MY WORD: ‘Greatest snow of the age’

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By Duanne B. Puckett

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:

  • 1978:Nineteen days that month were at least 10 degrees below normal. After several small snows during the first half of the month, a huge storm swept in on the 16th and 17th. This area recorded an amazing 15.7 inches of snow. NOTE: My father imposed on Carl Casey with the water company to pick both of us for work in his truck. Carl hauled me while Dad carted my wheelchair up the front steps of The Sentinel-News, located then where Needle Nest is today. No sooner had he and Dad left that Publisher Jim Edelen called to say there was a governor’s issue of “state of emergency” and that he wasn’t going to open the office! I remained and captured news tips from my window view and various telephone calls.
  • 1994:A band of particularly heavy snow set up from Shelbyville through Cynthiana where nearly two feet fell. Not only did Louisville record an all-time low of -22 degrees, but Shelbyville set a record low temperature for the entire state of Kentucky, with a reading of -37. NOTE: There was no way I could get to work that year, so I worked at home, calling emergency workers, general stores and farmers, such as the late Louis Payne, about how the snow and temperatures were impacting lifestyles. I phoned in my stories to Sharon Warner, who composed a few pages of newspaper along with Jim and Pat Edelen and Judy James.
  • 2009:Ice storm coated everything, more than an inch thick. The storm caused Kentucky's largest power outage on record, with 609,000 homes and businesses without power across the state. Area school systems were closed for an entire week. NOTE: I drank plenty of hot tea and hot chocolate as I stayed at home, admiring the Dr. Zhivago appearance of my neighborhood and, I am sorry to admit, not worrying about my public relations role with the schools because there wasn’t much PR to share.

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.