This article appeared in the January/February 199 J issue of On The Tractor Seat, official publication of Branch 30 EDGE&TA, and was submitted by Carl Berman, Editor.
Snow has long brought major changes to rural life. Many farm activities were curtailed by the layer of white; the schedule of the year was frantically nearing completion when the first snows of winter would fall. If there were enough snow and wind, the roads would drift shut and travel would be impossible.
The date of the first snowfall would invite endless hours of speculation at the tavern. Would it be a late winter or early, heavy snowfall or light? Each patron had a favorite sign: the hair on wooly caterpillars, the length of fur on horses, Aunt Winnie's trick knee. They would discuss the weather by the hour, and when it did snow, each would point out how close he had been.
After the first snowfall the topic would change. Each snowfall, no matter how much hit the ground, would be compared to the winter of ?? There was never as much or as little snowfall as whatever winter each had remembered the most. The last snowfall of the year was given as much speculation as the first. Talk about how late and how much would fill the hours, while snow fell outside.
If it was an early snow, the ground may not have had a chance to freeze. A tractor would get stuck very easily in this mixture of mud and snow. If the ground then stayed snow-covered all winter, it could mean that there would be a shallow freeze and that some bug larvae would not be killed. A late snow or no snow at all could cause the ground to freeze deep. This could break water pipes and kill trees. If a snowfall came early while the corn was being harvested, the corn would be wet and mold in the crib.
Kids would wait eagerly for the first snowfall of the year and be surprised by the last late spring dusting. Snow meant we could play fox and geese or build snow forts and have snowball fights. Packed snow made a great sled run and a scoop shovel tied behind the pickup with a long rope was more fun than you could stand. A heavy snow closed schools and give us a whole day to play in the snow.
Tractors, especially diesels, became difficult to start. We would drain the water and oil and bring them into the house to sit near the stove. The warm water and oil would be poured into the tractor which would then be easier to start. Each fall, we would put a Heat-Houser on one or two tractors. This was a canvas screen that mounted on the sides of the tractor and a plastic windshield in front of the driver. The canvas directed a little bit of engine heat and kept the wind down. Being canvas and plastic, the Heat-Houser lasted only a year or two before it ripped out, but it was better than nothing.
It always seemed that the nastiest snowfall of the year would coincide with someone's getting sick. One year we had to take my brother to the doctor during the worst snowfall of the year. The phone lines were down, but we thought the main road would be plowed. We left the house in the truck, thinking that it would be able to push through the drifts. This was not to be the case. The roads were covered by 6 ft. drifts and were impassable.
We went back to the farm and started the Minneapolis Moline U. The tractor was hooked to the pickup by a log chain and away we went. The back way out of the farm ran along a ridge and would be blown clear of snow. The only problems were a creek and a few small drifts. The tractor was left alongside the main road.
That night, we stayed at my grandmother's house and returned home the next morning.