On January 10, 1975, a severe blizzard, sometimes referred to as The Blizzard of the Century struck the upper Midwest, including Dickinson County. What started out as a warm day for mid-January quickly turned into a raging snowstorm complete with wind gusts over 60 mph and upwards of a foot or more of snow. It would be Sunday before the storm began to let up and days after that before roads returned to something close to normal.
The following is an account of the storm as published in the three newspapers that covered Dickinson County at the time: The Spirit Lake Beacon, Milford Mail & Terril Record, and the Lake Park News. Following the newspaper articles are descriptions of the storm from National Weather Service accounts.
Blizzard Is An Iowa Word
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Spirit Lake Beacon
Dickinson County is uncovering and stories are unfolding from the worst blizzard to hit the area in at least 35 years.
The storm was still growing in intensity as it hit northwest Iowa, and Dickinson County was in the middle of the area most severely inundated by the tempest. It swept into Dickinson County about 8 a.m. Friday. By 10:00 the wind was growing in intensity and by noon visibility was down to a quarter mile.
Spirit Lake schools dismissed at 10:45 a.m. and as the storm’s intensity grew businesses began to close and traffic was choked to a virtual standstill. Winds gusted to 60 miles per hour, suspending all normal activities and taking its toll on both animal and human lives, including one Spencer man. Raymond James Mayou of Spencer died while on a snowmobile rescue mission to help stranded motorists. He became separated from his two companion snowmobilers north of Spencer early Friday night and was reported missing later that evening. A search party found his body about 10 a.m. Saturday approximately a quarter mile west of Highway 71 north of Spencer.
Numerous storm related deaths were discovered in the midwest as the holocaust subsided and stories of storm related hardships unfolded. Farmers were struck another fierce blow in an already disastrous year as large numbers of cattle dropped to the snow from exposure. The high winds were the main culprit in the considerable loss of livestock.
The winds also caused widespread loss of electrical power in the area, and the loss of some telephone service was reported. Phones in Spirit Lake, Arnolds Park and Wahpeton were operated on battery power during the power outages.
With the loss of power came the loss of heat in many residences, and people began to group for warmth and safety.
As the seriousness of the storm became evident, rescue workers, law officers, utility employees, citizen band radio operators, snowmobilers, road maintenance workers and innumerable other workers and volunteers sprung into action, keeping loss of life, property and discomfort to a minimum.
As the tales of events during the blizzard unfold, the foremost message is that of people helping people, often at the risk of life.
The list of those who sacrificed for the welfare of others will never be complete, but the results of their efforts are included in almost every storm story.
Peoples Natural Gas was able to maintain service throughout the blizzard, according to Clayton Hagberg of Peoples. The storm had little effect on gas lines since they run under ground.
“A lot of people learned how to light their own pilot light, though,” Hagberg quipped.
The man “on call” received a lot of phone calls for advice during the storm, according to Hagberg, but the storm prohibited house service.
The company experienced some low pressure in its lines when the electricity came back on and all the furnaces kicked on at once, but no problems resulted.
“We weathered it pretty well,” said Hagberg.
Civil Defense Director William Conner was stranded by the storm at his residence on Crescent Beach on West Okoboji.
Jerry Stuckey of Spirit Lake pinch-hit for Connor at the Civil Defense office while Connor handled more than 150 calls at his home in directing the emergency operations.
Connors cited the snowmobilers and snowmobile clubs for their outstanding assistance during the emergency situation, and expressed his gratitude to the many others that helped during the storm.
Jerry Stuckey contributed the use of his four-wheel drive International Scout to the Sheriff’s Department throughout the storm for use in rescue efforts. The vehicle was used to transport Dr. K. L. Clayton to Superior to aid Kate Kepler in child birth, but he arrived shortly after the birth had occurred.
Snowmobilers stormed into action during the blizzard, and their efforts played a major contribution to keeping the emergency operations functioning. For much of the blizzard, snowmobiles were the only feasible means of transportation.
Fortunately, there were no serious injuries reported among Dickinson County snowmobilers assisting in the rescue efforts.
However, Raymond Mayou, 32, of Spencer lost his life Friday night after he became lost in the storm during rescue efforts and froze to death.
Commendations for all the snowmobilers’ efforts have come from many corners, and a more complete account of their efforts will appear in next week’s Beacon.
Numerous phone lines were downed by the storm over the weekend, reports Dave Machula of Northwestern Bell in Spirit Lake.
In addition, the power outages in Spirit Lake, Arnolds Park and Wahpeton forced the company to go to battery power in those areas. Power was out in Spirit Lake and Arnolds Park for about 12 hours and in Wahpeton for about 36 hours. Phone usage drained the battery power, so a plea went out over local radio stations to restrict calls to necessary emergency calls only in those areas.
Machula reported that residents seemed to cooperate with the phone company’s request, and the office call load was held down during the power shortages.
The company started to repair services Monday in those areas where the phone lines were downed during the storm. Machula stated that phone services was expected to be back to normal by Tuesday night.
Surface weather analysis of the Great Storm on 11 January 1975.
NOAA Central Library (library.noaa.gov)
The power outages in Spirit Lake and Wahpeton caused a temporary shutdown of the water treatment plants in those two towns during the storm last weekend.
The chlorinating apparatus in the water treatment plant in Wahpeton was not functioning, resulting in a warning to area residents that the water should be boiled before consumption to insure purity. However, the chlorinator has been returned to service and the water restored to drinking purity.
The power was restored to the Spirit Lake plant in time to insure a continuous water supply in that town. Bill Dean worked continuously at the Spirit Lake plant from Friday to Sunday during the storm.
Heavy livestock losses
Dickinson County farmers were dealt yet another blow in what has been a disastrous period when last weekend’s blizzard roared through northwest Iowa and left a multitude of dead livestock at its heels.
Early estimates place the number of Dickinson County cattle which perished in the blizzard somewhere between 1500 and 2000 head.
The western portion of the county was apparently hit the hardest by livestock losses.
That is where the largest concentration of livestock is in the county, according to ASC manager Duane Curry, and it is also the portion hit hardest by the drought last summer.
Two of the greatest losses have been suffered by Bob and Fred Ahrenstorff, who estimated that they had lost over 350 head, and Bernie Cohrs who has lost over 250 head.
Cattle belonging to O.K. McAllister of Milford were spread about the Emerson Bay area and some had wandered out onto the lake. Snowmobilers aided in the roundup of the cattle, but not before many perished.
As drifts built up over fences and winds grew in intensity, cattle apparently moved with the wind over fences and scattered about blindly seeking shelter. There were numerous reports of cattle breaking out of shelters and out into the storm after they were apparently spooked by the blizzard.
Other type of livestock were also reported to have been lost to the storm.
The USDA Emergency Board convened on Sunday evening to begin the task of surveying the losses and initiating action to get relief for the victimized farmers.
The emergency board consists of: the three county supervisors, the three ASC committeemen, ASC manager Duane Curry, District SCS Conservationist Clarence Call, Dickinson County Extension Director Jim Yungelas, and FHA Office Manager Bob Snyder of Spencer.
The emergency board will monitor the losses and may submit recommendations to the state that the area be declared a disaster area, which is the first step in opening the doors for financial assistance from the farmers Home Administration.
Gov. Ray already declared 40 Counties in northwest Iowa as disaster areas on Tuesday including Dickinson County. The declaration will help trigger disaster assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Counties listed in Ray’s disaster area declaration besides Dickinson County are: Lyon, Osceola, Emmet, Kossuth, Winnebago, Worth, Cerro Gordo, Hancock, Palo Alto, Clay, O’Brien, Sioux, Plymouth, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Pocahontas, Humboldt, Wright and Hamilton. Woodbury, Monona, Crawford, Carroll, Greene, Guthrie, Audubon, Shelby, Harrison, Pottawattamie, Cass, Mills, Montgomery, Mitchell, Fremont and Page counties.
Area farmers who suffered losses might possibly be eligible for five percent loans from the FHA for replacement of breeding stock and or for feed for existing cattle.
In an attempt to monitor the livestock losses, county farmers will be receiving double postcards.
Recipients are asked to fill in their livestock losses and return the designated half of the card. Cooperation will assist the emergency board in evaluating the situation of county farmers and in determining their needs.
Widespread Power Outage
Heavy winds gusting to 60 miles per hour or more which accompanied last weekend’s storm resulted in widespread power outages in Dickinson County.
Power was lost in Spirit Lake, Arnolds Park and Wahpeton at 11:10 p.m. Friday as the storm was building to its peak.
Those outages were caused by a series of problems which overcame Iowa Electric’s backup systems and prohibited the early restoration of power to much of the lakes region, according to Del Block, area commercial manager for Iowa Electric.
IE has a primary power source and two alternative sources for use in emergencies, but all were incapacitated or unreachable during the height of the blizzard, as the high winds brought the wind chill down to about -60 degrees.
In the Lakes Region, Iowa Electric has a 161,000 volt feeder from a substation west of Milford, explained Block.
An alternative third source of power available as a back-up is another 69,000 volt power line which feeds into Arnolds Park from the Corn Belt plant cast of Milford. That line is used as a back-up source only.
A series of difficulties and the complete choking off of travel resulted in the temporary incapacitation of all sources of power except the generating plant in Spirit Lake.
The problems began approximately 5:30 p. m. Friday when a signal light at the Iowa Electric control center in Cedar Rapids indicated trouble on the 69,000 volt primary backup line feeding from the Cornbelt substation west of Milford.
IE crews attempted to reach the line’s substation to find the source of power. However, the crew was unable to reach the substation through the storm.
The 161,000 volt line which is the main source of power for the region was still in operation, however, and therefore, there was still no loss of power.
At 11:10 p.m. Friday night the heavy winds caused trouble to develop on that main line, however, resulting in the total loss of Iowa Electric’s source of power in the Lakes Region and in some communities in Osceola County.
At that point, both the 161,000 volt main power source and the 69,000 volt regular backup line from west Milford had been knocked out by the storm
The third source of power, the other 69,000 volt backup line feeding into Arnolds Park from the Corn Bell plant, was still surviving the storm. However, workmen were unable to battle their way through the blinding storm and the drifts to close a switch that would put that line into service.
The switch must always be open, according to Block, because the power cannot be fed from this line if the other two primary sources are operating normally.
Because of immobility, at that point all Iowa Electric crews could do was serve those customers on IE’s 2,400 volt distribution system from its generating plant on Ithaca Avenue in Spirit Lake. This restored power to an area primarily in the central and northeast part of Spirit Lake.
Had IE crows been able to reach another switch one mile west of Spirit Lake, power could have been routed to the Orleans area and to Superior from the generator yet on Friday evening.
At approximately 10 a.m. Saturday morning, despite the high winds, crews were able to reach the switches east of Arnolds Park and northwest of Spirit Lake, restoring power to the balance of the Lakes Region, with the exception of the Wahpeton area on west side of Okoboji and up around to Haywards Bay.
Power restoration to that area was still delayed because power lines that were torn loose from crossarms were being knocked together by the high winds.
Those strong winds and drifts prevented IE linemen and substation crews from reaching the Montgomery substation to restore power to that area.
Even if they had been able to reach the substation, however, the loose line would have prevented power restoration at that line, explained Block.
Early Sunday morning the winds had finally subsided and IE crews were successful in locating the problem areas on that line and power was restored to the West Okoboji area about 10:30 a.m.
There were still some isolated cases of electrical outages which weren’t repaired until later on Sunday because linemen had to concentrate on the situations involving more people, concluded Block.
Tales of the blizzard are uncovered along with the snow
Stork Roosts Despite Blizzard
The stork began hovering over the Randy Kepler home in Superior during the height of the storm on Saturday night and by one o’clock Sunday morning it became apparent to Mrs. Kepler that she would need professional help to deliver her baby. A neighbor, Mrs. Vernon Beultel was first on the scene and called Mrs. Loren Wahlman, an obstetrics nurse at the Dickinson County Memorial Hospital, who fortunately lives about two blocks from the Kepler home in Superior.
Dr. K.L. Clayton was called at Spirit Lake and began preparing for the trip to Superior, some seven miles east of Spirit Lake on Highway 9. He received assistance from the Dickinson County Sheriff’s office and walked out over the drifts at the hospital to a waiting 4-wheel drive jeep driven by Sheriff’s Deputy Von Kilts.
They were able to navigate the drifts on Highway 9, which had been opened somewhat earlier in the storm by a V blade snowplow but visibility was still less than ¼ mile in most places and the snow was still blowing and drifting.
In the meantime Mrs. Wahlman assisted in the delivery of a fine son to the Keplers at about 4 o’clock in the morning. Dr. Clayton arrived at 4:30 and adjudged the baby boy to weigh nearly 7 lbs. Mrs. Edna Snow, Mrs. Kepler’s mother and also a resident of Superior, was not able to make it to the Kepler home during the night and was brought by snowmobile at about 8 a.m. to see her new grandson.
The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Gretchen, slept soundly through the night, and Mr. Kepler? . . . .he was stranded at the John Morrell plant in Estherville and didn’t arrive home until about 10:30 Sunday morning.
Massive snow drifts were common across the county following the blizzard. This photo was taken a couple miles east of Lake Park following the storm.
Photo by Marty Ehret
Motels Harbor Storm Orphans
Landlord and Mrs. Vern Drawbaugh of the Oaks Motel hosted 17 guests at a candlelight breakfast last Saturday morning, serving rolls delivered by snowmobile by Donna (Mrs. Dudley) Short of the Spirit Lake Bakery the night before. Mrs. Drawbaugh was slightly handicapped having only a 6-cup percolator for coffee-making. She continued to show concern for her guests and by 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon began making preparations for the evening meal, baking two beef roasts with all the fixin’s including pumpkin bread for dessert.
Sunday a.m. dawned with a quieter scene but the motel guests were invited in for toast and coffee and then the digging out began. Manning the snowblower and shovels were Darrell Waite of Aurora, Colo., an employee of Western Electric, Roger Slingerland of Estherville, an employee of the Spirit Lake Beacon, Milo Stevens of the Estherville Daily News staff, who also did not make it out of Spirit Lake Friday afternoon, and others.
By Sunday noon some of the men were able to walk to a store and purchase TV dinners which were prepared for 10 still stranded at the motet and Sunday evening the Drawbaughs entertained 11 for hamburgers.
Bub Glynn of Chicago, a driver for the C.W. Johnson Co., had delivered his cargo Friday afternoon and sought shelter at the Oaks Motel but drove past in the swirling snow and got north around the corner on Highway 9 heading east, before he slipped into the ditch. Tom Kuhlman pulling a car in with his wrecker, picked up Glynn and brought him to the Oaks for what was to be an overnight stay that stretched into three days. Glynn, a diabetic, persisted in getting along without his insulin so as not to inconvenience anyone, but by Sunday morning it became apparent that he would need assistance and Jerry Stukey was dispatched from the Dickinson County Memorial Hosp. with the needed medication.
One of the families stranded at the Oaks Motel were Mr. and Mrs. Edward Geideman and three children of Ishpeming, Mich, who were on their way to California. Geideman had just completed a tour of duty in Germany with the U.S. Army and was on his way to another assignment with his family pulling a U-Haul trailer. His classic remark, “Is this what you call a blizzard?”
