The Blizzard of ’78
The original forecast sounded harmless enough: ”Rain tonight, possibly mixed with snow at times. Windy and cold Thursday with snow flurries.” People who went to bed early missed the bulletins at 9 PM Wednesday. They woke up to a howling nightmare. A monster blizzard with hurricane-force winds slammed into Ohio early January 26, 1978, spreading an icy coat of death and destruction. The Blizzard of 1978, often called the Storm of the Century or the white hurricane killed more than 50 people in Ohio and caused over $100 million in damage. Ohio residents will never forget the blizzard of 1978.
When I woke up on the morning of my 10th birthday, mom informed me school was canceled for the day. In fact, it there would be no school for the rest of the week, and most of the following week. By the end of my birthday, over a foot of snow had fallen. The snow was the least of the problems. Wind and bitter cold kept everybody locked in their homes for the next few days.
It wasn’t until the following Monday that the weather permitted us to venture outside without freezing to death. Conditions still were not right for school, but they were perfect for sledding. Southern Ohio has some of the best sledding hills in the whole state. One of the top three was in the pasture field behind my house. Due to an incident that required several stitches in mom’s nose, that hill was deemed much too dangerous for unsupervised children.
Another of the top three was the tallest peak in Glenroy. We named it Pariseau Peak after the family whose house sat atop the hill. The Pariseau kids, all twelve of them were very good friends of mine. Even though it was the tallest peak, we ruled it out for post blizzard sledding for several reasons.
Number one was that sharing one sled with 12 other kids made for more watching than sledding. I loved those kids like brothers and sisters, but the white hurricane had created a once in a lifetime opportunity for the sledding aficionado, and I wasn’t going to miss out by sharing my ride with 12 other kids. Sledding the front slope of Pariseau Peak was difficult because it was paved and residential. The back side was very steep and was a favorite for sledders throughout the entire region. However, when the snow was more than a few inches deep it was no longer possible to slide under the barbed wire fence at the bottom of the hill. Attempting to do so would only result in stitches. We couldn’t afford to add another hill to mom’s blacklist.
The third hill and our destination for that day would be Skull Hill which lay directly behind Brian Myers house. Brian was my best friend, and more importantly, he had his own sled. The only reason that Skull Hill did not rank higher than the other two hills was due to what happened there in the Summertime. Every Summer, a local farmer had the audacity to plant corn on the entire face of the mountain. If you are asking yourself how a Summer crop can affect a Winter sport, you have obviously never gone sledding on a washboard. For years to come, we would petition the farmer to plant parallel to the slope, but every year he insisted on planting perpendicular which turned our perfect sledding hill into quite a bumpy ride.
After being cooped up in the house for the entire weekend, I was very anxious to finally be cleared for outdoor activities. Immediately after breakfast, I grabbed my sled and headed for Skull Hill. By the time I got there, Brian and several other kids were already working trails into the snowpack. Like Pariseau Peak, Skull Hill also had a fence line. This one was about halfway down the slope. It divided the upper washboard like cornfield portion of the hill with the lower smooth backyard of Brian’s neighbor Mr. Binion. Brush and small trees grew up along the fence leaving a narrow gap only a few feet wide. The small break in the tree and fence line would be difficult to navigate on a normal hill but washboard-like features of Skull Hill made it impossible for all but the most experienced sled rider to navigate.
Over the weekend, the hurricane winds added a new feature to the hill. The wind had created a natural ramp several feet high right in the middle of the only gap through the tree line. The experienced sled rider now not only had to control of the sled through the ruts and troughs of the cornfield to hit the narrow opening, but he had to launch over a massive jump which required a perfect landing in order to ride the smooth lower portion of the slope. Most bounced through the ruts and into the trees. Some got scared and ditched before reaching the narrow gap. Only the most skillful and lucky riders were able to navigate through the eye of Skull Hill. The mountain rewarded very few with a smooth ride down the bottom half of the slope.the smooth ride of Mr. Binion’s backyard.
The most important aspect of a positive sledding experience next to the weather conditions and the slope selection is the equipment used by the rider. The white hurricane had provided once in a lifetime snow conditions. Through the process of elimination, Skull Hill was the chosen terrain. The only remaining decision would the equipment. Skull Hill ate sleds that had no rudder or other steering mechanisms. The tree line was littered with cardboard boxes, old rusty car hoods, and shards of shredded plastic saucer sleds that rookies brought to the mountain. My selection for the day was a five-man wooden toboggan. Brian selected a flexible flyer rudder sled. Brian made the perfect sled selection for this slope and snow conditions. Where he fell just a bit short was his selection of personal protective equipment.
Brian was an avid Ohio State fan, so much so that he let his fanaticism cloud his judgment in proper headgear. Instead of wearing a properly fitting helmet and goggles, he chose to wear an old worn out stocking cap with a block O embroidered on the front. This minuscule seemingly un-important decision led to the sled ride that was talked about for many years to come. Starting belly side down and face first, he positioned the sled at the crest of the mountain. He carefully aimed at the small opening in the tree line far down the slope. After making a few final adjustments of his coat, gloves and stocking cap, he pushed off. mimicking a swimmer, he pulled his sled down the hill until his arms could no longer keep up with gravity.
Ten yards down the slope, he started into the corm field washboard bumps. With each bump he hit, his Ohio State stocking cap slipped a little farther down his forehead. Twenty yards down the slope, the stocking cap was at the top of his eyebrows. With every bump, it slipped a little lower. There was no way he could take his hands off the rudder in order to pull the cap up away from his eyes. Doing so would send him careening into the tree line. He struggled to tilt his head up enough to see out from under the cap. Another twenty yards of bumps and he would be running completely blind.
Other kids who were pulling their sleds back up the hill could see the peril that Brian was in. They scrambled screaming and running to get out of the way of the missile that was now hurtling down the hill at incredible speed. With the last bit of vision he had, Brian pointed the flexible flyer in the direction of the small opening in the trees and breathed a quick prayer. With his eyes completely covered, the treeline was quickly approaching. Seconds later, he hit the ramp in the dead center of the slot.
Despite the equipment malfunction, Brian had perfectly navigated the most perilous part of the hill. He took a deep breath thinking he was in for a nice smooth ride through Mr. Binion’s backyard. That split second of relaxation and loss of focus was enough for the mountain to take control. It was a rookie mistake that separated Brian from his sled. The sled made a perfect landing ten feet in front of Brian and made a smooth run on the bottom half of the mountain all by itself. It came to rest just feet from Mr. Binion’s house.
Brian’s landing was a little less graceful. He hit the ground, belly down and face first. He bounced a couple times, still in the sledding position but with no sled under him. His stocking cap was now all the way down to his chin. The impact of the last bounce jolted his legs up over his body. I’ve never known the human body to create a “U” shape bent backward at the waist, but Brian was pretty flexible. His feet dangled limply over the back of his head while sliding smoothly down the hill on his belly. He came to rest 60 yards downhill from the ramp that dislodged him from his sled. A steady stream of neighborhood kids ran down ready to administer CPR. By the time they reached him, Brian was standing with his eyes uncovered. He felt for broken bones, but to his amazement, everything was intact.
There has never been a more talked about sled run than this one. To this day, when the snow starts to fall in South Eastern Ohio, kids re-tell the legend of the boy who threaded the needle of Skull Hill completely blindfolded.
Matthew 7 talks about a narrow gate much like the opening in the Skull Hill tree line. Consider your life for a moment. From the day you are born, your body begins a slow descent to the grave like gravity pulls a sled downhill. It is slow at first but picks up speed along the way. Like the tree line of Skull Hill is littered with broken sleds, rotting cardboard, and rusting car hoods, our lives are littered with mistakes, regrets, and rotten beans.
All this adds up to death and destruction if not taken care of. There are ruts, bumps and many other forces pulling us all toward that destruction. There is a way of escape. A narrow path which leads to life. Those who find that path are rewarded with eternity in God’s presence. You can’t buy your way through the narrow path. You can’t make it through by your own strength, skill or good work. Brian didn’t avoid the tree line by his own sight or actions. It is only by faith in Jesus and what he did on the cross that leads to life everlasting.
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
2 Corinthians 5:7
For we walk by faith, not by sight: