Warm reflections of the ‘69 ice storm in Hamlet

By: By Christine S. Carroll - Staff writer
Hamlet News-Messenger file photo This Seaboard Railroad crossing warning light at Hoffman was ice coated and inoperative after the ice storm. Trains passing along were slowed to a crawl to avoid hitting any vehicles crossing the tracks.

HAMLET — School officials sent Richmond County students home from school at 1 p.m. Wednesday, hoping buses made it out onto their routes and back to the bus lot before encountering slippery roads.

Publishers of the Richmond Daily Journal pushed up deadlines five hours, fearing distribution difficulties. Snow began swirling over Richmond County at about 2:30 p.m., but no ice had appeared by deadline.

And for some, the impending gloom and doom — whether it actually occurs or not — stirred memories of a February 1969 ice storm that, yes, shut down the schools but also forced chilled residents to help one another keep warm, trim fallen limbs and build first-time-ever snowmen.

Council member David Lindsey began the conversation Wednesday with a photo of a snow-dusted and closed Hamlet High School and a question reposted on the Facebook site Historic Hamlet, North Carolina.

“These freezing temps remind me of the ice storm that hit in early 1969 that pretty much paralyzed our small town,” he said. “How many of you were around then, and what are your memories?”

Jane Fetner was first to answer.

“I remember it sounded like shotgun blasts through the night,” she said of tree limbs snapping under a rime of ice. “We didn’t have water or heat. Pop got coal to burn in the fireplace from the (railroad) yard.”

Photographs from the local paper, the Hamlet News-Messenger, show customers — presumably those who didn’t work at the rail yard — lining up their cars, waiting to purchase coal from a snow-covered mountain of the stuff.

The storm forced people to use their ingenuity: cooking on hibachis or camp stoves, using lawn mowers to power balking gas pumps, moving in with neighbors who had some form of heat when their own families didn’t.

David Weatherly spent the storm “huddled at my Aunt Sue and Aubrey Maples’s house because they had a fireplace.”

Like Fetner, he remembered a “long night of sounds when trees snapped and transformers blew … the pronounced flashes of light in the darkness.”

Frieda Shaver Mosely remembered her dad’s traveling the neighborhood “with his little Coleman stove, cooking breakfast for the neighbors.”

When it was all over and people began poking their heads outside — one woman remembered being iced in for a week, unable to check the mailbox for letters from her husband in Vietnam — local editor Roger Simmons summed up the experience no one was likely to forget:

“Richmond County is still trying to shake off the stunning effects of a weekend ice storm of such severity that it left the area in a state of paralysis,” he wrote.

When power went out all over the county, Simmons said, “there was no television, of course, as well as no light and no heat — unless you had natural or bottled gas, or a roaring blaze in the fireplace.

“Cooking had to be done the old-fashioned way. … A steaming cup of coffee had suddenly become a luxury …

“(But) Hamlet and Rockingham at last had something in common: they looked like ghost towns, with all the lights out and a few cars on the snow-covered highways.”

The newspaper staff were themselves frozen out of their offices and worked from a jury-rigged newsroom in a local hotel.

But all was not horror. In some cases, new friendships emerged — as Sara Jackson recalls:

“I was here and eight months’ pregnant. We were in a mobile home and (had) no heat. A neighbor took us in. They had gas heat.

“They also had a 3-year-old and a 3-week-old. We stayed with them for five days. I took naps with the 3-year-old, and (when the time came to leave), he didn’t want me to go home.”

Hamlet News-Messenger file photo This Seaboard Railroad crossing warning light at Hoffman was ice coated and inoperative after the ice storm. Trains passing along were slowed to a crawl to avoid hitting any vehicles crossing the tracks.
https://www.yourdailyjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/web1_hamletice_69.jpgHamlet News-Messenger file photo This Seaboard Railroad crossing warning light at Hoffman was ice coated and inoperative after the ice storm. Trains passing along were slowed to a crawl to avoid hitting any vehicles crossing the tracks.

By Christine S. Carroll

Staff writer

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or at christinecarroll@yourdailyjournal.com.

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or at christinecarroll@yourdailyjournal.com.