I made a comment on this story:
Potentially life threatening blizzard for the Sierra – Up to 5 feet of snow
March 1, 2018 by Robert
Greater Lake Tahoe Area – Including the cities of South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Stateline, and Incline Village
And it got me thinking maybe some folks here have not heard of the Donner Party or the City Of San Francisco Train.
So I’m going to put it here, too.
The Donner Party was a group headed to California by wagon. They took a “shortcut” and it was a mistake. Then winter arrived early and very very hard. They spent 4 months under feet of snow. The survivors eventually got rescued.
The City Of San Franciso was a fine train.
It just tried to cross the Sierra when the snow said NO!
Fairing better, they were rescued after a few days.
This is local lore, but even some folks here do not know it.
(The local school was founded by a survivor of this event…)
IF you do not know about The Donner Party, it is a clear lesson in what the Sierra Nevada can throw at you. 18 FEET of snow in one wallop. Drifting high enough many cabins have an outdoor staircase to a second or third floor door (so you can get out in winter…)
By the beginning of November 1846, the settlers had reached the Sierra Nevada where they became trapped by an early, heavy snowfall near Truckee (now Donner) Lake, high in the mountains. Their food supplies ran extremely low and, in mid-December, some of the group set out on foot to obtain help. Rescuers from California attempted to reach the settlers, but the first relief party did not arrive until the middle of February 1847, almost four months after the wagon train had become trapped. Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California, many of them having eaten the dead for survival.
Similarly, in the 1950s, their was a train got caught.
Roadmaster Fulbright had brought with him news of the streamliner City of San Francisco of the day before. The plush yellow train had struck a gigantic snowslide down the westbound iron. Deadhead crews and linemen were riding the steam helper’s cab. Engineer Bell of the cab-in-fronter had sustained injuries and most of the men in that cab had been cut by flying glass. Fulbright and Assistant Superintendent Bob Miller had come along on an eastbound rotary.
Sapunor and Painter learned from Fulbright that two big four-cylindered cab-in-fronters sent to rescue the diesels on yesterday’s City had left the rails at Troy. Another Mallet, the 4104, was on the ground at Gold Run. The Mountain Division was having trouble — plenty of it.
Much of the way the City snaked down through a deep cut of ice and snow. The blast of the blizzard alone was enough to keep fresh drifts ever piling up before the wedge nose of the diesel’s pilot plow, but in addition, dangerous ice cones arched out over the top of the cut, threatening to tumble more tons of the heavy white stuff into the path of the train.
Yes, enough snow to stop a train… But the outcome was better and folks were rescued after a few days.
Nifty photos in the link… and a much more complete story. Well worth it to ‘hit the link’.
I’ve driven the path past both those places in the snow with chains on. It teaches you things…
Things like “Don’t expect the snow to stop. It might be weeks.” and “Don’t expect rescue in under weeks. Days if you are lucky”. Then there’s “If you expect to eat this week, have it in the car”. “Don’t just carry chains, know how to use them”. “Have a coat and storm pants warm enough to keep you warm at 10 below after laying in slush 2 hours back down the mountain when you put chains on.” Oh, and “Not just 2 pairs of shoes, but 2 pairs of shoes and 2 pairs of boots with 4 to 6 pairs of socks.”
It isn’t often, but from time to time, it really can dump a dozen feet of snow without stopping. IF you stop in that, it will be a long time before your car moves again. Plan accordingly. (i.e. if at all possible have it in the parking area while you are at the fireplace in the lounge… before the snow starts.)
Some more flavor of the train article:
They were on the way, 7207 and 7208 with steamer No. 4284 between them. But Lawson’s outfit, backing down the westbound, got stuck in the drifts behind it! Lawson got to a roadside phone and called Norden. Jennings told him, “I’ve got two rotaries coming down the eastbound. Wait for ’em. Don’t try to move.”
They waited until they saw a figure on foot emerging through the blizzard like a ghost.
“We’re stalled, too! Not far ahead of 101. Can you get back up the westbound and come alongside?”
The blades of the plow were faced east, so back up the mountain went the 7205 and the 4245. Fuel and water were running low, but they made it. The two rotaries and the Mallet were covered under a mammoth snowslide. Section Foreman Nelson’s men were there, digging with shovels. It was no use — and the danger of another, bigger slide was ever present. Bob Miller, working with the men again, ordered all crewmen and section men out of the area back to the train. A short time later Engineer Raymond and several other crewmen who had been on a trip to the streamliner on their own returned to the frozen snow-fighting equipment. In trying to free the rotary. Engineer Raymond was buried beneath it as it overturned.