Bili Ahari and son Jim, sextons at the Lakeview Cemetery at Spirit Lake and the Okoboji Cemetery were involved in a funeral Friday afternoon and were fortunate to find lodging at the Oaks Motel when it became impossible to get any further toward their farm home 5 miles northeast of Spirit Lake. They left the motel Saturday morning and spent the breakfast hours at the Spirit Lake Bakery, found other places open to eat their meals Saturday, spent Saturday night as guests of the county, finding sleeping accommodations at the County Jail, and were driven home Sunday by Ronnie Hartwig with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, arriving at the end of their lane around 1 p.m. and making the last of their trip on foot, six-tenths of a mile up the lane.
The Drawbaughs expressed their gratitude that all their guests has been most cooperative and had left donations to help pay the cost of the food. Her main concern during the height of the storm, said Margaret, was that there would not be milk enough for the children involved. But it all worked out very well.
Over forty travelers, truckers, local people, Berkley and McQuay employees and even a few-days-old baby were occupants of the Motel Shamrock during the past weekend blizzard. Mike and Judy Chadek and their children hosted an overflow assemblage and by noon on Saturday the chow line began to form as one by one the motel entries were shoveled out and the occupants moved along the building to the Chadek’s living quarters where the “chef” was emptying her larder.
Saturday night the braver souls ventured across the highway to the Berkley plant and brought food from the vending machines. By Sunday noon some could get to the now-open grocery staves.
The last of those stranded saw his jack-knifed truck freed from the drifts west of the Memory Gardens cemetery Tuesday morning. He was Don Undine of Sioux City, driving a Kaplan truck.
Mrs. Chadek expressed the hope that an experience like this doesn’t happen very often but if il should occur again they will be fortunate enough to have the same marvelous bunch of guests who expressed no complaints concerning their plight, pitched in wherever possible to help and even hoped that the guys who washed the dishes would be along the next storm.
Home occupants were cautioned today that it would be wise to investigate the probability of snow in your attic, since the swirling snow filtered into even the smallest crevice and made little drifts and accumulations of frost on window and door sills.
One homeowner in the north part of Spirit Lake has reported having scooped several pickup loads of snow from the attic of his home and a neighbor of his is finding the same thing true as they began checking for possible damage.
The attic vents along the roofline of homes was a perfect place for snow to filter in and could cause much trouble when it warms and begins to melt.
Reports of stranded school bus loads of children were not the case of the Spirit Lake schools, as the decision to close the schools at 10:45 Friday morning proved ample time to get all students to their homos before visibility and drifts closed the rural roads.
Blizzard…Termed worst of century
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Milford Mail
Coughing automobile engines, the “putt-putt” of snowmobiles, residents wielding shovels to clear entrances to their homes, farmers searching fields for unaccounted livestock…
Just a few activities Monday morning as Milford area residents began shaking off the “blows” aimed their way by a raging winter blizzard which immobilized most of the Upper Midwest.
Many old-timers have termed the three-day barrage of snow, wind and sub-zero climate as the “worst of the century.” And these persons braved the winter onslaughts of 1936, 1940 and 1965. It was the combination of over seven inches of snow, 35 to 50 mph wind and temps diving five to ten degrees below the zero mark that manufactured the now historic storm.
Weather conditions last Thursday gave some indication the “monster” was on its way. A shroud of fog hovered over Dickinson County, and occasionally light snow fell. And forecasters gave reports that the storm was approaching.
Although Friday was cloudy and cold, everything was “go”—schools had started on schedule, it was business as usual on Okobojl Ave., and highway travel was normal. About mid-morning, tiny flakes of snow started dropping and the wind increased-still no indication to unsuspecting residents of what was to come.
By noon, the white stuff became heavier (and more of it) and it was being whipped even farther and faster from the north-northwest; Schools were dismissed and residents began converging on grocery stores to replenish food stores, preparing for a possible one day incarceration in their homes.
It was early Friday afternoon that the ever-increasing storm, began to strangle the area. Highway travel was impossible as huge drifts formed to block off cars and trucks. Many motorists and truckers were forced to abandon their vehicles and seek shelter.
State, county and municipal plowing crews had to give up. They were no match for the wind-whipped snow as it stacked in piles up to 12 feet. Even the versatile snowmobiler was limited as visibility reached absolute zero.
Predictions were for the blizzard to subside by Saturday afternoon so most Dickinsonites planned a “night at home” with thoughts of resuming normal life the next day. But Mother Nature had other ideas. Late Friday night, most of the Lakes Region experienced a power outage – electrical inlets to the area falling victim to the wind and snow. Power failed for many about 10 p.m. Friday.
For many hundreds that night was a nightmare. Their cozy homes became cold homes. They were not only without heat, but had no lights or “juice” to activate appliances, radios and TVs. And there was no place to go-not even the most bold dared brave the elements that had them trapped.
When Saturday morning finally came, there was no letup in sight. Power company crews, aided by snowplows, reached critical substations and before noon most homes’ electricity had been restored, but residents on the west side of West Okoboji Lake were destined for another 24 hours of being “powerless.” They waited until Sunday a.m. for electricity.
The first hint of the blizzard subsiding came Saturday night when the snow stopped and the winds dropped to 15 mph—visibility increased to 1/16th of a mile. It was time then for maintenance crews to again attempt clearing streets and highways-but it was slow, since even the heavy duty equipment had problems slicing through mammoth mounds.
About noon on Sunday a few cars and trucks could navigate, but their travel was limited since not all highways and streets had been opened-even heavier equipment had to be called in to cut through some of the hard-packed piles of snow. Actually, it wasn’t until late Monday that isolation ended for area residents – most, not all, however. Emergency travel only was requested most of Monday.
Snow removal operations are still continuing-and probably will for the remainder of this week. It was one to remember!
Milford Has Only Brief Interruption of Power
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Milford Mail
Milford residents were more fortunate than many in the lakes region during the weekend blizzard. Although electrical power to homes in the city was off for about 45 minutes, the municipal utilities force was quick to activate the three diesel generators in the local plant when an outage occurred in the transmission lines from the Bureau of Reclamation.
Carl Olbertz, manager of the utilities plant, said the outside source of power failed about 5 p.m. Friday, and he and his employees immediately started to activate the generators.
It takes over half an hour for the generators to reach full production of power. At 10 a.m. Saturday, the B of R power lines were sending “juice” to Milford again and the generators were shutdown.
But there was another crisis for the utilities employees. The city’s water treatment plant, and main pump, are located on the southeast shore of West Okoboji Lake and there, was no power there to treat and pump water to Milford.
So Dan Olbertz and Mark Schultz were taken to the Lakeside station late Friday by snowmobile and they activated a propane gas auxiliary power unit which kept water flowing to the city throughout the storm. The two men spent Friday night in the plant, and Saturday night in a home nearby.
They did not return home until Sunday morning.
Rambling Around Town by Bill Parks
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Milford Mail
Again, Mother Nature has humbled us.
So arrogant we are. Men on the moon, computerized living, fancy automobiles, mechanical homes, etc.
Along comes a storm like last weekend and we’re down on our knees-we have yet to conquer the elements. No way can we defeat this kind of competition.
You win, M.N.!
We have tried to relate some of the highlights of that blizzard in this issue of the Mail, but. know many, many other happenings took place that should be “journalized.”
Each and every person who experienced last weekend has a story to tell—only wish there was space for it all. Many individuals actually risked their lives during the blast, and a majority of them are reluctant to take- any extra credit for their deeds.
Iowans may not be unique when it comes to aiding a neighbor in ‘distress, but certainly we need not take a runner-up spot to people in any other part of the world.
Credit must go to the Milford Sno-Drifter snowmobile club while the storm was on stage.
For instance: members took food to 14 people stranded at the Palace Motel—the estranged from Ft. Dodge, Sioux City and out-of-state; others assisted Mac McAllister round up his cattle (Mac lost over 35 head); and some made miscellaneous missions.
NOTE: Here again, we haven’t complete details on all the efforts of these people.
Although we’ve tried to picture the situation in Milford, you “sun-bathers” in Florida, New Mexico, Texas, etc. probably have difficulty realizing just how it is.
At the north end of town on Highway 71 there are about four drifts ranging in height from 10 to 14 feet.
Many in town had to climb out of windows and clear away huge drifts before they could open doors.
Automobiles were completely buried beneath drifts.
So many events were cancelled or postponed, we’ll never catch up.
And a lot more.
Don Chaffin and Keith Dannatt of rural Milford and Dick Roth of Spencer transported Dr. Lyle Frink by snowmobile to the Elmer Sonius home in Fostoria "where the Spencer physician treated the man following a heart attack."
And the three were also part of the rescue crew who discovered the body of Raymond Mayou of Spencer who had become lost in the storm about 1 miles north of Spencer.
Good going, guys.
That’s about all for this “Snow Edition.” It was fun, but once a century is enough.
Livestock losses mount
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Milford Mail
Farmers in the Milford area are still attempting to determine their livestock losses during the weekend storm.
Many cattle feeders have already reported the loss of from 25 to 40 head of feeders and breed cows. And nearly as many swine producers suffered heavy losses.
Jim Yungclas, Dickinson County extension director, and Duane Curry, ASCS manager, spent Monday polling (by telephone) livestock producers in the county. Yungclas told the Mail late Monday that the report shows over 600 head of cattle perished in the storm.
“This figure could be higher, however, when we complete the calls,” he added.
The CED said thatthe number of pigs lost should be less since that is a more confined feeding operation.
“This is a real bad situation,” Yungclas stated, “since many farmers’ 1974 field crop was not up to par-add this to their dilemma; and it’s going to be tough going for them (farmers).”
He also cited the fact that many of the cattle cost the farmers about $300 and on the current market they would bring only about $150. Winter feeding had been planned on to fatten the cattle to a point where the loss would not have been so much, the director said.
Numerous cattle perished in the storm.
Photo by Marty Ehret
Snowmobilers offer services
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Milford Mail
Thought of as a recreational, sometimes luxury, vehicle, the snowmobile played an important role in rescue and emergency operations during the weekend blizzard.
Many Milford snowmobilers spent long hours on individual missions, but three local men publicly offered their services and machines for emergencies while the storm raged.
