Historic winter storm

The historic storm of 1945 was not the only big ice storm Gainesville suffered.  A 1949 storm was captured by the late Bob Davis, shortly after he moved to Gainesville with his family. This photo was taken on California Street.

The season’s most powerful cold front to date blasted bone-chilling air into Cooke County, starting earlier this week, dropping temperatures 44 degrees in just hours.

Frigid air behind the cold front brought temperatures down to the 30s and 40s during the day and into the 20s at night. While conditions may improve a bit today, Arctic Blast No. 2 will come Sunday. That front could produce a mix of light rain and snow on Sunday.

The cold snap arrived Monday, courtesy of El Niño, a weather pattern that allowed cold air from Canada and the Arctic to move south.

While the frigid temperatures are unusual for mid-November, they are not unheard-of.

The cold front has caused a spike in work for heating-system companies. Jack Carter with Gainesville Heating and Air Conditioning said he has experienced an increase in calls to check heaters.

Lawrence Sieger’s Plumbing office said the freezing conditions almost always lead to more calls when it warms up. When the pipes thaw out, leaks can occur. 

Almost 70 years ago, Gainesville experienced the greatest ice storm in the history of Cooke County. A story about the ice storm is retold from the Morton Museum archives.

The late Gainesville Mayor Buster Latham recalled the Feb. 27, 1945 ice storm for a 1984 magazine publication located at the museum.

“I remember it hit in the early hours of the morning; it came so quickly,” Buster stated. 

The army camp north of town, Camp Howze, was running at full capacity at the time, and Buster compared the noise of the ice crackling before dawn to that of the big Howitzer guns that were regularly heard throughout the area during drills at the camp.

“We didn’t know what it was at first; the fine mist started falling around midnight and built up so fast on the power lines and the trees,” Buster stated.

The townspeople were not given a warning about the unexpected incoming storm.

Rainfall in the amount of 1.51 inches fell between noon on Feb. 26, 1945 and noon Feb. 27. Temperatures ranged between 28 and 30 degrees, rain froze immediately.

Damage may not have been so bad if Gainesville hadn’t been known as the “City of 100,000 trees.” There was not a tree in the entire city that did not suffer damage.

“The city was so disrupted we didn’t know what to do at first,” Buster said.

Among those on the Gainesville City Council were Buster, Bill Lewie and Clyde Bohls and other council members and city manager James A. Gilruth, had a difficult job of organization.

Considering the post war economy of the time, some estimated the damage in the thousands of dollars while some even said it was in the millions. 

Electricity went out at 4:10 a.m. The Texas Power and Light Company tried to supply the hospital and the Gainesville Food Locker with power first. 

Gainesville had water, because the water works was operated from diesel engines. Muenster, however, wasn’t as lucky. Muenster residents were without water service for days. It was not until March 2 that TP&L was able to move a portable plant into Muenster to pump enough water to supply the town.

Ironically, Mayor Buster Latham’s Helpy-Selfy Grocery Store had power the entire time because he was located in an area where the only undamaged power line was still connected. 

Gainesville was stripped of almost every service. More than 500 telephones were out  and crews from as far as St. Louis arrived to help with the repair work.

Southwestern Bell district manager Ira W. Davis told about a short wave radio set up between Sherman and Gainesville so that connections could be made with the Dallas toll lines.

Gainesville had a city bus service that was totally shut down. Trains were running late and schools across the county were closed.

“I declared a state of emergency; we had transportation rolling and the streets cleared within four or five days, but it was weeks before the other debris was cleared away,” Buster stated.

Under the state of emergency, city manager James Gilruth was given the power to employ all possible personnel in clearing the streets, including prisoners of war  from Camp Howze. The most recent prisoners were from Hitler’s Africa Corps.

The prisoners were used to cut limbs, move logs and help get the city operating again. Only one or two tried to make a break for it.

The rural areas were hit hardest. “We depended a lot more on the rural people back then than we do now; people who had livestock really suffered,” Buster stated. 

Milk and bread deliveries were late or weren’t made at all due to the road conditions.

Without electricity the Gainesville Daily Register was not able to operate the press, which was very different at the time. The late Morton Smith was publisher and determined to have an edition of the paper in spite of the storm. The Register had published everyday without missing a publication date since1890.

Smith had an idea to print on a mimeograph machine Then he called the route boys early so they could hand-deliver the paper.

The result was a two-page mimeograph copy of the paper, which is still filed on microfilm today.

The Register was able to print a very small edition the next day as TP&L agreed to provide the paper with power just long enough to run the press and then turn it off again. A lot of the work was done by hand.

The paper received more power until it was finally at full strength. 

Many soldiers’ families had moved to Gainesville. Sometimes there were three or four families living in one house. The ice storm made the crowding harder to tolerate, but everyone came out of it with few problems.

Some took advantage of the ice storm to have fun.

Leonard Park was a fairyland; children had a field day, climbing trees and skating on the ice.

People scoured the town seeking kerosene lamps and candles. Kerosene was ten cents a gallon at the time.

There was a spirit of wanting to help one’s fellow man. Eventually the city was restored to order.

Citizens were encouraged to replant trees as a symbol of a new beginning and Buster said he never wanted to experience another storm like the ice storm of 1945.

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