Blizzard memories: This is how some weathered 1978’s ‘Storm of the Century’

By Erin Miller and Russ Kent, Galion Inquirer

GALION — On this day 40 years ago, Galion-area residents, thousands of Ohioans and much of the midwest were still dealing with the remnants of the Blizzard of 1978, called by many “The Storm of the Century.”

And the cleanup and repairs would last weeks longer.

The magazine “Ohio Cooperative Living,” the official publication of Consolidated Electric Cooperative, shared an article about the storm.”

“Thousands of electric customers lost power. … Most of the outages were from ‘wires being blown together and then short-circuiting.’ Falling poles, downed lines and fallen trees added to the problem. … Rural electric crews ‘fought the cold and winds through the night to restore electricity,’ said L.D. Ziegler, manager of Delaware’s Rural Electric Cooperative, which is now Consolidated Electric Cooperative). “But everywhere we go, we have to have a grader in front of us.”

According to the article, 22 people in Ohio died after they walked away from their immobilized vehicles.

The Inquirer asked readers to share some of their memories from the storm.

Long-time resident Howard Morrow, who will be 88 in March, stopped by the office to talk about the blizzard.

He was living off Ohio 97, across from the Clear Fork Reservoir, when the storm hit. He got up early. He wanted to get to the Rolling R Ranch near Galion to get the cattle fed.

“I was on call at the time,” he said.

It was pouring rain and there was lightning where he lived. But as he drove toward Galion on Ohio 97, the rain changed to snow. He said Ohio 314 marked the changeover. On one side there was heavy rain. On the other snow and near white-out conditions.

“By the time I got to 97 and 288 I couldn’t see the road anymore,” Morrow said.

He wasn’t driving a car or truck, which was a blessing, as far as fighting through the snow and wind. Unfortunately, the open-seat rubber-tire loader he was operating offered little protection from the elements.

But he said he was prepared with multiple layers of clothing and coats and hats and gloves.

He made it to Galion, but didn’t get back to his home for five days. In the meantime, he says he spent days using his (open-seat) loader to clear streets, pull vehicles clear of drifts, clear driveways and feed cattle the Rolling R.

“There were — I think — 1,200 cattle there,” he said. “If they weren’t fed they were going to die. I just knew I had to be there.”

At the ranch, workers had prepared for the storm. One of their vehicles had been backed into a big barn ready to head out as soon as it was needed to clear roads and paths. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing so hard, the snow had piled up against the barn and they couldn’t get the door opened. When they did get to the vehicle, the engine was completely covered with snow.

“I pushed the snow away from the door, and we finally got that thing started,” Morrow said.

He remembers the temperature dropping to about zero and the wind pushing his rubber-tire loader down the road.

While feeding cattle, he came across a newborn, it had just dropped. He picked the calf up, put her in the loader and eventually ended up taking the calf — he named her Stormy — home, where she was bottle fed by Howard and his wife for three months, until healthy enough to be on her own.”

Morrow had lots of storm memories, but the scariest is that he said there was a storm in the 1940s that was even worse.

Here are some other storm stories gathered through our Facebook page and email.

From the Ohio National Guard: “In the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 1978, a severe blizzard struck Ohio, bringing 12-14 inches of snow with 50-70 mph winds and a wind chill of minus 70 degrees. In response, more than 5,000 Ohio National Guard soldiers and airmen were called to state active duty over an 11-day period in response to Gov. James A. Rhodes’ call for assistance to all of Ohio’s 88 counties. The Ohio National Guard pressed into service 800 of its vehicles and 45 helicopters to evacuate stranded motorists, deliver supplies and remove snow. In addition, armories were opened to house and shelter those stranded or had no heat. The ‘Blizzard of ‘78’ was the most severe snowstorm in Ohio history, amounting to almost $210 million in damage.”

From Babs Jones Cashetta: I remember my mom was in Florida so it was just my dad and I at home. My sister Melinda was in school at BGSU. I didn’t have school so I was laying on the floor watching TV. The heat had apparently gone out in our house. My dad insisted on still going up to his law office to work. He couldn’t drive because there was too much snow so he decided to walk. He bundled up and off he went. He came back about half hour later with little icicles on his lashes and eyebrows saying, “Well maybe I dont have to go up today — there isn’t a soul outside.” Geez dad. Do you think? The dedication that man had.

I also Remember once the wind died down and the snow plows did their job, I went out in a car with Mark Cleland, Bill Keesey and Jill Campbell to find places to ice skate. Usually it was just on a street or at a random pond.

From Babs’ sister, Melinda Nicholls: Yes, she was snowed in at her dorm at Bowling Green State University with a lot of other students. But, as she related, she did get some company. Jeff Zeisler And Mike Nicholls — who is now Melinda’s husband — hitch-hiked from Miami, Ohio University to Bowling Green that weekend. They had very little cash, no debit or credit cards, no cell phones, etc. I guess they stayed all night in a truck stop? My how times have changed! They made it to Bowling Green and got a ride back to Miami on Sunday or Monday. All for my birthday!

From Thomas Palmer: I was a sophomore at Bowling Green State University. That year I was living on the “International Students” wing at BGSU, which was on the second floor of Conklin Hall. The day before was relatively warm (30 to 40 degrees), and we had no idea that a blizzard — much less THAT blizzard — was on its way. I remember that we slept with our windows open that night. When we woke the next morning, there were several inches of snow on the floor of our dorm room.

