IRH - The Ice Storm

This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.

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IRH - The Ice Storm

Postby David » Sun January 7, 2018, 12:02 pm

The Ice Storm
by Russ Lancaster
Ice Storm Photos
Most of the readers that visit this site can relate to these stories. They may not have been from Hamlet (most are not) but they lived in small towns much like ours. They had different names for their favorite spots but the memories were much the same as ours.
This memory is a little different. Those who lived in Hamlet in 1969 will remember it clearly. It is about something that affected only a small area of our state in general and Hamlet in particular. It is about the great ice storm that occurred in February 1969.
I was working 2nd shift on the railroad that year, the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. When I left for work that afternoon it had just begun snowing. You could feel this was going to be a heavy snowfall. It had all the ingredients. The sky was overcast with dark, heavy snow clouds. The temperature was in the 20's, the wind was blowing and the snow was heavy and thick.
The job I had at the railroad was perfect for observing the snow coming down. I was an inbound train clerk at the yard office on Highway 177 North of Hamlet. My work area was next to a huge plate glass window looking out toward the tracks, parking lot and highway. As darkness fell that evening the snow was beautiful as it fell in front of the two giant spotlights I used to check the trains coming into the yard. Usually I only turned them on when trains were arriving but this night I left them on continuously. It was a beautiful sight and I wanted to preserve the pictures in my memory.
As the hours passed and darkness fell, the snow gradually changed over to freezing rain. The snow was several inches thick and the freezing rain quickly covered it with ice. It looked beautiful. I had no premonition of the problems it would cause. I was enjoying the view.
The first hint of a problem came at 11:00 p.m. when I got off work. I walked out to the parking lot and found my 1957 Chevrolet covered with more than an inch of solid ice. I broke my plastic ice remover on the windshield with the first pass. The ice was much too thick for plastic. I returned into the tunnel beneath the railroad tracks and found a wooden wedge we used to prop the door open. I took it out and began breaking the thick ice off my windshield. All the while I had then engine running and the defrosters on. It still took nearly a half hour to get the ice off the windshield.
Then began the drive home. The normal trip from the yard office to my house south of town off Highway 38 usually took about 10 minutes. This night it would take nearly two hours. The first problem came when my headlights began to dim within a mile of leaving the yard office. If you are familiar with the 1957 Chevrolet, you know the headlights have a hood that sweeps out over their top. Ice had formed over the headlights dripping down from the hood and even the heat from the lights wasn't melting the ice. I had to stop and chip the ice away in order to see the road in my headlamps.
As soon as I reached the city limits I was in even worse trouble. The heavy ice had taken its toll on all the pine and oak trees that line the streets of Hamlet. Every street was blocked by fallen limbs and in some cases entire trees. Stop lights and street lights were dark as the ice had also taken down nearly every power line in the city.
I maneuvered up one street, down another, weaving my way ever so slowly toward Highway 38. Once there, the traveling was easier but my 10 minute drive had now consumed nearly two hours.
My home was an old house on a dirt road just outside the city limits off Highway 38. As I pulled into my driveway, the headlamps showed disaster everywhere. If you ever lived in Hamlet you heard of chinaberry trees. I have never seen them anywhere else and they may have a scientific name but we called them chinaberry trees. The limbs were everywhere, all over the roof, the yard and the driveway. It looked as if a bomb had exploded.
I had a rabbit cage in the back yard, elevated about 4 feet off the ground with a wire mesh bottom. In my headlights I saw three or four wild dogs trying to get at my rabbits. I scared them off and took the rabbits into the house. Their feet were bloody as the dogs had been able to nip at them through the wire mesh. My wife and I put them into the bathtub and doctored them. They would survive.
All during the night I kept hearing more and more limbs hitting the roof. We had no power and even in total darkness could not sleep because of the noise of the falling limbs and trees.
Daylight brought an eerie scene before our eyes. There were trees, limbs, telephone poles and wires down everywhere. We had no power but were lucky enough to have heat. I had an old oil stove in the living room fed by fuel oil from a tank outside the house. We were lucky. A portable radio gave us the only news we could get. It was going to be a while before power was restored and streets cleared.
I drove to town to try to buy charcoal so we would have a way to cook. There was none. I tried to buy kerosene lamps, there were none. I was in a fix. I had no idea that the worst was yet to come.
We used our grill to cook our meals but the only fuel we had was the downed chinaberry limbs. Trust me, food cooked over those things tastes awful. But, that was all we had. I secured a couple of railroad batteries and lamps from work, there were no candles to be bought anywhere. It was a shock having no power and for such an extended time.
It took a week for the town to get back any symbol or normality. Those folks were glad to have their power restored. I wasn't so lucky. It would be 27 days before I would see electricity at my house again.
The weight of the ice had not only downed the power line to my house in its remote location, it had also knocked the power pole at the street down which in turn caused the line to jerk my electric meter off the house.
I called CP&L every day after the first week. I went down to their office. I was told to be patient that there was a shortage of poles and that I couldn't be helped until poles were sent in by railroad. Well… I worked for the railroad and saw flat car after flat car loaded with poles arriving every day. I knew they had them. My problem was being remotely located. Each evening I would come home from work hoping to see lights at my house. Each day for more than three weeks I was disappointed.
Finally, after 27 days, I came home from work one night and saw lights in the window. It was a wonderful feeling. We celebrated with a steak cooked on the electric range, with food that didn't taste like chinaberries. It was a meal to remember.
Thinking we were finally out of the woods, I was shocked again when I received my electric bill for February. It was double the highest bill I had ever received and I had not had power the entire month. I drove to CP&L and explained it to them. When the meter had been jerked out of the wall it must have jarred the numbers. They had seen enough of me in the past month and didn't want to hear any more complaints. Pay it or lose power was their answer. I paid it.
I also protested to the state utilities commission but to no avail. They didn't believe me either. It was the final slap in the face. Pay double for what you didn't have. But, pay I did. I had seen enough trouble to last me the entire year.
Later that spring, when things were again available and not priced so high, I invested in several kerosene lamps, candles and a Coleman stove. I made sure I had charcoal in abundant supply. Never again would I be caught in such a vulnerable situation.
To this day, even though I live in Florida, I keep those same supplies. It may not be an ice storm next time but we have hurricanes to deal with. I have never needed any of those things since February 1969 but I will always be prepared.
The ice storm of 1969… another memory, though not a nice one for the most part, kept my family together in a special way. My mom and dad and those brothers and sister that lived there then spent nearly a week at my house with us. They had no heat. We did. So again, even in disaster we found one thing to be thankful for.
Yes, I remember that ice storm, that 1957 Chevrolet, the chinaberry trees, the experience of stepping back into time before electricity… and most of all… I remember Hamlet

