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A County winter storm memory: Sudden snow in 1951 stranded sixteen workers from Loring

I was a boy of 8 in November 1951. Our family farm was located on the Madawaska Road in Caribou at the corner of the cross road which ran eastward to the west gate road for the Air Force base under construction. The farmhouse was home to our family of five: my parents Olin and Avis along with my younger brothers Olin Jr and Roger; paternal grandparents Fred and Idella and bachelor uncle Charlie.  

A common arrangement in those days, the homestead was partitioned off for both families and connected to other farm buildings and barns so even in deep or blowing snow we could feed animals, milk cows, and gather eggs.

On the morning of Nov. 27, my father began his usual morning chores around 4:30 am. He started by lighting a fire in the kitchen’s wood cookstove then turned on the outside light to see how much snow the previous day’s storm had dumped in the dooryard. He saw that it was still snowing and blowing with large drifts everywhere and in fact, there was enough snow drifted that he could not force the door open so he left it and proceeded to the basement to put wood into the home’s main furnace.

On his way back upstairs, he heard very loud pounding on the door. He looked out to find an unfamiliar man with icicles hanging from his clothes, hair, beard, and eye brows which prompted Dad to ask, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

The stranger replied, “I’m stuck out on the cross road. I’ve come to your house to get help.”

Dad invited the stranded traveler to come into the house to warm up. As they stood by the woodstove, Dad asked how he found the house in pre-dawn blizzard conditions and the man answered, “When I saw a light come on in the darkness, I decided that I was not going to freeze to death in my car, so I headed toward the light.”

Dad marveled at his determination to get to the house by wading in the deep new snow guided by a dim porch light. The stranger continued by saying, “there are fourteen or fifteen more men stranded out in the snowbank.”

In hopes of plowing the snow, Dad cranked up the John Deere A but the tractor was not able to move the 14 feet, 9 inches of drifted snow that had fallen. Dad said the only way to open the road would be with a “V” plow, something they did not have on the farm. So he raised up the plow and set out to rescue the snowbound men but he also readied the last draft horse on the farm – Dime – in case the tractor proved ineffective. Each trip out to the cross road was easier as the John Deere A made a beaten path while bringing the men in from the bitter cold. Meanwhile, Uncle Charlie made a big fire out in the barn woodworking shop. Dad brought the men – 16 in total – into the barn workshop so they could warm up. The men had been at work on the base when the storm started. Most were not dressed for the weather and wore neither heavy coats nor appropriate winter boots.

When Mom heard that there were 16 cold, hungry men in the barn, she started cooking a hot, hearty breakfast of oatmeal with cream, homemade toast made on baker sheets in the wood stove, pork chops and fried eggs. Mom had to feed her family and visitors in shifts but everyone left her table with a full belly.  Although it was extra work to cook a big meal on short notice, she had an abundance of meat and 150-165 pounds of homemade butter in two big International chest freezers, a well-stocked pantry, plenty of farm fresh eggs, cream, and whole milk (not 1-percent milk which was returned to the barn to feed pigs, calves and chickens after the milk was separated).

Many men wanted to call home but our phone was out of service. Everyone took turns watching for the town plow while the men spent the day in the barn workshop by the woodstove sharing stories. The one rule was there would be no smoking due to the chaff, straw, hay and cobwebs in the barn. One man came to my Mom and said he would like to help in the kitchen. He asked for an apron then started peeling potatoes, washing dishes and getting ready for the next meal. He was a big help to Mom since my brothers and I were too young to be much help and Dad stayed in the barn workshop to enforce the smoking ban.

Soon it was time for lunch shifts. Then later for supper, Mom fixed a roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, and homemade chocolate pudding with nuts and cream. The men agreed they had never eaten so well!

Nightfall came and still no town plow, so the men spent the night in the barn. The last man to literally hit the hay was the “cooky” who helped Mom bake apple pies and molasses cake for the next day. The men awoke to a breakfast feast of oatmeal with fresh cream, new biscuits with Mom’s homemade butter, canned salmon, and potato hash.

Lunchtime on the second day brought a table laden with fiddleheads, potatoes, pork roast and desserts made the previous evening. This provided fuel the men needed to dig out vehicles after the town plow opened the roads. Each man thanked Mom and Dad for the kind hospitality. Later, one of the sixteen returned to say thanks and offered $20 but Mom refused saying they opened their home to be good Samaritans.

Dana Thompson, a retired potato grower and broker of 50 years, still resides on the Madawaska Road in Caribou with his wife Penny and daughter Idella.

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