Weather- or not
As the temperature cooled to a pleasant 70 degrees, about 50 Lake Tahoe people gathered last weekend to remember a sledgehammer of a winter a half century ago.
From the comfort of Pat Amundson’s South Shore home, the stories told of the winter of 1951-52 seem astounding. The worst storm since 1937 produced more than 110 inches at Lake Tahoe in mid-January and 100 mph winds at Donner Summit.
It also stranded 30 Mill Valley high school students reported missing on a Greyhound bus. They were later found at Twin Bridges.
Approximately 85 family members now scattered throughout the nation lived through the series of storms that started in late November and ended in March.
There’s one prerequisite to attend the annual reunions that started at Thelma Bernhardt’s home in 1972. Partygoers must have lived through that winter in South Lake Tahoe – even if that means in the womb as in the case of Colleen Stewart of Idaho.
“Maybe that’s why I like snow so much,” she said that evening.
Her mother Brenda Stewart, 74, received an eye-opening experience that winter.
“When I moved here, I had never seen snow before,” she said.
She recalled snow drifting to up to 22 feet on Moro Drive in the Tahoe Keys as her most profound memory. Outside her own house, she also mentioned snow piling up to almost half that from one storm, prompting her neighbor to pass fresh-baked bread through the second-story window.
“That’s how a lot of people got out (of their homes),” said Dan Delorey of Marla Bay, who was 1 year old at the time.
Delorey was shocked the Lake Tahoe Basin was closed to U.S. Highway 50 traffic from Meyers to Glenbrook. Like others, his family dug a tunnel through the snow to get out the front door.
“We were worried if we had more snow, too much would pile up, and we couldn’t get out,” said Bernhardt, who remembered snow piling up 7 feet on Tamarack Avenue.
“We played a lot of Monopoly,” her son Phil said.
Although it presented many challenges to adults, the children of the time said they had a good time. Many used the roof of their homes as a sliding platform.
And they had plenty of time for that. The grade school located at the current-day Carpenter’s Union Hall was closed for two weeks, the telephone operators notified the families.
“It didn’t bother us at all,” Anne Johnson of South Lake Tahoe said. She and her sister Kathy Nelson Peters from Quincy, with brother Len Nelson, recalled their father later celebrating too.
Once the roads open, supplies including liquor bottles were delivered and Dad came home singing, “The shrimp boats are coming.”
The father of Bonnie Merrill Posten of Montana and Connie Merrill Wentz of Gardnerville couldn’t stand up by the time he finished partaking of the supplies, they said laughing. Neighbors brought him home on a sled.
Many people were holed up in their homes as there was no mass exodus, Patty Olson said.
“If you’re smart, you’d have one week’s supply of baby stuff, two weeks were better,” Amundson recalled telling a new mother at the time.
Her husband, Glenn, an engineer, was busy plowing through the accumulating snow. It was so deep, he ended up breaking five axles on the plow, she said.
Motorized traffic was a challenge. The Zephyr streamliner train heading to Reno from San Francisco stranded passengers at Yuba Gap because of snowslides in mid-January, a record month and year that produced 15 feet in one storm near Donner Summit, Desert Research Institute meteorologist Hal Klieforth reported.
Editor’s note: This story will appear in “Routes West II, Tahoe’s 20th Century,” a look back at Tahoe’s storied past. Historic photographs are sought for inclusion in “Routes West,” scheduled for publication in October. Call 541-3880, ext. 253 for details.
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