& Copper Country Historical Page
A look at the last month of one of the
worse winters in Copper Country history
The blizzard of 1939
Winter time in the Copper Country has always been a hard and difficult time. In the early days of copper mining most activities ceased and only a brave few hung on to try and last the winter until the first ship arrived in the spring to bring new supplies. Mail was moved by snowshoe from Green Bay, when it moved at all. Later, when life was more established, large rollers, pulled by teams of horses, flattened the snow to allow travel during the winter. Area railroad's used a combination of push plows and rotary plows. Houghton and Keweenaw County Road Commission's used rollers as well as push plows and later, rotary plows, after starting operations in 1911.
The winter of 1949-50 was an exception, dropping a total of 254 inches recorded at Calumet & Hecla in Calumet and 288 inches at the Houghton County Airport, setting an all time record. Up to this time the Copper Country had experienced an average of 150-180 inches a year, with the winter of 1938-39 coming in a close second at 226 inches. Recently, average snow falls have increased, topping 350 inches during more than one winter.
The Keweenaw has always had it's share of capable equipment to remove this natural obstacle but that doesn't mean that things are always moving smoothly.
The following account was written by A. A. Zareber, who was the cashier at the Calumet Station on Copper Range. This account gives a brief insight into what it took to keep the trains rolling.
March 1, 1950
March 2, 1950
March 7, 1950
March 8, 1950
March 9, 1950
March 10, 1950
March 11, 1950
March 12, 1950
March 13, 1950
March 17, 1950
March 26, 1950
March 27, 1950
March 28, 1950
March 29, 1950
April 1, 1950
April 4, 1950
April 5, 1950 Snow plow crew conductor Labby spent most of day rerailing cars and taking them to Mill Mine. One car at a time and then would return for another.
April 7, 1950
Good Friday night about midnight No 34 conductor Wright had CR1002 and CR1118 mty flats and GN 52433 mty box derail at north end of Toivola siding near switch. Trucks on CR flats stuck in snow pulling bodies off and also pulling GN box on top of CR flats trucks before train stopped. Had to call out crew with tool car about 2AM Saturday to go up and pull rear end of train back to Painesdale and clear track of wreckage rolling box and flats clear of right of way. In meantime McKeever crew did some switching around Toivola and Donken then both crews returned to Houghton. Called out yard crew which was not working Saturday to run McKeever Freight Saturday. Easter Sunday April 9th Weather cloudy and windy, temp 14 above most of the day. Storm warning up 11AM for south to south west winds 30 to 50 miles and hour by night. Snow forcast with colder temperatures.
Calumet yard pretty well drifted in. No train north of Houghton today.
The following account is a newspaper reporting of the Blizzard of March 16, 1939.
It was also related that this was the storm where the Copper Range RR had to resort to
hand shovel labor to open its line of RR from Lake Linden to Calumet, as its rotary snow
plow had already been sold, much to everyone's dismay! The accompanying view showing the
Russell plow apparently stuck in the snow, ready to get pulled out. It is on Lake Linden
hill, and appeared in the Milwaukee Journal paper, a truly great action shot of the CR
fighting snow. Notes by Clint Jones referencing this material from Charles Sincock.
Copper Country Experiences One
of Worst Blizzards in Recent Years; Traffic Stops
Copper Country residents awoke yesterday to find themselves snowbound after a storm from the northeast that prevailed throughout the night and yesterday, tying up traffic on trunk roads with drifts from six to eight feet high. Train communication from and into the Copper Country was annulled yesterday and school superintendents declared a holiday.
On trunk highways and in all towns available snow removal equipment was kept in operation throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday in an effort to open main thoroughfares, but the wet-heavy snow piled up again almost as fast as it was cleared. Visibility was nil and car owners who could operate their vehicles drove with headlights as a protection from collision.
Few snow storns in recent years, with the exception of last winter's January storm, have equalled in intensity this blizzard of Tuesday night and Wednesday. The snowfall is preported to have reached a level depth of 13 inches, according to road operators. It was impossible to keep sidewalks open either in business or residential districts and most people, if they got to work at all yesterday morning, found they had to shovel their way to the street or wade through snow in some cases up to their waist. Down town districts had the appearance of old time days with sidewalks blocked entirely or containing only a single trail. Pedestrians took to the streets and shovelers were generally engaged in opening up paths from throughfares to the doorways of business places and homes.
There have been few times in which employes of the Houghton County Highway commission have experienced such difficulity in their fight to keep highways open. Traffic during Tuesday night was suspended on practically all Houghton county trunk lines. Every scrap of rolling equipment the commission has was kept in operation throughout the night and yesterday. Although the commission has been highly commended for its efficiency in this and past storms its work has been sadly handicapped by lack of equipment.
US 41 from Houghton to L'Anse was blocked yesterday, tying up traffic from this quarter. The county highway commission reported its equipment reached the Baraga county line at 10:30 yesterday morning and that the roadway filled up almost as rapidly as it was cleared. If the storm abates it is expected this section of highway will be open today. There will be no attempt to open county and secondary roads until the storm is over.
The county plow which started from Calumet at 4 o'clock Tuesday morning reached Hancock at 10:30. This was on the upper road. The lower road through Lake Linden was opened at 8:30, and every effort has been made to maintain traffic on this highway. The plow from Houghton reached Painesdale at 9 o'clock yesterday morning. On all highways it was found impossible, up to noon yesterday, to maintain other than one way traffic.
The Copper Range Motor Bus Company suspended its service to points outside Hancock and Houghton during the night and persons from outside districts who attended entertainments in these towns were forced to stay with friends over night. Taxi service in most localities was suspended Tuesday night but was resumed Wednesday.
Service Is Demoralized
The last trip to Franklin by bus was made at 8:15 Tuesday night. It was 10:30 before the driver was able to return to Hancock. The Wednesday morning bus started to Lake Linden at 10:30 and the bus to Painesdale left Houghton at 11:45. The bus to Calumet from the Portage Lake towns left at 6:15 Tuesday night. It was 2 o'clock Wednesday morning before the driver returned. This was the only night trip to and from Calumet.
Train service over the St. Paul line was annulled yesterday and the South Shore train bound for the Straits remained snowbound in the Copper Country. A freight train, the only one to attepmt to reach the Copper country, was stuck in a snow bank at the Isle Royale mill at an early hour yesterday morning. The crew reported storm conditions all along the line, southward.
During the day yesterday the storm switched to the northwest and continued with unabated fury. Cars left out overnight countinued to remain burried in snow except where owners had dug them out. Many business places were short of help and schools were forced to dismiss for the day. Students who reached the Hancock high school. as an example of other schools in the country, totaled about 20 per cent of the regular enrollment. In Hancock E. L. Wright school, 12 students reported for the morning enrollment. There were eight at the Hancock Ryan school.