By Harold Bearden
Saturday, February 12, 2011 | 9:02 PM
For many years, whenever snow has been forecast for Haleyville, many people, particularly the older citizens, rushed to the super markets to buy milk and bread. Young people, "Yankees" and other well-meaning folks laughed at us grey-haired "fools." I do not even drink milk, but I bought a gallon anyway just before the last snow storm a couple of weeks ago. Five inches stopped traffic and kept kids out of schools for five days.
The reason for this unique phenomenon of disappearing milk and bread from the grocery shelves goes back to 1958. The following account is based on a real life experience.
Friday night. February 14, Valentine's Day, 1958, just after dark, it began to snow. And it snowed, and snowed, and snowed. Snow was not unusual for the middle of winter for Haleyville, but this night this particular snow became a nationwide story as reported two days later on NBC television news, still in its black and white infancy. I do not recall if snow was the forecast, and even it it was, what actually happened was not.
Coupled with the snowstorm was an ice storm. Drizzling rain turned into ice on power and telephone lines, tree limbs, roads and even the rails on the Illinois Central and Southern Railroads. The snow continued into the next day. In the end, we received a record 18 inches. The freezing wind left four- to six-foot drifts. Everything was under snow including cars and trucks. Haleyville had the appearance of an Arctic tundra. All electrical power and telephone service ceased to function. Nothing could move in the deep snow, not even the trains which failed to make it up the grades from the north or south to reach Haleyville.
We woke up to an unbelievable white fairy land, literally up over our butts in the white stuff. At first it was fun, no school! However, with no telephone service or power, no one outside of Haleyville knew what had happened to us. We were not sure ourselves. Remember, this was 1958. There was only one satellite in the sky, period. It belonged to the Russians and it was not a weather satellite. The present day computers had not been invented, or even dreamed of at that time. Accurate long range weather forecasting was a thing of the distant future.
John Slatton and his family had moved to Haleyville from Birmingham in 1954 and had been operating WJBB radio for four years. John was also a partner in a radio station in the Shoals. WJBB and it's sister station, WLAY, both had radio receiving antennas on top of their respective transmitting towers as they do today, operating on the same frequency. However, they were just that, receiving antennas for their mobile news units. John thought about it then managed to connect a long piece of coax cable from his snowed-in mobile news unit to the antenna at WJBB and it became a transmitting antenna. The first outside call for help was John's call heard at WLAY.
Alabama National Guard units were activated and earth moving equipment was brought in to help clear the main roads. The city was not prepared and ill-equipped to handle the storm. It was still a couple of weeks before side roads became passable, some even longer. The big fear was that people would be found injured, or, worse, dead from the cold and starvation. That never happened.
What the rescuers found after days of clearing downed trees and roadways as they made their way to the outer reaches of the storm area was heartwarming. No one had died, no one was even injured. Most people had wood- or coal-burning stoves and/or fireplaces. They had enough coal or wood stocked to make it through the winter, snow or no snow. So heat was no problem, even without electricity. Candles became a useful commodity.
In 1958 almost everyone had canned vegetables from their garden or neighbors who shared. They built a fire, opened up the canned goods and waited for the snow to melt. However, even if we were out of school, all was not perfect. The two things which ran out first were milk and bread, staples in everyone's household. No one had prepared to stay put for two-plus weeks.
In 1960, the Shoals was hit with a similar devastating ice and snow storm, not as deep, but ever bit as paralyzing, which explains why the Wal Mart Super Center in Florence ran out of milk at 3 PM on Saturday before our last deep snow. They learned what we had.
Those of us who endured the ordeal changed the way we shop forever. So, please don't make fun of us or even question our sanity when there is a forecast of snow. We learned to adapt. No matter how accurate today's weather forecasts may be, we are still going to be prepared. That's the story of Milk and Bread when it snows. Now you know. Keep that in mind, perhaps we will have more snow coming before spring. As an addendum, while going through a local checkout just before the last snow, I was reminded by the checkout lady to include toilet paper and beer with the milk and bread. Sometimes it is nice to have helpful reminders as to why you are even at the store.
I would like to introduce what I will refer to as the Bearden Snow Rule. I have observed if it snows one inch, it takes about one day for the roads to be cleared and traffic to flow again. Five inches takes about five days. Eighteen inches took just that, about eighteen days. Thus my rule: For each inch of snow, it takes about one day for the roads to be clear enough to travel.