eddie hobbs
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Re: IRH - The Ice Storm

Postby eddie hobbs » Mon January 8, 2018, 1:53 am

I remembe this all too well. I was working for Southern Bell Telephone in Wilmington, NC and was transferred. To Laurinburg and Hamlet area for an entire month ,living at the Holiday Inn. My first son was born while I was gone on February 28,1969! A lot of great memories back then. I graduated HHS in 1964.

freddie hassler
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Re: IRH - The Ice Storm

Postby freddie hassler » Mon January 8, 2018, 4:36 am

I was in the USAF stationed at Osan AB during the Ice Strom, but read about it in our local papers and letters from home. My youngest daughter Lisa was born Jan30,1969 and was at her Grandmothers house , no power they kept the house warm with the fireplace and warmed her baby milk there too

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Re: IRH - The Ice Storm

Postby sigmore » Mon January 8, 2018, 6:17 pm

I was in Monroe and got stuck at my girlfriends house!! Oh the horror. When I finally did get home, we lived on Boyd Lake Road back in the woods. Our pole was the last one on that line. We did have a fireplace to cook in and a pond so we could flush the toilets. Me and cousin Ricky (RIP) rented a chain saw and made a few bucks clearing tree limbs. Of course he ran the saw though and I had to drag out the limbs. I think we were without power for at least two weeks or more.

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