Column: Compared to past snows, we might not have it bad
WORTHINGTON — There is a familiar photo of downtown Worthington from February 1909. That’s 98 years ago.
The camera is focused on the east side of the block of 10th Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue. A long, long row of men is shown standing on the sidewalk, at the curb.
The reason for the picture — the reason that long row of men is posing for the camera — they have just finished shoveling snow from the sidewalks in front of the main street stores. Newly shoveled snow is piled up behind the men — oh, 12-feet high. At least. Probably higher.
Worthington, like most communities of our region, went nearly to the eve of World War II before it found mechanical ways to clear snow from its business district. Even in the late 1930s, after a plow opened a path, it was necessary to hire men to shovel snow onto dump trucks and to remove the snow piled on the sidewalks.
On this snowy week in March — if those men were here still — they might recite, in unison, “You people don’t have it bad.”
There is one thing that people hit upon a century ago which might be useful still in a winter when snow will not quit. People (not most people) went about in snow boats. Snow boats were very like ice boats. They had runners and sails. They were mostly one-man crafts. There is an account of a young man who sailed over the drifts from Fulda to Worthington averaging 35 to 40 miles an hour.
In January 1913, the Nobles County Times reported something new on the winter scene. A motor sled.
The newspaper reprinted an account from Winnebago:
“There is something new under the sun — that is, at least, as far as Winnebago is concerned. David Nordloff, tinner for Andrews & Stevens, is the man who is causing the local citizens to open their eyes and gasp, ‘What next?’
“Norloff has invented a sleigh on which he makes 20 to 25 miles an hour. He has taken his motorcycle, removed the front wheel and fixed the cycle on runners. The weight of the rear wheel, which rests on the snow, gives the proper leverage …
“Mr. Nordloff has rigged a brake on the motor sled and has it under control at all times. It certainly is an ingenious contrivance …”
Men still were experimenting with ways to move through and over drifting snow in February 1936. The Times had a story to tell about Arnold Schulz. Schulz lived several miles north of Worthington. He was known widely for raising dogs. In the winter of 1936, Schulz was focused on transportation. This was Worthington’s introduction to the word “snowmobile:”
“Arnold Schulz hopped the drifts into town from out in Elk Township yesterday, to get his mail, operating his new snowmobile, which he describes as, ‘The real tobacco chew.’
“The vehicle is strictly up-to-date with knee action and floating power. It is a miser on gas mileage, practically steers itself and flat tires are unknown. It is fully equipped with a heater and a full sedan body.
“Arnold admits it is a little slow, with a cruising speed of about four or five miles per hour, but it offsets this disadvantage by the fact that it can get into town without getting stuck, which is more than some of these 80-mile-an-hour beauties can do…
“Seriously, the novel outfit is a strictly homemade affair consisting of a sturdy bobsled powered by a farm team. Horses. The novelty is that the sled is equipped with an old sedan body purchased from the junk heap of a local garage. Schulz has removed the lid of a cowl ventilator and drives the team by drawing the lines through that opening. Heat is furnished by a coal oil heater in the rear compartment.”
Many area residents will remember 1936 as a winter in which travel became nearly impossible. When Arnold Schulz arrived home once again with his team and his snowmobile, he probably could walk to the roof of his barn on a snowdrift. He no doubt had to shovel through another drift to open a barn door and lead his horses to their stalls.
It was one of those winters.
This may be another one.