Headquartered at John’s Mobil station on Okoboji Are. were John and Larry Boles and Nick Guthrie, They decided late Friday to announce their availability over radio station KICD after hearing of the possibility of motorists being stranded along highways and county roads.
“We were swamped with, calls,” said John. “Saturday was really busy—we didn’t get to bed until 4 a.m. Sunday, and were back at it about 7 a.m.”
Boles said the trio made several calls to the nursing home, delivering food and transporting employees; they helped “herd” cattle for Mack Swanson and Dale Johnson; they took Kerry Hoffman home (four miles west) — he had been stranded In town, but his wife was expecting a baby; and they made other miscellaneous trips.
“I put 72 miles on my machine,” added Boles, “but Nick traveled a lot more than that.” He estimated that they were summoned over 50 times.
Street crews, contractors combine to clear streets
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Milford Mail
Councilman Bob Hanson, chairman of the street committee, said the street department crew started clearing Milford streets early Sunday morning—the wind and snow of the weekend storm curtailing any plowing until that time.
Street Commissioner Gary Simpson and Jim Wolthuis operated the city equipment, but additional aid had to be summoned from Alexander Blacktop Co, and Syndargaard Construction Co. — payloaders, trucks, etc.
Most city streets were passable by Monday morning, but a snow blower, owned by Emery Syndergaard, had to be used in isolated areas where plows could not break through.
Also contracted for the huge removal operation were Lincoln Guthrie and RexBever.
That snow removed from the business district, and locations where it could not be stacked, is being taken to the old city dump southeast of the city.
BLIZZARD PARALYZES LAKE PARK AREA - Severe livestock loss and property damage
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Lake Park News
The worst blizzard that any of the old timers can remember hit this area with 70-mile an hour winds and 15 inches of snow from Friday morning until Sunday morning. During this period nothing moved but emergency vehicles and they didn’t go too far.
Drifts from 15 to 20 feet are common with all the snow ending in the farm places and in town. Visibility was zero for most of ‘the period with electrical outages reported all around Lake Park, while the lights only flickered a time or two in town, the rural areas and Ocheyedan, Harris, Melvin and the surrounding farms areas were without electricity from about 8:00 p.m. on Friday night until Sunday afternoon. Spirit Lake was without power in parts of town for 11 hours. Arnolds Park, Okoboji, Orleans, Wahpeton and most of the lakes area were without power from Friday night until Sunday.
Cattlemen in the area all lost some animals and some had tremendous losses with about 200 gone at the Cohrs farm and 200 at the Bob Ahrenstorff farm. Other losses of 30, 40, 50 and 75 head dead in the storm, came from almost every farm that had any livestock. 700 was the count loss by Tuesday noon in Dickinson County alone. Three to five thousand chickens are dead at the Hilltop Chicken Farm and the possibility of having to destroy the rest (18,000). It will take two or three days to make the decision. Hilltop was without power from Friday night until Sunday afternoon.
Many emergency calls were handled by the local CB club and men on snowmobiles were dispatched to handle the situation. One of the outstanding rescue missions was to evacuate Mrs. Henry Kamphuis from her farm home just south of Lake Park. Frank Schierholt and Monte Baker brought her into the Clayton Arnold home in the height of the storm on Saturday night, which was the first one they could find fumbling around in the dark, then they had to drag her on her back through the snow into the house as it was impossible for her to walk in the deep snow.
The other side of the lake around the country club was without power during the same period and many of the homes got down to below freezing breaking the water pipes and causing considerable damage. One quick thinker on the other side of the lake poured whiskey in the toilet bowels so they wouldn’t freeze. They then spent the time in the basement under mattresses and in snowmobile suits to live it out, with the temperature getting down to 19 degrees in the house.
The Stan Johnson residence became fully occupied with 19 people spending the duration at his place. Doug Forbes was working on his house next door and moved into Stan’s about 3 on Friday afternoon, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Dick Zweibahnen and two children. Mr. and Mrs. Maynard Johnson spent all day Saturday and overnight. On Saturday evening Stan ventured to the Bob Gunderson house and rescued the entire family, (in six trips) as they were huddled around the basement furnace trying to keep warm, and with a new set of twins that became a little difficult, they all spent the night at Johnson’s and on Sunday moved to the Clayton Arnold residence. Stan had a portable generator in his pickup truck and ran it enough to keep the house warm.
The biggest human emergency in our area was the Lake Park Care Center being without power all through the same period, as they are connected to Iowa Light and Power. Most of the beds were eventually moved to the dining area and the gas operated stoves and ovens in the kitchen turned up to provide heat. The fire department finally got a generator hooked up with, enough power to operate the heating system until power was restored.
It’s a miracle that more lives were not lost during the period as it came suddenly at a time when a lot of people were caught away from home and spent the entire weekend held up somewhere. Phone service remained good during the period except for a long wait at limes to get an open line. The snow began to fall about 8:00 in the morning but things began to pick up about noon and by one p.m. the wind was blowing a gail [sic] and everyone started heading for home with most business places locking up for the day.
County plows have been out continuously since Sunday morning attempting to open the roads with the emergencies coming first. Some of the drifts they have been going through you wouldn’t believe using a combination of plow and payloader to make one way paths through the bigger drifts.
