“If you think this winter has been rough, you should have seen the ones we used to get!”

You probably hear that a lot these days.

My early memories of the biggest winter storms are measured by the appearance of the “big Linn” plow on the drift-filled North River Road in Auburn. When a farmhouse is snowbound, even for a day, the sight of such an awesome machine was major excitement for a young boy.

The 25-ton Linn was a monster of a plow with 16-foot plow wings that could push back the wind-packed snowbanks after the wildest winter storms. It required a driver and two men to operate the wings. Auburn purchased its first Linn in December 1924 and Lewiston acquired one four years later. The cost in 1928 was almost $10,000.

There was one particular late-February day in 1936 when the Linn plows in both cities ran into some unexpected problems.

“Auburn’s largest Linn tractor, wing plows attached, burned Tuesday noon on the Trap Road,” reported the Lewiston Daily Sun. Three men escaped from the burning tractor cab uninjured, though they lost clothing and their dinner pails.

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Fire apparently caught on the floor boards from the exhaust. One of the men saw the flames heading rapidly for the gas tank, which was under the driver’s seat.

“Reaching the wooden ‘homemade’ cab used by the plow operators, the fire spread rapidly,” the story said.

The men tried to stop the blaze with a fire extinguisher on the tractor, and when that didn’t help, they threw snow on the fire. They hurried to a house and called the Auburn Fire Department, but after the seven-mile run, the firefighters could not save the machine.

“The men saved a 50-gallon drum of gasoline carried as a reserve,” according to the news story.

That same day, Lewiston’s Linn plow was in the news when the plow and a trolley discovered that College Street was too narrow for both of them.

Less than halfway by the trolley, the big Linn tractor struck the vehicle and broke seven or eight of its windows. The news report said no one was hurt and the plow driver probably did not even realize what had happened.

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My wife, Judy, also had vivid memories of Maine’s winters. She was 11 years old when the deep snow of 1952 held some scary hours for her family. Her grandfather, Verdal Spofford, drove Auburn Public Works Department plows. During one difficult run in a storm that dumped 26 inches of snow on the ground, he and his wing man found themselves skidding into a ditch. They had to wait in the freezing weather for several hours until rescue arrived.

Judy remembers that he was thoroughly chilled when a crew brought him into her house on Spring Street just across from the city garage. She recalls the family bundling him up in blankets and getting pans of hot water for his feet.

Judy’s father also braved lots of winter weather as owner and operator of the White Line bus company. In “Looking Back: The Villages of North and West Auburn,” published in 2008, there’s an anecdote about Cleba Spofford’s winter bus run through the West Auburn and North Auburn sections.

Ernie Keene remembered an icy morning when Spofford called and asked him to spread some of the sand from a stockpile on Hersey Hill Road on West Auburn Hill so the bus could reach its regular riders. For the next week, Keene got to ride the bus free.

I got my own taste of snow removal in the early 1960s, when Cleba Spofford, then my father-in-law, asked me to drive his aging dump truck to clear snow from some parking lots. My job was to take the loaded truck to the snow dump on Newbury Street, where the Little Androscoggin flows into the big river. Lots of trucks converged there, and they all had to back to the brink of the steep slope to the river, raise the body of the dump truck, begin backing up and then slam on the brakes at the last moment to get the snow to slide out.

I think I kept that job for just a couple of nights before I decided snow control in Maine is too much a daredevil activity for me.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending an email to [email protected]


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