Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 28, 2013

Residents reminded of historic 1950 storm

by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Snow started falling in the northeastern United States on Thursday, Nov. 23, 1950, and within three days, left an indelible stamp on the minds of people who lived through the Thanksgiving Day snowstorm of 1950. The eastern counties of Ohio bore the bunt of the storm that dumped 33 inches of snow in Stubenville, Ohio over a 3-day period, but the mountains of West Virginia withstood quite a wallop as well.

“We were living on Ninth Street at the time in an apartment behind my grandmother’s home. The thing I remember most about the storm was that the snow was so deep that I couldn’t see the door on her back porch,” JoAnna Fredeking said. “My dad was working for the Virginian Railroad back then. He had a sprained ankle and couldn’t get out of the house, so I walked downtown and bought some jigsaw puzzles for us to work on. I was 12 years old.”

Fredeking recalled that in those days, communications were limited. “We didn’t have television weather reports and cell phones then,” she said. “I remember walking through back yards to get to Mercer School on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and Hazel Matney stood on her back porch and said: ‘Go home. There’s no school today.’ We didn’t have school again until sometime in January.”

Heber Stafford and his brother, the late A.F. “Red” Stafford had already planned a post-Thanksgiving Day adventure in 1950, but didn’t know that they would become part of one of the most unforgettable sports stories of the 20th Century.

“We always tried to go up to the Michigan-Ohio State game every year when it was in Columbus,” Stafford, 95, said. “In 1950, the Wolverines came to Columbus to play the game with the winner going to the Rose Bowl. It started snowing that Thanksgiving Day, and we left for Columbus on Friday night.” Heber’s father was a locomotive engineer for the (then) Norfolk and Western Railway, and family members had passes so they could travel on the railroad for free. The Stafford brothers took advantage of the passes to travel to major league baseball games, big time college football games and more.

“It was a dilly of a snowstorm,” Stafford said. “A.F. and I were in the stands, covered with snow, and stayed there for the whole game.” He said that Bluefield Daily Telegraph founding Editor/Publisher, Hugh Ike Shott and a friend attended the game, but didn’t stay. “Mr. Shott went back to the hotel room and used every blanket he could find to warm up.” He said the gentleman who Shott was traveling with didn’t have the same problem. “He had enough anti-freeze in him that it didn’t matter,” Stafford said.

In Ohio, snow fall totals ranged from 10 to 33 inches, with the higher totals in eastern Ohio. The worst conditions came on Saturday with the temperature dropping to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds reaching 40 miles per hour. Some snow drifts in eastern Ohio measured as much as 25 feet.

“They lined the field with coal dust instead of lime so the players could see the markers,” Stafford said. “They called it ‘The Blizzard Bowl’ and Michigan won 9 to 6.” The Wolverines beat the Buckeyes with just 27 total yards gained and not registering even one first down. “They said that Janowicz just couldn’t kick enough field goals to win,” Stafford said. Vic Janowicz was Ohio State’s all-purpose quarterback who excelled in passing, rushing, punting and place kicking and was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 1950.

“On the ride back to Bluefield, the snow was up to the windows on the railroad cars,” Stafford said. The train the Staffords were traveling on was re-routed to Russell, Ky. and took the C&O Railway back to connect with the N&W Clinch Valley line. “We came back to Bluefield on the No. 16 main line, late on Sunday night. It took us 24 hours to get home.”

Stafford recalled that the winter snows kept coming that year. “We didn’t see the ground again until sometime in April,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com