Surviving The Big Snow

Survivor of '67 snow expects Y2K to be cake


by Kay Loftfield
roundup contributor
We're trapped. There's no place to run, no place to hide. We can only march boldly forward into Y2K. But that shouldn't be much of a problem in Payson, where pioneers left such civilized places as New York and the Midwest to make their homes in the forest.

And this isn't the first time the community has faced possible disaster head on.

In the relatively short time I've lived here --35 years -- I've survived a record snow storm and a flood, both of which almost completely cut the town off from the outside world.

In the case of the flood, we could drive over Fossil Creek road to Phoenix, a very roundabout and time-consuming trip.

The big snow of 1967, on the other hand, was the experience of my life.

We had only lived in Payson for three years then. During my first three winters here it had snowed, but nothing to write home about. My husband, Fritz, grew up in Minnesota, so he knew what snowy winters were all about, but he had never seen snow 67 inches deep on the flat, only in snowdrifts.

It had been snowing steadily for several days when a power line broke Dec. 14, 1967, and knocked out electricity to the area. The bad part was that the break was down in Pine Creek near the Tonto Natural Bridge.

Fritz and I had planned to go out for dinner that night to celebrate our 38th anniversary. We had to change our plans and stay home to keep the fireplace going for heat.

Fortunately, we had an inside barbecue in the dining room and some frozen steaks in the freezer.

We fired up the barbecue, put some potatoes on to roast, and grilled the steaks. We made coffee in a big granite coffeepot we normally used for picnics, and hung it on the hook over the fire in the fireplace. Then we settled down to candlelight, wine and a steak dinner -- quite romantic, we thought. We had no idea that the snow would keep coming down -- and building up on the ground -- for two weeks.

The following morning, I got ready to go to town to open my clothing store, The Payson Style Shop, which was just west of the Sheriff's building on Main Street.

My low-slung Mustang never made it. By the time I'd driven a block from home, it had picked up so much snow that the wheels just stopped going around. I walked back to get help, and when Fritz tried to shovel the car out, he found he was trying to chip away a frozen block of snow. A neighbor with a four-wheel drive vehicle took me downtown, and I didn't return home until Christmas Eve, when our road was finally cleared.

I remained in town, as many other store owners did, and stayed at the Trails End Motel. I ate my meals at Sexton's Beeline Cafe, while Fritz kept the home fires burning.

People needed warm clothing, boots, socks long underwear and mittens and gloves, so I kept the store open every day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. It was too cold to keep it open longer without heat and light. Soon the grocers in town, Vivian and Everett Jackson's Market, Ulis and Granville Wilson's Grocery on Main Street and Billie and Eddie Lollar's Frontier Market on the Beeline, were running low on supplies, as were the restaurants. Mildred Sexton, owner of the Beeline Cafe, put a chain across her door, and allowed only those who had to stay in town to keep their businesses open, to eat at her cafe. She knew if she fed flatlanders who came up to see the big snow she would soon run out of food. Fortunately she had a full butane tank and could cook meals on her gas stove and melt snow to wash the dishes. Service stations were running low on gas.

The town and county didn't have enough snow plows to take care of more than the main streets to the hospital, grocery stores and drugstores. They also plowed roads to the homes of doctors, government employees and others needed to keep the town running. Later on, more plows were borrowed and sent in to help remove the snow.

Looking out my motel window, I could see the huge generator that Payson officials had borrowed and somehow managed to get into town. I could hear the comforting sound of its motor running as it kept power going for town necessities. I usually went straight from my store to the cafe, ate supper and then went to bed at the motel with my longjeans on to keep warm.

The town was very quiet, and only unusual sounds would wake me up. Some of the linemen for Arizona Public Service were staying at the same motel. They worked in shifts, leaving to go to Pine Creek, wading in the frozen creek to work on the broken line, then returning at night. I could hear them come in, stamping the snow off their feet, blowing on their hands to warm them, not saying much. The owners of the motel asked the rest of us to limit ourselves to spit baths to save the hot water for the linemen so they could have hot showers in between shifts. Those linemen were some of the real heroes of that period.

The highway patrol had set up a road block on the Beeline Highway to turn sightseers back. The officers didn't need to pull more cars out of the snow. They had enough of that to do in Payson.

Later on, when more roads were cleared, they let some flatlanders come through to check on their summer cabins. Snow-laden trees fell and blocked some roads, roofs fell in and food spoiled in freezers while the power was off.

Those of us who were at home put our frozen food in snowbanks, where it fared very well.

Helicopters flew in supplies, landing in the parking lot in front of the sheriff's office. Snowmobiles were brought in to take supplies and food to outlying ranches. Someone broke through the snow to take food to an elderly couple they were worried about. The minister and his wife were safe and warm inside their home. They had plenty of supplies and wood to keep their fire going, but were pleased that someone cared enough to check on them. Volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles helped the sheriff's deputies check on snowbound residents. Just before Christmas, most of the roads were cleared, and supplies were being delivered from Phoenix via the Beeline Highway. I finally went home on Christmas Eve, and the first thing I did was take a hot shower, wash my hair and jump into fresh clothes.

During all that time, I can't remember a single case of serious illness, or emergency, except when Mildred's husband, Millard Sexton, was attacked by a wildcat while he was trying to take feed to his livestock.

As the cat clung to his back, he turned and threw up his hands to keep the animal from clawing his face. He managed to get his hands around the animals neck, and forced him to the ground to keep the animal's front and back legs from digging in deeper. He finally strangled the cat.

Luckily he had heavy clothing on, so most of the scratches and bites were on his arms. He did have to endure painful rabies shots, and it was later discovered that the animal did, in fact, have rabies. I recently spoke with Mildred, and she said that what got us through that difficult time was that everyone worked together -- neighbor helping neighbor.

Hey, Payson folks aren't scared of that old Y2K. We can take care of it, no sweat.

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