Monday, April 11, 2011

Ready, Aim, Shovel!

As I mentioned earlier, in mid-January a major blizzard hit Hobart. Snow began falling on the afternoon of Friday, January 11. On Saturday, temperatures fell to 20 below zero and winds rose to 40 miles an hour. Snow fell throughout the day on Sunday. Not until Monday morning did the wind finally drop, and the snowfall taper off.

The whole area was frozen. By midnight on Friday, the snow had stopped all forms of wheeled transportation — cars, buses, streetcars and even trains. Among the lines affected was the Hobart-to-Gary streetcar line. Many Hobartites relied on those streetcars to travel between their homes and their jobs in the Gary steel mills. But Friday night's 11 o'clock streetcar, carrying men home from the mills, got stuck in the snow near the Rossow farm. Someone placed a distress call to Arvill Frazee, who worked at the car barns Hobart. He sent out a streetcar to rescue the stranded passengers. The second car got stuck in the snow, too, just a few feet from the first one. That put an end to all streetcar activity.

Many of the workers stuck in Gary waited out the blizzard there; a few brave ones walked the nine miles through the blizzard to get home to their families. Some of the Gary mills had to shut down because workers simply couldn't get to their jobs. The mills couldn't get their coal shipments in, either.

On Monday afternoon, a gang of workers (perhaps included some of the stranded streetcar passengers) managed to clear the streetcar tracks from the Rossow farm to the car barns in Hobart, and thus bring in the two stranded cars. But the line was still blocked through downtown Hobart, and again from the outer limits of Gary up to Broadway.

That's when Captain Charles Allen volunteered the services of Company B of the Indiana State Militia.

Around 8 o'clock Tuesday morning, Captain Allen, along with Trustee Hugo Zobjeck, led a "shovel squad" of some 15 militiamen to the streetcar line running along Third Street. They set to clearing the tracks, partly using shovels, picks and muscles, but they also had a mechanized weapon: S.H. Henderson's big ice-cream delivery truck, with a plow hitched behind it. The squad was soon joined by town board president James Carpenter, Trustee Frederick Thompson and several others. After two hours, their mission was accomplished: they had opened the tracks from the Third Street Bridge to the Pennsy depot.

Next, the traction company brought out a special streetcar to ferry the shovel squad west to the Gary city limits, where they joined other workers clearing the tracks into Gary. Another 90 minutes' hard labor, and the shovelers triumphantly reached Broadway in Gary. The tracks were now open for traffic. At 2:20 p.m. the streetcars resumed their regular schedule. Where the tracks passed the Rossow farm, the snow was piled up on either side as high as the tops of the cars, and they seemed to be passing through a tunnel of snow. But they were moving again; that was the important thing.

The conquering heroes rode a streetcar back to Hobart and had a celebratory dinner at the Amazon restaurant. There was "great joy" in Hobart; I suppose the townspeople felt as if a siege had been lifted. "Boys," said the Gazette, "you did noble work."

♦    ♦    ♦

Calvin C. Shearer quietly did some noble work of his own: he sent men and plows south to clear the Lincoln Highway, opening that vital corridor to traffic again. Marshal Fred Rose supervised the slow work of clearing of Hobart's streets. Trains resumed running, and after a weekend of stoppage, local farmers were again able to ship their milk to Chicago. Sleighs, which had been the only practical means of transportation for several days, were resuming their recreational character. Amid the drifts and piles of snow, things were getting back to routine.

♦ "Hobart Militia Patriotic." Hobart Gazette 18 Jan. 1918.
♦ "The Worst Storm Yet." Hobart Gazette 18 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Worst Snowstorm in Years Visits Hobart and Vicinity." Hobart News 17 Jan. 1918.

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