The entire city of Bowling Green ground to a halt. The snow blocked the first floor entrances of Conklin, so tunnels were fashioned or we jumped out of second floor windows to exit. Pipes froze, so three floors of undergraduate boys went without showers for days and also had to make do without flush toilets. Power was out for two to three days. Cars were prohibited on city streets, so students made their way a day or two later to the local grocery store, standing in long lines. Frozen and refrigerated food was obviously unavailable. I remember clerks at the cash registers — near the front of the store where there was some light — adding with calculators and writing down what was sold.

From J. Michael Skelton: Most people have heard stories of the blizzard of 1978 and it was indeed horrendous. The winter of 1977 was a rough one, too. I was in my first year of teaching and coaching in 1976-77 at Northmor High and living in a mobile home on the east side of Galion. My car was parked in an alley that wasn’t exactly a city priority for snow removal. By the winter of 1978, I had moved to a different location largely to avoid those alley issues when the blizzard hit. We were stuck in our building for three days with no chance of getting out, let alone holding a practice for our wrestling team. Those first few winters were rough for a young coach trying to build a program. Mother Nature was the head coach. We survived and I went on to a 40-year career at Northmor High, a great school district just south of Galion.

From Cheryl Hauenstein White: We lived out of town and were snowed in for several days. I ran out of disposable diapers for my daughter. By the time we got plowed out, she was potty-trained. Not the way I planned for it to happen, but it was great in the long run!

From Lora Teggert: I was 8. We lived on a dead end street in Ontario with 11 houses total. I remember my dad and several of the neighbors all out with their tractors, plows, shovels or anything they had working the entire day cleaning everyone on the street out. Working together, helping a neighbor out, coming together. It’s something our society has forgotten too often how to do. It’s a great memory, actually.

From Kathy Southard: I was working in Crestline at the grocery store. Volunteers came to get me to take me to work and took my boys to a babysitter. Orders at the store were taken over the phone and we all gathered the goods. They were then rung out through the register. The register tape was taken — along with the groceries — to all the people of Crestline by volunteers on snowmobiles. The customer signed the receipt and it was returned by the volunteers. After the weather finally cleared and the roads were open, all the people returned to the store to pay for their delivered groceries. ALL of them! The store never lost a dime! It was a great community effort, and now that I look back at it, it was kind of fun working. Small town efforts and caring for all.

From Heather Montgomery Eby: My parents communicated via CB radio. I was only 4, but remember we ran low on wood to burn and someone from the National Guard (named Holt, I believe) came out to get the four of us and took us in to a family friend’s home in town where we stayed for a day or so. I thought that was great! My brother also dug tunnels upon our return home. We have a photo of him out in it.

From Christina Roderick: I remember — after it was over — driving on SR 98 outside of Bucyrus. The snow was plowed higher than the vehicles. My dad and friends were out on snowmobile for hours on end as the weather broke seeing what they could do to help others. We had a drift in the front yard — pretty much right by the front door — almost as high as the house, and my dad cut out a fort for me to play in which I thought was the coolest thing ever. If my memory is correct the storm lasted three days.

From Linda Mackey Vance: My dad was a Galion police officer. I remember during the blizzard of ‘78 that he was taken to and from work on the back of a snowmobile. As a 10-year-old then, that was the coolest!!!

From Katy Erlsten: I was 5 and we had no power. I remember my mom bundling me up in my snowsuit, tying me to a sled and the neighbor boy pulled me down the road to his house with a fireplace. I was so worried about my mom, but she came later with food from the refrigerator. That’s all my young mind remembers from that long ago!

From Jackie Kempf: I remember playing penny poker at Huffman’s in our long johns after sledding. I think Jerry (Voss) and Cindy (Kent) were there, but not sure. I think we walked to Bartz and or Hottenroth’s. Seems like we had no problem socializing and having fun. Poker and sledding definitely happened.

From Donna Kelley: I remember going to get our outside dog — his dog house was plenty warm due to the snow surrounding it —but I wanted to bring him up to stay in the garage so he had water that was not frozen and was safer. He walked on top of the snow while I kept sinking. He would stop and look at me like ‘what is taking so long?’ I remember not having to go to school, but I had to go to work at the bank. My car got stuck in the alley they sent me down. It took four bankers to push my car out of the alley. I also remember driving to a game in Lexington after the storm with snow piled up high on both sides of the car and praying that no one was coming from the other direction.

And this may be my favorite memory

From Cheryl White: I remember that Anita Baker and I went to a KISS concert at the Cleveland Coliseum. It started snowing around 2 or 3 a.m. and mom said if you girls are going. You better leave now cause “when ‘Don’ (my step dad) comes home he’s not going to let you go.” Mom gave us a $100 bill and told us to get a motel if it got bad. It got bad fast. When we got to the Coliseum, people were helping push cars up the exit ramp. After the concert, the whole parking lot looked empty. It had snowed so much you couldn’t see any cars. We kept going out looking for our car and would go back in to get warm. We spent the night in the Cavaliers’ dressing room. But we finally found our car. We followed a semi going about 20 mph all the way home. And then I got stuck turning in my driveway. My mom was calling the police and everything because back then we had no cell phone.