The storm that started out to be a mild one, with a prediction of 3 to 4 inches of snow and 40 mile an hour winds really started to build up with barometer dropping to the lowest reading in history for the area. The temperature dropped to 20 below on Saturday morning during the 70 mile an hour wind which brought the wind chill factor to about 90 below zero. This was the first below zero reading of the winter in one of the mildest up to now in recorded history.
All during the storm the Lake Park Utilities didn’t receive a single call of anyone without lights which is a tribute to local crew for the condition of their lines which they have worked at diligently for the last two years and it paid off. The town was never on emergency power all through the storm.
Local CB club active during big storm
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Lake Park News
The local C. B. radio club, “Misles,” provided continuous, local communications during the storm to coordinate rescue, supply, etc., information to the various snowmobilers who did an outstanding, job.
Special recognition should go to Leonard Kolls, the local Civil Defense Director, for his long hours at his communications center. Radio amateurs, Wes Lynn and Marv Hayostek were on standby to handle coast-to-coast emergency traffic on the amateur frequencies.
Monte Baker should be cited for providing aid to various respiratory victims during the storm.
Many Fire Department members worked throughout the storm and through their emergency generator were able to provide the nursing home with sufficient power to maintain the heating systems. A special thanks is in order to all snowmobilers who provided needed assistance during this crisis.
Printed in the January 16, 1975 issue of the Lake Park News
A couple of weeks ago someone making small talk around the coffee table at a local cafe mentioned the fact that we haven't had a good old fashioned blizzard for several years and wished for the same. I hope he got his belly full. I've been trying to remember his name but can't come up with it. I accused Walt Polk but he hit me in the mouth so I dropped the subject.
I spent most of Sunday and Monday out on the snowmobile taking pictures (when I could get it started) when I should have been doing something else so the paper may look a little sad. We heard so many stories about the goings on the past few days during the storm but everybody was so busy digging out that we couldn't get much printable information. Every family seemed to be touched in some way by the helplessness of being in that type of storm. The animals in the area took a tremendous beating and the cattlemen with all their other woes now have to put up with this.
In my travels by snowmobile around the country the only wildlife I seen was two hen pheasants that looked badly battered and one jackrabbit who appeared undaunted and look off like a scalded dog. Dutch Thorn and Harold McCauley saw a deer on their snowmobile trip to Harold's folks north of Harris who had been out of electricity and contact with the world by phone. The deer's head was about twice its normal size covered with ice and very weak. Harold's folks spent their tune in the basement burning everything they could find in an old kitchen stove, but came through the ordeal OK.
Someone should get something organized to uncover the fire hydrants, just in case we need one. Thank the lord we didn't during the storm because it would have been hopeless to expect any help under the conditions.
Vote to designate Dickinson County disaster area
Printed in the January 23, 1975 issue of the Lake Park News
The Dickinson County Emergency Board voted Tuesday to recommend that the county be designated for emergency loans through the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA).
After reviewing livestock losses from the blizzard, the Emergency Board unanimously decided to recommend to the state Emergency Board Committee that Dickinson County be designated for emergency loans through the FmHA for all Dickinson County producers who wish to obtain a loan and who’s losses exceeded 10 percent. The losses are being monitored by the ASCS office in Spirit Lake. As of Tuesday, their figures showed that Dickinson County farmers had lost:
2887 head of cattle valued at $1,015,240.00
1272 hogs valued at $85,104.00
44 head of sheep valued at $1,540.00
34,627 poultry valued at $43,283.75
2 horses of undetermined value
The recommendation for emergency loans must pass through many steps before the loans will be made available, according to Duane Curry, ASCS manager. After review by state Civil Defense Board Chairman Don Hinman, the recommendation must go to Governor Ray. If he approves the recommendation, it will then be sent to Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, and then to President Ford.
Present at Tuesday morning’s action was the complete county emergency board, consisting of: ASCS manager Duane Curry, Spencer FHA office manager Bob Schneider, County Supervisors Chairman Leonard Stransky, Civil Defense Director Bill Connor, District SCS Conservationist Clarence Call, and county ASC committeemen John Eckard, Bruce Will and Neal Delaney.
Guests at Tuesday’s meeting were Bob Duncan and Darwin Myrick of First Bank and Trust, Chuck Wetzeler of The State Bank, William Holiday of Dickinson County Savings Bank and Norman Meinking of Dickinson County Mutual Insurance Association. The county ASC office is continuing to monitor the county’s livestock losses, and farmers are urged to complete and return the postcard they received for that purpose.
Three choppers visible in the background landed on the Berney (sic) Cohrs farm along highway nine east of Lake Park last Saturday morning bringing Representative Berkley Bedell, Senator John Culver, Senator Abourezk of South Dak., and Senator Dick Clark all shown in the foreground surrounded by local livestock raisers who suffered losses in last weeks blizzard. The legislators observed the devastating damage to livestock and are attempting to work out a solution to the problem, by getting the views of those hurt the worst by last weeks storm.
Photo from the January 23, 1975, Lake Park News
Congressmen and Senators tour storm disaster area
Printed in the January 23, 1975 issue of the Lake Park News
Congressmen and senators were told during an inspection of the storm damage at the Bernard Cohrs farm near Lake Park Saturday that cattlemen need more than a five-year low interest loan to recover from the losses suffered in the century’s worst blizzard.