Cheerfulness still prevailed back in the coaches.
“Those section men tramped all last night beating down a path just in case rescue does reach us. They’ll do it again tonight,” said a passenger. “How about raising a purse?” In a short time $80 had been gathered.
“I heard Espee’s got a snowplow — a coal-fired job — coming from the Union Pacific,” offered someone else. “This outfit’s trying, anyway!”
Southern Pacific was trying everything humanly possible to effect a rescue. So were many others. The Sixth Army, under Major G. C. Cotton, loaded weasels on flatcars and took them to the farthest point of penetration. But they couldn’t make it. The Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s Sno-Cat got through, but one double-trucked track-laying vehicle could not take 226 people out. So it brought supplies in — and word of rescue efforts by rail, highway and air. Jay Gold, who later died of sheer exhaustion, Charley Swing and Roy Claytor manned the Cat. Claytor was the first man from outside to contact the isolated train, and his mere presence gave the passengers a needed lift.
The men of the California Division of Highways were hard at it too. They thought they could get through to the train from Emigrant Gap and Herschel Jones’ Nyack Lodge.
Would one of the rescue trains make it first? Nobody knew, but everybody prayed and hoped.
The telephone company was on the job all this time, keeping the lines of communication open and answering as best they could the frantic appeals for word of loved ones aboard the stranded City. It operated a mobile two-way radio-phone automobile which helped to locate and save a truck of precious foodstuff for Nyack Lodge.
Assistant Road Foreman of Engines Charlie Carroll meanwhile recognized an essential but irksome task. He organized a latrine patrol, and with cans from the baggage car of the City he and the engineers, firemen, conductors, a brakeman and a baggageman performed the necessary operation.
The night of January 14 the steam-heat generators gave out, and the big Mallet behind the train took over. Soon snow-choked exhausts around the train’s air-conditioning equipment under the cars caused obnoxious gas to enter the Pullmans. That night and the next day Dr. Roehll and an Espee doctor now aboard the train tended to the ill and reported no serious cases. Everybody was on the job helping one another. Sid Paradee of Chicago, a passenger, dragged [E.Z.] Hardison and Bill Murray from a sleeping compartment to fresh air at the car’s vestibule end.
“My legs just crumpled under me,” said Hardison. “It was a Godsend that Mr. Paradee found us.”
January 16 broke calm and clear. The wind had died. A Coast Guard helicopter soared overhead. Visions of food, supplies and perhaps a doctor descending by parachute with accurate news of a real rescue went through the mind of every person. Supplies, medical aids and food were dropped, but the doctor could not be safely parachuted.
“Look out, Colonel!” someone shouted, as an Army man made ready to catch some food stocks floating earthward fast.
“I’ll catch ’em,” he answered. And he did. Eggs! Some new stripes were added to his already spangled uniform.
Yet no rescue was in sight. Was it the calm before the next storm? A minor one broke at that moment.
I think of this story every time I drive past the Nyack exit… It tells you that you have finally climbed the mountain enough to be in Ski Country, and it tells you that you are in a very bad place to drive in a storm. I’ve often stopped there with various “car issues” over the decades. First with my Dad driving, later on my own. It is still the “rescue point” for lots of folks climbing those mountains; though now it is usually just providing gasoline to those that did not start out with a full tank, or lunch to the impatient.
I no longer willingly drive into Sierra Nevada storms. I’ve driven through them enough to know I can do it (preferably with at least front wheel drive and chains) and also enough to know I don’t want to do it. Just wait for the snow to stop and the ploughs to clear the road. If the snow doesn’t stop, well, you made the right decision then too…
The Donner Party was in 1846 and the Dalton Minimum was centered on about 1815, so it was after the climb out of the Dalton Minimum. Things were warming up enough to evaporate more water, but the world had not completely warmed yet, so it fell as lots of snow. We are presently in a period of solar warmed oceans and headed into cold air in this minimum. I would expect similar increases in precipitation and snow as the warm oceans and cold air pump heat off planet via a water driven spherical heat pipe.
I have a thesis that I’ve not yet tested, that extreme precipitation ought to come at entry and exit from a Grand Solar Minimum, but be less at the bottom of it. The Donner Party fits that model. Perhaps our present Sierra Storms will confirm the other side of the valley…