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In 1971, Ben Allen Thomas Sr. brought his father’s diary to me at The Shelby News’ office, which at the time was located where Sixth and Main Coffeehouse is today. The fragile and well-worn ledger was becoming illegible, and “Mr. Ben Allen” (as I fondly called him) wanted me to type the pages so he could read them easier.
I was fascinated. I was intrigued with the daily accounts of livestock and crops. I was amazed such a document still existed, because pages dated back to 1863.
Because it was a private journal, I didn’t dare make a copy of all the pages. I did, however, receive permission to keep one sheet dated January 16 to mark my first day as a journalist in 1971 and to mark the day my niece Dawn was born in 1969.
The original Ben Allen Thomas wrote about “The Greatest Snow of the Age” – while managing the Chenoweth Farm on Cropper Road, where subsequent generations continue to live:
“Wednesday the 14th was a dull rainy day.
“About 5 a.m., it commenced raining, not hard, but a gentle and constant rain and continued almost without intermission until 9 p.m. Then the wind changed, and it began to snow.
“Thursday morning – snow 10 inches deep and still snowing. The large and beautiful flakes fell thick and fast. It was what might be termed a dry snow. Toward evening it abated somewhat, but it snowed on during the most of the night, though not so fast.
“Friday morning, the clouds were flying; now and then obscuring the sun; the wind from the S.W. The air was filled with frost; how everything looked gloomy. The cedars and pine were bending beneath the heavy load of snow. The hogs and sheep, having tried in vain to seek shelter, were standing together in flocks in order to have a foundation resembling “terra firma” which they obtained by moving only in a circle of sufficient size to contain them. Of course, it was necessary to ‘break a track’ with horses in order to move them. The snow being 20 inches in the clear and, of course, much deeper in the drifts.
“Had the earth been dry and frozen, the snow would have been much deeper as none of it would have melted. The aged and hoary-headed fathers of three score winters pronounce this The Greatest Snow of the Age.”
Since snowfall closed school Jan. 17 and thereafter, I was reminded of this document among my keepsakes. I was also reminded of other January storms:
I am sorry I didn’t ask permission “Mr. Ben Allen” all those years ago to copy his father’s entire diary. What a treasure that would be, especially because none of the family members today have any knowledge of the actual diary or the pages I typed. I am glad I kept the one sheet dated Jan. 16, 1863, and I am glad to still have the beautiful cloisonnéladybug charm that “Mr. Ben Allen,” as “payment,” had shipped to me from a jewelry store in New York City.
Duanne B. Puckett is a retired journalist who lives in Shelbyville.