Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


A day of drifting followed, as rafters cracked in Van Buren homes under the weight of heavy snow that had fallen for over one hundred continuous hours. We were without mail service for a week and available snow plows, wreckers and rescue squads were used to find marooned vehicles. That was the scene all over the county in wake of a record setting blizzard that took place March 10-13, 1951.

Highway 1 remained open to one lane traffic as far as Fairfield, but all other highways in and out of Fairfield were closed. Rural schools closed indefinitely until plows could get through, but Keosauqua shut down only one day, continuing a policy that if any teachers and school administrators could get to the building, the doors would be open for classes.

According to the official weather observer, 2.05" of melted precipitation fell during the four-day period for a rule-of-thumb equivalent of 20.5" of snow, making this the largest single snowfall in Keosauqua history!

Accumulation on the ground at times has sometimes been greater, with local depths higher than fences. There were the legendary snowfalls of 1934 and 1936. During the winter of 1958-1959 a freak storm drifted snow fifteen feet deep on either side of a truck stop on Highway 63 near the Hedrick Junction where truckers, workers, and stranded motorists were marooned for many hours until they were lifted out by helicopter.

Eclipsing every storm on record were the blizzards of 1979. According to the Van Buren County Register issued on January 18, 1979 a foot of snow had fallen over the weekend (Jan. 13-14) on top of the New Year’s storm that had also dumped more than a foot of snow on county communities. Carl Hohl (Keosauqua’s official weather observer) said that 30 inches of snow was on the ground by January 14, with many six foot drifts in town and some that would measure more than ten feet deep in rural areas.

I was stranded in our rented farm house six miles south of La Harpe, Illinois for three weeks. The township snow plow was buried in heavy snow a quarter mile east of the house. Emergency vehicles were used to plow roads only to have high winds shut the paths from behind. We experienced twenty below zero temperatures and ran completely out of food. I went to town with a neighbor who mounted chains onto his four-wheel drive vehicle, only to find that the store aisles were bare. No bread, milk, meat, or produce and only limited canned goods were in stock because highways were closed and supply trucks were not operating in the region.

In Keosauqua, the roof over a portion of Van Buren Manufacturing Company collapsed, and the bowling alley was destroyed. This time, Van Buren Community Schools actually closed for nine days and authorities scrambled with the calendar in an attempt to reschedule the days that required attendance.

Yes! About every ten years, a giant, howling blizzard swoops down from Canada to remind us Iowans of the "good old days" when children trudged to school through knee-deep snow braving severe, below zero temperatures in what some claim was an annual event! In support of these claims, the river frequently froze over and ice skating (now a lost art) was a common winter sport. My grandmother once skated on the Des Moines River from Douds to Keosauqua!

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick