So far, this winter has not delivered any great amount of snow — but, most likely, it will. And like most winters, there will be plenty of moaning and groaning about slush and ice and drifts and all of the other seasonal complaints.

When the time comes, let’s hope we can keep some sense of humor about it. The newspapers of 100 years ago told some tales about difficult winter travel in the Twin Cities, and they often exhibited a grin-and-bear-it attitude.

One news article in February 1914 began, “They used to call it ‘slipping’ but now the action is designated as ‘skidding.’”

The hazards of ice and snow had not changed, but the escalation of automobile travel added some new terminology to local language.

“You should have seen the pompous gentleman skid off the courthouse steps Wednesday morning. He didn’t have his chains on and his brakes wouldn’t work. In falling, he injured his differential and had to make off on low speed,” one story reported, tongue in cheek.

“F.G. Davis’ little delivery auto was discovered hugging a telephone pole with its right front wheel,” another item in the Lewiston Evening Journal said. “It was right about at this place that a docile old dobbin, ill-shod for the new sort of going, skidded onto his nose. Too bad that a horse can’t talk.”

The journalists just couldn’t resist the comparisons to automobiles, even when talking about unfortunate pedestrians:

“One nice old lady, of the touring car type, turned turtle and pinned a hapless youth she had been towing beneath,” an article stated. “A crew of men righted her and she drove off rather wobbly. The accident fractured the boy’s goggles and spoiled his joy ride.”

“There was a wholesale collision on Main Street of little runabout children,” the newspaper gleefully reported. “With two, it was entirely an accident but several others intentionally added themselves to the debris. The real perpetrator sped off without giving his name, but the undermost cried out, ‘I’ve got your number, kid.’”

The horse-drawn vehicles also had some difficulties when ice and snow slicked up the L-A streets:

“A long car used to haul paper boxes skidded so completely that the tail end of it beat the horse down over Court Street hill. The horse, seeing it go by, tried to get in and have a ride with himself. The man on the seat objected, saying, ‘Who’s driving this, you or me?’”

Winter travel was a real challenge in the early days of the automobile. There were no specially designed snow tires, and plowing of the roads and highways left a lot to be desired.

Nevertheless, these were the kinds of wintry conditions that delivered an unforgettable adventure to four men in January 1914.

Lewis Merrill was taking an automobile from Augusta to Boston via Lewiston. Local automobilists Wesley Huse, James L. Herbert and Arthur Towle thought they would enjoy the trip.

“When they left Lewiston, Friday noon, in the six-lung wheezer, they descended Washington Street hill in Auburn into roads of drifts, ruts and wintry winds. Their ambition cooled, and so did their feet, and before they slept Saturday morning, their feet were painfully cold.”

The group left Lewiston, navigated the waves of the road from Auburn to Danville Junction with a little difficulty, they passed through Upper Gloucester and Lower Gloucester, hoping to reach Portland by way of Pownal and Yarmouth. As they neared Pownal, the roads grew worse, and at Pownal station Wesley Huse dropped out of the party. He was cold, hungry and tired, and he waited there for the evening train back to Lewiston.

The others pushed on, leaving Pownal about eight in the evening. It had taken them seven or eight hours to plow their way this far in the drifts, and it only got worse.

“About eleven o’clock, Friday night, Auburn was aroused from its slumbers by a telephone message from Arthur Towle,” the article said. “The three were at West Pownal, three miles from where Huse had left them and this was three hours later. Here, they intended to snatch forty winks. The automobile was deserted in the middle of a drift and the trio sought out a peace-loving farmer who staked them to a bed for the night, or rather, what was left of the morning. It was said that before they retired the three held a conference of war and it was voted 3 to 0 to return to Lewiston by train Saturday morning.”

When the winter of 2016 finally hits L-A, keep a smile on your face as you snow-blow the driveway, defrost the windshield and set out on newly plowed, sanded and salted roads. Remember those long-ago days and say a thank-you to our cities’ dedicated road crews.

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


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