FROM THE NORTH END: WHENEVER WE GET A BIT OF A “BLASTER,” as a good friend calls a good old South Dakota blizzard, I find myself reaching for the little book entitled Blizzard Strikes the Rosebud
1952-Winter of Disaster. As a young boy I well remember the huge snowdrifts as a result of “The
Blizzard Strikes the Rosebud was written by Mrs. Walter Hellman and is a 130 page compilation of
stories from folks who “weathered the storm.” What made the Blizzard of ’52 particularly memorable
and dangerous was its sudden and intense arrival. The blizzard struck on January 21st, and like many of the bad blizzards throughout history, the storm was preceded by unseasonably warm weather.
Compounding the effects of the blizzard was the fact that there were very few radio stations and
television was basically in its infancy. WNAX lived up it its moniker, “Your Big Friend” as it devoted all of
its airtime to the blizzard, delivering countless messages about loved ones caught in the storm, who
were marooned at various places, along with public service messages, etc.
The titles of the stories in Mrs. Hellman’s book pretty much tells the story: “Over 100 Head of Cattle
Lost,” “A Night in a Barn”( a number of folks spent time in various barns as they couldn’t find their way
back to the house), “Seventeen Hours in a Maintainer”….That was THREE guys! Three county highway
workers were stranded in a maintainer three miles east of Clearfield. When the storm finally cleared
they discovered they were driving the maintainer in circles thinking all the time they were heading west
to Clearfield! “Ducks for Company in a Grain Bin” which tells the story of Clarence Longmire’s adventure in his attempt to reach Millboro during the big blow. “Thirty Hours in Our Stalled Car with Three Little Tots” tells the story of a mother, who headed home with her three little children after a doctor’s appointment and was stranded, but survived.
In a heading entitled “Twenty-Two People Sleep in Café” is a story by Amelia Briesese who ran a café in
Gregory. There was a funeral in Gregory attended by many folks from out of town who were caught in
the blizzard which accounted for most of the folks who spend the day and night in the café. A note on
that page was written by my grandmother, Stella McMullen, who attended the funeral. The trip back to
Burke took over an hour with one window open watching for the white center line due to the zero
visibility caused by the 50mph plus wind. Several folks were killed in the blizzard including a driver for
Nesbitt Beverage out of Winner whose truck was stuck in the old Brandon Springs roadside park east of Winner.
While some of the many stories are humorous there also tragic one detailing the loss of life. One of the
major lessons to be learned from the ’52 Blizzard, which was reiterated several times in the book’s
afterward, was the necessity of heeding weather warnings. We are fortunate today that we really have
no excuse not to do so as our weather service along with our communication system has made huge
advances since the early 50’s. Of course there are a few of us who are still stupid enough to go out and
fish in a blizzard as we did this past week…..see you next week!