Reporter recalls Blizzard of ’77 when snowmobiles were put to good use
There can’t be anyone out there who doesn’t remember where they were 43 years ago this week. It was on Jan. 28 when the Blizzard of ’77 paralyzed Western New York.
My husband Larry was working at Abex and that Friday morning I decided to take our oldest son Randy to Medina to get our hair cut. We were at the Clip Shop on East Center Street and Randy had his hair cut first. As I was getting into the chair, I looked out and saw it starting to snow. Within seconds you couldn’t see across the street.
When I was nearly done, I told Randy, who was almost 18 at the time, to go start the car. Within five minutes I started out the door and was stopped dead in my tracks. The wind was blowing the snow so hard from the west, I couldn’t hold my head up to see if a car was coming. Randy finally could see through the car windows and yelled at me to run.
It was snowing and blowing so hard I decided to go right to Abex and get Larry to come home with us. The plant was letting the workers go and Larry decided to leave his truck there and ride with us. We got down Bates Road, which was already filling with drifts, and turned east onto Maple Ridge Road. Less than a mile up the road, near the water tower, we came to a complete stop. The road had drifted full with a mound we discovered the next day was three cars piled up.
Luckily, we were in front of the home of our friends Dan and Carol Nogle. Carol worked at the bank in Middleport, and she was stranded there. We ended up spending the night with Dan, which left our other four kids home alone in Millville. We ran the Cobblestone Store in Millville at the time and my daughter Sherri, 16, was there with Terry, 15; Tim, 13; and Robin, 11. I called Sherri just before we lost phone service and told her to get her brothers and sister and go home. Our farmhouse had great big solid windows in the front and west and all I could think of was the wind might blow them out. So I told the kids to find blankets, a hammer and some nails, and in case the windows blew out, to just nail the blankets over them.
Thank heavens, that didn’t happen, and the kids made out all right alone there all night.
The next morning, we decided to try and get home. Nogles had three snowmobiles, so Dan and his kids rode Larry, Randy and I home.
We had six snowmobiles and in a short time, we were all suited up to take stranded motorists home, deliver milk and bread to families who needed it and get prescriptions in town.
Randy and I paired up with two snowmobiles, one which towed a ski-boose, and Larry and Terry ran errands with two more. Sherri, Tim and Robin went to man the store.
We had gotten a call from the Dressers, who lived around the corner on Dresser Road and had a dairy farm. They were afraid their barn was going to freeze and asked if we could get to Medina to get kerosene for their heaters.
Randy and I got to their barn and filled the ski-boose with cans, then headed back to Maple Ridge Road. We had turned west toward Medina and got only about 100 feet when we came to a wall of snow. The wind was blowing so hard we couldn’t see only a few feet in front of us. Snow banks were 20 feet high and a rotary plow had come through and cut a narrow path through the bank. I told Randy to stay out in the clear, and I started through it, then realized I was trapped. I couldn’t see anything, and if a plow was coming through there, he couldn’t see me and I had no where to go. In that moment, I thought I could be a goner and there was nothing I could do about it. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I immediately got turned around and headed back to Dresser Road.
Randy and I decided to go cross lots through the field until we got far enough west to cut back onto the road. Visibility was so bad, we didn’t notice we were on a huge snowbank, and we drove off it and down the embankment, our snowmobiles rolling over and over and kerosene cans flying everywhere.
We managed to right everything and gather up the cans and continued our journey west. My aunt and uncle lived just down the road, and by the time we got to their house, we couldn’t go any more. Our scarves were frozen over our faces, so we stopped to get warm. They provided us with warm scarves and after a few minutes, we again headed for Medina.
The pile of cars was still in the road by Nogle’s house and we rode up and over them.
In Medina we picked up some prescriptions for neighbors and got the kerosene cans filled. The ride back wasn’t as bad, as the wind was at our backs.
The next day our friend Bob Pask, who lived up East Shelby Road, needed a ride home, so I offered to take him on the snowmobile. Half way there, we were riding along, when all of a sudden we were tumbling over and over and the snowmobile was sliding off in another direction. We had ridden over five cars buried in the snow.
I was delivering the Buffalo Courier Express at the time, and for two days there was no paper. But on the third day, the Courier sent bundles of papers to Medina on snowplows and I managed to get to Medina to deliver them to the stores there. It would be a week before the roads were passable enough so I could deliver to the entire county.
Thankfully, we survived the storm with nothing but a lot of memories.
(Editor’s note: Ginny Kropf grew up in East Shelby and Millville and graduated from Medina High School in 1955, where she was editor of the school newspaper, The Horizon. She likes to brag that her writing career got its start at Medina High School. After raising five children, she went to work for The Daily News in Batavia in 1989 and left there in 2018 to write for Orleans Hub. Local news about her home town is always her favorite assignment. She is excited to share her views on local events, personal experiences and hometown happenings with readers of Orleans Hub.)