could see the tops of fence posts on sides of the road.

On the north side of our barn was a windblown pocket we could let our 4-H horses out in for a bit of sun after the snow stopped. But the pony would go up the hill and out over the corral fence.

We had our horse try that and sink to our fence gate and cut an artery in her back leg. Our vet said put her down outside as he couldn't get out of Woodburn, let alone down Schwartz Road. My daughter and I sat for three hours applying pressure and bandages till we got it stopped. A cold cement barn floor was no fun to sit on for that long. Sweet Pee Zee lived and went on to teach many 4-Her's to ride! Doc sent a snowmobile a day or so later with medicine to give her shots. But too late to stitch legs as it was days before our road was cleared.

That blizzard taught me to drive in anything. Drove for 37-plus years. Later, when the floods came, FWCS drivers drove sandbaggers all over day and night — pretty scary then, too. Sure do remember that blizzard. Made all the other snow times seem like nothing to drive in! - Joannie Tumbleson

Papers were delivered

I was a News-Sentinel counselor with 13 carriers, including my children. I got stuck many times, but we all worked together to satisfy the customers. Our son worked at a nearby store. He walked halfway and met another employee who worked there.

A minister was in need of some milk. He walked it back to them. Our neighbor and their family came over, we played Uno with their family. We learned to help others when they were in need of something. Will not forget the blizzard. One customer tipped a carrier well for delivering to the door. The News-Sentinel gave incentives to the counselors for doing a good job. — Judy Hubbart, New Haven

Restaurant stayed open

I had a restaurant on Old Maumee in 1978. My wife and I kept it open. I slept on the floor. She slept in a trailer with her mother. I heard a sound like a snowmobile, but it was two guys on motorcycles. — Kenneth Ringer


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