Saturday, November 27, 2010

Trains, Blizzards, and Photographs

When the United States Weather Service predicts a blizzard they are calling for a storm that will have winds reaching more then 35 miles an hour and visibility of 500 feet or less.  If they call for a severe blizzard, that storm will have winds exceeding 45 miles an hour with temperatures dropping to 10 degrees F or lower.  With this kind of storm trains are unable to move, powerlines and telephones lines snap.  Welcome to Minnesota.
            Frank Scobie, as many may remember was one of Sleepy Eye’s most prominent photographers of the day and had taken quite a few photos of the Sleepy Eye’s 1909 blizzard. The storm reeked so much havoc, that the major Railroad in the area, the Chicago North Western, needed help moving the huge drifts of snow that had accumulated on the tracks.  Fortunately, the Railroad’s answer to combating heavy snowfall was nearby.  The “Roger Ballast bucking snow-plow” was enlisted for duty.  This plow was weighted by a load of stone to give it force.  Back in the early 1900s, Minnesota winters received a lot more snow than today.  In fact, in 1909 this blizzard was so bad the railroad had to call in for an extra implement.  It was the “Rotary Plow,” this chewed up the really heavy drifts the blizzard created. The Rotary Plow was not self-propelled, so one or more locomotives were connected behind to push the Rotary along the line. An engine within the Rotary rotated this large circular assembly at the front of the Plow. The blades on this wheel would cut through the snow and forced it through a channel just behind the disk to an output chute located at the top of the blade structure.  This massive machine is an expensive machine to operate but one worth having for blizzards such as the 1909 blizzard that Sleepy Eye endured.
            The blizzard of 1909 created a lot of excitement for many and apprehension for others.  During this famous storm, Scobie was keeping himself busy redeveloping his pictures he had taken of the two large machines and of the CNW railroad workers shoveling the tons of snow off the railroad tracks.  Much like how we use email to communicate today, people in 1909 had their own unique form of communicate.  Back then, 5 cent Postcards were the rage.  It seemed like everyone wanted a 5 cent postcard.  Local folks wanted cards for themselves plus another to send off to show what we had going on here in Sleepy Eye.  Those who had been stranded also wanted postcards to take home along with mailing them off.  In fact, more than 677 million postcards were mailed off in 1908; though it wasn’t till 1908 that people were permitted to write on the address side of a postcard.
            Since the trains were blocked many passengers were forced to stay at hotels in Sleepy Eye, which at the time there were many different hotels to choose from.  During the late 1800s the Historical Society’s record reveal they were; The Exchange Hotel, The Lake House, Minnesota House, Leona Hotel which in 1946 became the DelRoy which is now the Railway Bar & Grill owned by Dan Helget, then we have the Commercial Hotel which in 1898 becomes the Smalley Hotel, we also have the Windsor Hotel, another one would be the Loreno House and the Berg Hotel.  The Historical Society’s records don’t reveal to us when these hotels were no longer operating.  As you can tell Sleepy Eye at its prime was not short on sleeping quarters.  At the time, the Chicago Northwestern Railroad owners would pay for the lodging of those who were stranded as well as paying for their meals while staying in Sleepy Eye until the line was cleared and opened.

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