LET'S REMINISCE: The great ice storm of 1949

By Jerry Lincecum
Special to the Herald Democrat

After reading my column on the Blizzard of 2011, one of my veteran Telling Our Stories writers suggested that I look up one of my previous columns about the Great Ice Storm of 1949. I’m talking about the one that started on Jan. 22 and didn’t end until Feb. 4. I checked the dates on the internet, finding it listed as the worst ice storm in company history of Texas Power and Light. Steel towers crumpled and two inches of ice accumulated on some transmission wires.

I was not quite seven years old, and on our farm near Groesbeck we had several old oak and pecan trees that lost large limbs. There was the fun part, too, in that our pond froze hard enough for skating (using tow sacks). Fortunately, my family was still burning wood in stoves and fireplaces, because butane froze in the tanks of some of our neighbors. So we managed to stay warm and my mother cooked a lot of red beans and cornbread.

Shirley Smith Clark was living on a farm in Celina. She can remember awakening one cold frosty night in January to a loud jarring noise, followed by complete silence. Soon there were crackling and popping sounds outside her bedroom window, followed by a clatter as something fell crashing to the ground. It was an old hackberry tree that had stood for years, but was now unable to bear the weight of several inches of accumulated ice on its huge branches. She was frightened, and as the strange sounds continued, she quickly got out of bed, grabbed her clothes and raced downstairs.

Her dad took them outside, and Shirley could hardly believe her eyes. The night was so bright it seemed like day. The dark sky seemed filled with stars. Everything was covered with ice that glistened like million of diamonds in the light of a full moon.

Beauty has its price, however. Their electric lights were off, and her mother had to find her old oil lamps and light them. She made hot cocoa, and they all sat around the kitchen table, listening as the ice continued to take its toll on the trees. When morning finally arrived, their yard was piled high with broken limbs and fallen trees. Because of the severity of the damage to power lines, it was weeks before their electricity could be restored. School was closed for a week.

Elton Clark remembers the arrival of the ice storm in Sherman was a scary night for an eleven year old. His family’s neighborhood in south Sherman was an old one with many mature trees. They sat up and listened as limbs crashed all around. Some of the sounds were like explosions as old trees split and big limbs fell, sometimes on cars and houses.

Very close to the Clark’s house was a big elm tree, and several falling limbs from it slammed down on the roof right over their heads. They’d lost electricity early on and the candlelight didn’t help much as they huddled, fearing the next sound might be a tree coming through the ceiling. It was a frightening time for children.

Elton recalls that the ice storm of ’49 left its stamp on Sherman for years to come. The Austin College campus and Birge Street Park were two areas which had many of their mature trees reduced to trunks with few limbs and ugly scars.

On a lighter note, one family had a little red dachshund named Penny who loved to hitch a ride whenever they took hay to the cows. The ice storm took her by surprise. She would jump on the tailgate, then climb over the stacked bales to get on top of the pickup cab and enjoy the slow-moving ride like a queen.

But the ice storm gave the truck a coat of ice. The cows needed feed, but Penny almost missed her ride. The old truck was creeping along the road when she managed to leap on the tailgate and begin making her way to the high perch on the cab.

Then, losing her footing, she made a slippery dive down onto the icy hood, and kept going until she wound up in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the truck was creeping along, so stopping before hitting her was easily accomplished. But she didn’t even try to climb to the cab the next time they went to feed the cows. 

Jerry Lincecum

A retired English professor, Dr. Jerry Lincecum teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.