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Local Column

Schrader: ’Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

This bulldozer was needed during the winter of 1950-51 to clear rural roads south of Genoa when the township snowplow could not handle the volume of snow that fell. This was taken on Baseline Road in front of the Schrader family home, across the road from the Elmer Peterson farm.
This bulldozer was needed during the winter of 1950-51 to clear rural roads south of Genoa when the township snowplow could not handle the volume of snow that fell. This was taken on Baseline Road in front of the Schrader family home, across the road from the Elmer Peterson farm.

That song title, introduced back in 1944, came to mind as I hunkered down with my wife, Kay, in our cozy duplex for two days this week.

People have been hearing about the term “polar vortex” all week as they share their recollections of blizzards and bitterly cold winters of the past.

Don Mosher, a hearty 101-year-old, remembers the winter of 1935-36, when his family farmed near Waterman. Route 23 up to DeKalb was so deep in snow that the plows couldn’t handle it and called for help from the railroad company. The big snow removal machine that was used to clear tracks also had wheels for road use, so they put it into service, clearing one lane with some turnouts from DeKalb to Waterman.

In 1926 and 1927, my mother, Margaret, was teaching at the rural Greentown School south of Waterman. She was responsible for building the fire before her pupils came to school, and she once told me that a friendly nearby farmer had a bobsled pulled by horses who gave her a ride to school a few times, then shoveled out a path to the door. She did not tell me his name, so if anyone from that area knows their father or grandfather did that, I would like to know.

My memories of “snow days” when living on Baseline Road south of Genoa are not as exciting. But I do remember that my father, Vernon, and our two neighbors, Hulls and Wiricks, bought a small tractor with a blade on the front to clear out the driveways. During the winter of 1950-51, the snow was so deep and heavy that the township plow could not handle it. They got help from a bulldozer and driver from a gravel quarry, and he got the job done. The Sycamore True Republican reported that drifts as high as 7 and 8 feet flanked the rural roads, blowing them shut each night.

Then there were the bitter winters of 1967, 1979, 1985 and 1994, which younger generations will remember as whoppers. However, with our modern snow removal equipment, well-heated houses and other modern conveniences, it was not as rough on residents.

The low temperatures this week may be record-breaking, but the True Republican reported that on Feb. 9, 1933, the temperature reached a low of minus 26. Then, on Jan. 23, 1936, it was minus 25 degrees. In January 1951, it dropped to minus 22 in this area, and on Jan. 20, 1985, the record was set at minus 27.

By the way: Somebody ought to shoot the cussed groundhog before he sees his shadow Saturday.

A follow-up

Regarding last week’s column about the Finnish Steam Bath: More information surfaced about its origin and other details.

The building was erected by Kim Luoma’s grandfather, Frank Luoma, in 1914. He opened the steam bath then. His family resided upstairs. They sold it to Jack Makela in 1924.

Betsy Price emailed that she understood the boughs (switches) came from white cedar. A galvanized bucket held the water with a smaller ladle used to toss it onto the hot rocks.

Tom Courtney emailed to say the super-heated steam from the hot water tossed by the men would go over to the women’s side and you could hear their screams as it blasted into their section. Then, he said, sometimes the women would retaliate. The photo I used with that column came from Dolores Davison-Schroeder.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. An archive of his past columns can be found on his website at www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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