The Blizzard of 1967
The Greatest Snowfall in Whiting-Robertsdale History
By John Hmurovic
It was the worst snow storm in the history of Whiting-Robertsdale. The snow started to fall shortly after 5 A.M. on January 26, 1967, and it didn’t stop until after 10 A.M. the next day. Twenty-three inches of snow, blown by winds as high as 50 miles per hour, with drifts that rose as high as 15-feet. But what was most amazing about the great blizzard of 1967, was that no one saw it coming.
Rewind to January 24, 1967, two days before the storm: The temperature was an unseasonably warm 65 degrees. In late January, in Northwest Indiana, everyone knew that would not last for long. And by 7 A.M. on the 25th, it was already down to 31 degrees. Snow and rain were in the forecast for Friday, the 26th. The Weather Bureau said it would probably be one or two inches of snow, maybe we’d get as much as four inches, but there was only a 50 percent chance we’d get anything.
As the snow began in the morning hours of the 26th, there was still no expectation that it would amount to much. It snowed through the morning and into the afternoon, and then problems started to develop. “Region Traffic Crawls,” The Hammond Times reported in their afternoon edition. Still, the forecast said, this “sneak snowstorm,” as they called it, should produce no more than eight inches of snow. The evening news on WMAQ-TV, Channel 5, said the “worst of the storm was over.” It wasn’t.
The snow did not stop. Some who went to work at the start of the day, found that they were stranded when
their work day came to an end. Virginia Harding was the supervisor at the Roby Post Office, a tiny postal facility located on Indianapolis Boulevard at the entrance to what is now the Cargill plant. At that time, the plant was owned by American Maize, or Amaizo. When Harding tried to get in her car and go home at the end of her workday, she found it buried in a snow drift. She went back inside the warm post office, cleared off a desk, used her coat as a blanket, a bag of mail as her pillow, and stayed the night. She also had to spend the next night. She said she was ready to uphold the tradition of the U.S. Post Office (“Neither snow nor rain…stays these couriers from the swift completion of their rounds.”), “only, there was no business.”
About 300 employees at the Whiting Refinery were also stranded at work for up to four nights. Emergency sleeping facilities sprung up across the refinery grounds, and food got through with the help of local restaurants.
Dr. Donald H. Rudser was stranded at the Whiting Clinic on Indianapolis Boulevard. By noon on the 26th, he recognized that the storm was unusually big. He sent all employees home but kept the clinic open. And, he told the Whiting Police and Fire Departments that he was there for any medical emergencies. Fortunately, “death took a holiday,” he said. “Nobody died, nobody had a baby, nobody broke any significant bones, nobody had appendicitis.”
One woman did have a stroke. When the Whiting city ambulance was sent to help on this and other calls, heavy road machines from two local companies, Justak’s and Bairstow, cleared a path to the patient’s house. The ambulance followed and took the patient to the clinic. Dr. Rudser was stranded at the clinic for two nights.
While many were stuck at work, others found creative ways to get to work. Chicagoan Ralph Mays needed to get home from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Normally, a fairly direct drive, which included some time on the Indiana Toll Road through Robertsdale, would take him three hours. Persistence and creativity eventually got him home, but it took more than 17 hours. Instead of a direct route, he circled the storm, driving to Kokomo in Indiana, over to Lafayette, into Illinois and on to Champaign, Bloomington and Pontiac. What was normally a 162-mile trip, turned into a 350-mile journey. But, he got home.
Hans Lund, the captain of the Amoco Wisconsin, needed to get his ship out of the refinery’s Whiting docks and onto Lake Michigan to deliver a boat load of gasoline and heating oil to Milwaukee. But Lund was home in Lansing as the snow piled up. The captain, however, was a native of Norway. He knew how to ski. In under four hours, the 62-year-old Lund traveled 16 miles on his skis to the dock in Whiting.
Whiting was virtually shut down for three days, despite the best efforts of the city’s street crews. Mayor Joseph Grenchik personally supervised the city’s snow removal efforts, which ran continuously for two days. The high winds played havoc. Almost every time a plow cleared a path, the wind covered it over. Cars were buried in the drifts. In Chicago, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 cars were abandoned on city streets, unable to advance. So were about one thousand city busses, some with passengers on board. The Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson motels in North Hammond, next to the Toll Road exit, were filled to capacity with stranded motorists, as nearly every local road and highway was shut down.
The Post Office did not deliver mail. Newspapers were not delivered. Food could not be delivered into town, which resulted in shortages in bread, milk and other basics. Yet, since everyone was in much the same boat, people were generally friendly and helpful. Stranded in the Roby Post Office, Virginia Harding, for example, was warm and safe, but she didn’t have any food. When employees at the nearby Amaizo plant discovered she was there, Anna Dzurovcik, Amaizo’s lunchroom cook, and John Butynski, the housekeeping foreman, trudged through the drifts to bring her something to eat.
Refinery employee Cy Franken wanted to get home from work, but no one was able to navigate the snowy roads. He spotted one car, however, which seemed to be working its way down Dickey Road. The driver, Charles Boyd, stopped to ask if Franken needed help. Boyd lived on Sheffield Avenue in North Hammond, but he went out of his way and drove Franken to 106th Street and Indianapolis Boulevard, where Franken was able to catch a bus to his Chicago home. The two strangers struck up such a good friendship, that the next day Boyd wrote a letter to the Amoco Refinery praising his snowstorm friend, and vowing he would start buying Amoco gas, as a result. “If the buying of your product,” he wrote, “can help him (Franken) to wend his way a little better in life, I’m all for it.”
Kids enjoyed the new playground of snow that nature created, and adults generally slowed down. “Nobody was in a hurry,” Dr. Rudser said, “nobody had a heart attack. It was the friendliest and most cooperative time I can remember.”
In the days after the storm, the weather did not warm up enough to melt the accumulation. Then four days after the storm ended, four more inches of snow fell, and another eight inches came four days after that. In Chicago, it took crews three weeks to plow all the streets. There would be significant snow falls in 1979 and in 2011, but 1967 still stands as the year of the largest single snow storm in area history.