Thursday, November 14, 2019

Snowstorm in the Sierra

It never ceases to amaze me how often I find a local connection in my travels. Last year Rick and I attended a Grocer's dinner inside the Sacramento Railroad Museum. What a treat. I ask someone to snap a pic of us in front of a Fruit Growers Express box car. Turns out this was just a refrigerated box car company with no local connection. HOWEVER, I read a super interesting and harrowing story the museum was featuring. The exhibit 'Snowbound in the Sierra' told of a 3 day ordeal on Donner Summit when a train traveling from Chicago to San Francisco became snowbound. The year was 1952, the snows along the Sierra were already heavy when a blizzard moved in, even Susanville was cut off from outside and supplies had to be airlifted in. A young Navy pilot was among the stranded on the train named The City of San Francisco. He would later say he really enjoyed train travel but wouldn't wish this on anyone. The young man had enlisted in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor and became a pilot. Following his active duty he joined the Reserves and in 1951, during the Korean War, he was called back to active duty. That's why he was on the train that day. 


The blizzard packed a punch with 100 mph winds, the plows cleared the way and had no idea two slides had completely covered the track right behind them. City of San Francisco made it through the first slide and was stopped dead by the second. For 3 days 226 passengers waited, the food dwindled, the pipes froze, the toilets backed up. Nearby residents joined with rescuers using dog sleds to get supplies in. Rescuers went without food or sleep trying to clear the way as the blizzard continued. Carbon monoxide built up. Freezing temps and the raging storm meant everyone had to shelter in place. For 3 DAYS. Harrowing indeed. 

That young Navy pilot would become Lassen County's first full time art teacher. For 44 years he taught at both the college and high school. Our Arts building at Lassen County Fairgrounds bears his name, so does a scholarship. Warren Chapman. A man I remember as always quick with a smile. Warren used to send photography students into our store to take pics of rows, of oranges, of boxes, of cans. Then he would show how the light and contrast changed each item. Wish I would have gotten to take one of his classes. 

His son Jim only learned of this ordeal in the mid 80s. Jim was driving his dad down I-80 and Warren began to tell the story. I read that there were a few nurses onboard and one doctor but the military personnel, with all of their training, assisted in caring for the passengers. I'm pretty sure Warren was right in there helping. 

Thank you for your service to our Country and our County Mr Chapman!

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