Weather and Human Health: Consider the Winter of 1936
Franklin county, Iowa
The winter of 1935-36 stayed in the memory of those who experienced it in Franklin County. Temperatures were below zero for 30 consecutive days. One blizzard on Christmas Eve was particularly memorable. As the holiday program was drawing to a close at Morgan Church, congregants near the walls heard the wind outside increasing to a howl. Those assembled were quickly dismissed. But by the time Mr. and Mrs. Rankin arrived home, Mrs. Rankin was going into labor and in need of a doctor. Dr. Johnson and a nurse set out from Hampton in a car that soon broke down. They had to call back to Hampton requesting a second car. Doctor and nurse arrived at the Rankin’s in time. The baby, Carolyn Rankin, was born Christmas morning 1935.
In February 1936 winter still held the county in its grip. A snow storm in the first weeks of that month accompanied by temperatures of -20 degrees, threatened the life of Phyllis Smith and those who attempted to help her. The daughter of a farmer 3 ½ miles northeast of Alexander, Phyllis had a sudden attack of appendicitis. After an anxious night, her parents decided she needed to be taken to the hospital and the only way forward was on a bobsled. With the girl bundled in blankets and packed in straw and the father and brother driving, they headed toward Alexander and beyond to the hospital at Hampton. On February 13, the Hampton Chronicle described the journey. “All along the way, crews of men living at the farms en route came out and helped to shovel a path through the snow-packed road, while from the Alexander end another group started shoveling through the 10 and 12 foot drifts there.”
As the newspaper tells the story, when the party did in fact reach Alexander, only the seriousness of the girl’s condition prompted anyone to imagine going further. A new team was hitched to the sled, and it headed south toward Highway 10 where state snowplows were trying to clear the roadway. But after just a ½ mile the team was too exhausted to continue. Another team took over, pulling the sled through 6-8 foot drifts. “Shovelers several times had to dig out the teams after they had floundered and also break a path for the sled.”
In the end yet two more teams were used, but still 2 ½ miles from the highway, the fourth team floundered and could not go on. “Then the crew of men, many with frozen faces, some with frozen hands, and at least one with frozen feet, hitched themselves into the traces like so many Eskimo dogs and dragged the heavy sled down across fields, through drifts and over frozen ground to the highway, which they reached at 4:30 in the afternoon after covering the seven and a half miles in seven and a half hours.”
The sick but very fortunate girl was conveyed by ambulance, following state snowplows, to Lutheran Hospital at Hampton where she received the necessary emergency surgery. She recovered.
Sources: SHSI: Morgan Township History, 1976; Franklin County History Iowa, Writers’ Program of WPA, 1941.