County residents hemmed in by deep snows in 1929

By the late 1920s, a big winter storm could often shut the city down for a few days but with the help of a V-plow attached to a few trucks and more people per square mile clearing snow, commuters would eventually be “dug” out.

A snowy view looking down Maple Street near the corner of River Street circa 1920s.

However, when it came to county residents, a sizable winter storm could block traffic from going in and out of the villages for days if not weeks, no doubt leaving some to question if the advancement of motor vehicles was such a smart thing.

During a late winter storm in March of 1929, snowed-in residents living in several local villages banded together to shovel a path through the depths of snow in order for modern vehicles to pass through and onto the main thoroughfares.

Like many winter’s of the past, by the end of February of 1929, Manistee County residents had seen their fair share of snow. On February 22, of that year, O.F. Nelson who was living east of Eastlake, reported to the Manistee News Advocate that, “The snow is five feet on the level and there are drifts eight feet high. We can’t get out to the main road because the snow is up to the armpits. All we can do is stay home and get along as best as we can. There is no mail and we can’t even get a doctor when we are sick.”

With most regular automobiles at that time ill-equipped to handle the inches upon inches of snow, those who had to travel to other parts of the county and beyond were, like Mr. Nelson said, legitimately snowed-in. This state of affairs left residents living in Stronach deciding to plow their own path out. An article published in the News Advocate on March 2, 1929 provides details:

“Stronach has been snowbound for some time but yesterday civic spirit rebelled, and today one can drive to and from the community at the head of Manistee Lake in his car at will.

“‘Elbow Grease’, when properly directed by a gang of enthusiastic men, can accomplish much. George Heur and Charles Wissner assembled 15 shovelers yesterday and then called on the Campeco Oil Company to send out one of its trucks with gasoline and kerosene. The company complied.

“The shovelers met the truck at Filer City and formed an armed escort through the drifts at either side of the flats at the head of the lake. Drifts five feet deep were encountered, but the truck eventually passed through and now there is a beaten track all the way to Stronach.”

“It isn’t a nice boulevard, to be sure, but it is passable and Stronach is proud of its effort.”

Likewise, the roads connecting Kaleva to other parts of the county were also blocked by snow so with the same “can do” spirit of Stronach residents, citizens in Kaleva began to dig out…however they were not very successful on their first attempt. An article written by Harriet Coates for the March 5, 1929 News Advocate explains:

“Kaleva citizens, anxious as always to put friendly shoulders to the wheel in the interest of their village, gathered to the number of 30 or more men and boys Saturday morning to attempt shoveling out the county road from Kaleva to the place where the new snow plow broke down after the last big storm. Plank Hill beyond Tanner was the objection.

“Some autoists have been able to drive from the pavement that far, left cars parked at the corners, and the enterprising then have walked the remaining miles to Kaleva.”

One of the primary reasons why many in the county wanted to be “dug” out was that a basketball tournament was taking place at Manistee High School on Friday (March 8) and with the tournament including teams from Bear Lake, Onekama, Norman Dickson, Brethren, Copemish, Mesick, Freesoil, and Buckley, it was considered big deal and big social event for many.

The article by Harriet Coates continues:

“But citizens of the village have missed greatly the open road and the many trips they were in the habit of making to Manistee and other places. Serious thinking might happen in the village before help could get in from outside. A basketball tournament loomed ahead with Kaleva’s enthusiastic fans facing a stay-at-home instead of going to it in car loads as last year. So with the spirit of Kaleva that when it wants a thing it tries to go after it, shovelers gathered and went to work.

“Victor Bosso and George Venne each worked with a disc breaking up the packed snow and men and boys made heroic efforts to clear out a road. But the ranks gradually thinned as the less seasoned ones gave out and when the last ceased their efforts they were within sight of White Woods.

“Even if the task proves too great for success, at least Kaleva with its usual spirit tried to do its bit.

In that same March 5 issue of the News Advocate, the newspaper provided a lengthy article about the poor road conditions throughout the county and the difficulty that other rural areas had in opening up their roads to automobiles. Portions of that original article follow:

“The principal villages of Manistee County, some of which have been isolated as far as automobile traffic is concerned for several weeks, will be liberated some time this week, if plans of the county road commission are successful.

“M-22 was opened as far north as Werle’s Corners last night, with a big V-plow pushed by two trucks. Today, the plow will probably reach Arcadia.

“It is the intention of Isaac Joupi, county superintendent of roads, to put the plows on the Eastlake and River roads just as soon as the equipment can be brought back to Manistee.

“Tomorrow, the plows will probably attempt to open the Copemish highway by way of the Big Four School northeast of Bear Lake which seems to be the least drifted route, so it is possible that people from that village may come to Manistee by automobile for the basketball tournament which starts Thursday afternoon.

“The snow has settled as much as 18 inches in places, but there is still lots of it,” Jouppi said today. “It is rotting underneath and we find that it can be pushed back for single track with occasional turnouts.” Once we get the roads opened that much we can go over them later and widen them. This warm weather is a life saver for the county road department and if it should continue our highways will all be in good condition in a short time.”

One day later it was reported that over 50 people had turned out to attempt to make a path through the snow to open up the road to Kaleva. It was reported by the News Advocate that they, ”…labored until it was dark. Backs seemed breaking and the courage of some was lagging. But still they kept on. Tuesday, the Kaleva Produce Company’s big truck was used to break away before the shovelers. Finally, Plank Hill was reached. Their task was done. Kaleva had again come through.”

With the work of shoveling paths through the snow in and out of the county’s villages finally accomplished, all was right for traffic to get through and for fans to cheer on their home basketball team in Manistee. However on March 7, the area was hit by 60-mile gale force winds with power being cut off in the city. Needless to say, fans had to wait one more day for that basketball tournament.



Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531

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