1978 blizzard left Richmond area paralyzed

1/27/2013 10:45 AM
By Associated Press

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) — Thirty-five years ago, on the morning of Jan. 26, 1978, the Richmond region woke up to a world of white and immense snowdrifts.

Wind gusts of up to 50 mph the night before left visibility at zero and blew in what forever will be remembered as the Blizzard of '78.

The main headline on the front page of the Palladium-Item Jan. 26, 1978, read: "Blizzard brawls, Richmond crawls."

Drifts blocked the doors and windows of homes. Schools were closed for days. Snowdrifts made it difficult to correct power outages in the area.

Indiana and Ohio, from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River, were paralyzed.

Charley Jones, known for many years as the caterer Pork Chop Charley, was stuck in a hotel room in the Castleton area of Indianapolis with three other Williamsburg men after the blizzard struck. He had joined Williamsburg grain elevator operator Bill Crull, Crull's son Tim Crull, and Don Dillman on Jan. 25 for a quick trip to Terre Haute to pick up Bill Crull's new grain truck.

When they got to Terre Haute that day, the people they met with couldn't believe they had come because the blizzard was forecast and no one was supposed to be on the roads.

Jones said they made it back to the northeast side of Indianapolis, where Crull filled the new truck with sacks of grain, before they realized the feed truck and the Scout they had driven weren't going anywhere.

"We were stuck for four days," Jones said.

The families of the four men were struggling with the snow at Williamsburg. Jones' wife, Phyllis, and his two sons were trying to manage their hog farm. The power was out and they were trying to disperse grain to the animals by hand.

"The hogs were walking over the pens, getting in with each other," said Jones, who now lives in New Paris, Ohio. "I wasn't at home to do my share of the work, either."

Eventually, it took a bulldozer to move the snow out of the lane so Jones could get in when he returned home.

It wasn't that the blizzard itself brought that much snow. During the big blow, just 6.3 inches of snow fell.

The wind had a lot of snow already on the ground to work with. The layer started Jan. 12, when 1.7 inches of snow fell. Added to it were .7 inches Jan. 13, .7 inches Jan. 14, 2.7 inches Jan 16 and 9.1 inches Jan. 17 and 18.

The snow kept piling up as Jan. 20 brought 2.1 inches. Light rain fell Jan. 24, but changed to heavy snow by Jan. 25.

In the aftermath of the blizzard, the Richmond National Guard Unit had to use its full-track equipment to dig out the Wayne County Sheriff's Department's three 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Snowmobile riders rescued motorists stranded on Interstate 70.

Former Fountain City resident Angela Brown Campbell, now of Carthage, N.C., remembers her father, Ovid Brown, worked for the Wayne County highway department that winter.

"(He) would 'try' to plow the roads open only for them to blow shut soon after he went through," Campbell recalled. "The best part of that was we had a huge mound of snow that he would plow down our drive. It was taller than the peak of the garage. It was a lot of fun just listening to WKBV (radio) to make sure there was no school the next day."

Jennifer Jackson Capps, who grew up on the Wayne County side of Randolph County Line Road, remembers snow piled high around their rural home. Capps, who now lives in Indianapolis, treasures a photograph she has of her sister, Krista Jackson Hayes, perched atop the piled snow while her grandmother, Betty Benner, shoveled the driveway.

"I remember the neighbor coming down on his horse and taking us on sled rides (pulled behind the horse)," Capps said.

Susan Mitchell Ramey was 15 when the blizzard struck her hometown of Clayton, Ohio.

"I remember being bored out of my mind, deciding to 'suit up' and walk to a friend's house," the former Richmond and Centerville, Ind., resident said.

"I had one of those parkas with the really fake fur trim on the hood. Kind of like the military style that the fabric was waterproof, almost like plastic, so in the cold it got really stiff. I was all bundled up in layers and that stiff coat, so I was like Frankenstein trudging down the road," she said.

"My house was on Delay Court which was parallel to I-70, two streets over. I would say my friend lived about a mile away," the current Columbus, Ohio, resident said. "I will never forget the quiet. We were so accustomed to the constant drone of the highway but it was silent except for me huffing and puffing in the snow and cold.

"I stopped on the overpass and just looked down amazed that there wasn't one car on the highway and I thought, 'This is what it would be like if the world ended and I was the only one left.' It was pretty creepy."

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