Sixth District Representative Berkley Bedell, U.S. Senators Dick Clark and John Culver of Iowa and James Abourezk of South Dakota, Representative Richard Nolan of Minnesota and State Senator Irvin Bergman of Harris stopped at the Cohrs farm to talk with the state’s biggest livestock loser and other Dickinson County farmers about their losses in the recent storm.
The Politicians, who were touring the disaster areas by helicopter Friday and Saturday, were told by Cohrs that “a long term loan is a must” to get storm struck cattlemen back on - their feet.
The feeling was expressed during the discussion that some farmers wouldn’t even apply for a five-year loan because they wouldn’t recover in time to pay back such a short term loan. A longer term loan might be quite possible, Bedell told the gathering of about 50 farmers and others on the makeshift helioport at the Cohrs farm, but cautioned the farmers that “-I’m not helping you guys if I make a lot of promises and get your hopes up for things that can’t be done.”
Bedell was apparently referring to “forgiveness loans” which were previously available, but which all the gathered Congressmen agreed would be difficult to get through now during the economic pinch. Low interest loans are the best loan assistance currently available.
“We need an extension of these loans to 15 to 20 years to do any good,” stated Spirit Lake farmer Dean Hummel.
“I don’t know how anybody can get out of this without a long term loan,” agreed Robert Ahrenstorff, a Lake Park Farmer who lost 508 head of Cattle to the wind and snow.
The gathered congressmen and senators expressed great concern for the predicament of the farmers, who have been the victims of bad summer weather, high feed costs, depressed prices and now a blizzard.
The political representatives expressed some pessimism about the possibility of getting new financial assistance bills through congress and past the President at this time.
An extension of the loan period, assistance for the local Farmers Home Administration, office in Spencer and veterinarian assistance for storm ravaged cattle were the possibilities that the politicians were most optimistic about obtaining for area farmers.
“The problem is that nobody is going to be feeding cattle unless we take care of this,” expressed Congressman Bedell.
The politicians inspected some of the surviving cattle and were startled at the condition of’ the remaining stock.
Later death from storm related illnesses and “invisible’ losses” such as bull sterility, calf miscarriages and weight loss are expected to be as serious a blow as the livestock deaths during the storm, related many of the gathered farmers.
“We’ve been trying 19 breed and improve these cattle for the past five years,” Ahrenstorff told the politicians. The loss of that cattle breeding development “is a lot greater than the loss of the market value,” said Ahrenstorff.
After insuring that they would do everything possible for the farmers, the politicians continued their helicopter inspection of storm ravaged northwest Iowa, making a later stop at Kingsley. Bedell continued on to Royal and the Emmetsburg area to discuss the situation with farmers in those areas.
Weather Service Accounts
NWS Sioux Falls:
On January 11th, 1975, an intense low pressure system moved nearly straight northward from south central Iowa to southeast Minnesota producing a severe blizzard in the tri-state area. This storm turned out to be one of the worse winter events of all time and is often referred to as "The Blizzard of the Century". Snow amounts of eight to 15 inches were accompanied by wind gusts to 75 miles an hour. Snow drifted to 20 feet paralyzing the entire area. Thousands of motorists were stranded. In northwest Iowa, 15 deaths were attributed to the storm. In addition, livestock losses were substantial. Estimates included 15,000 cattle; 15,000 hogs; 1,500 sheep; and 70,000 chickens totalling to about 20 million dollars in losses. The governor of Iowa requested that 40 northwest counties be declared as Federal Disaster areas.
NWS Des Moines:
1975: An intense low pressure system moved northward across Iowa on January 10-11, producing a severe blizzard across western and northwestern portions of the state which was one of the worst winter storms on record and is often referred to as "The Blizzard of the Century" in that area. Storm total snowfalls were in the 8 to 15 inch range west of a line from Clear Lake to Denison to Clarinda with the highest reported amounts including 12.0 inches at Emmetsburg and Logan, 13.0 inches at Algona, 13.5 inches at Britt, 14.3 inches at Onawa, 15.0 inches at Sac City and Storm Lake, and 16.0 inches at Estherville. The heavy snow was accompanied by winds gusting as high as 80 mph which blew it into drifts as deep as 20 feet and paralyzed the region, stranding thousands of motorists and causing 15 deaths in northwestern Iowa. The storm also killed more than 100,000 cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens.
Weather Conditions in Dickinson County from 1975
Lakeside Lab: Spirit Lake Beacon & Milford Mail, January 16, 1975
Jan. 10: High 33, Low 10 - .35” of liquid precip (no snow total given)
Jan. 11: High 10, Low 0
Jan. 12: High 0, Low -13
Lake Park: Lake Park News, January 16, 1975
Jan. 10 High 30, Low 19 – 11” snow
Jan. 11 High -3, Low -20
Jan. 12 High 3, Low -13
- Newspaper articles from the Dickinson County Newspaper Archives
- NWS articles from the Sioux Falls and Des Moines NWS websites
- Weather Map from the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project, NOAA Central Library, Silver Spring, Maryland