he winter of 1935-1936 is very well documented, but I wasn’t born until October of ’36.
Mother told me about the Missouri River at Sanish, ND, being frozen over. Getting into Sanish from Grandpa Louis L. Larson’s farm on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation was by farm sled pulled by a team of horses. Winters typically left travel anywhere off state or federal roads nearly impossible by motor vehicle in rural areas (even in the modern times of the late 30s). Better-offs had sleighs like one would see on a Christmas card. Farm folks kept runner sets ready to put on their farm wagons. Mother said that it was easier for Grandpa to drive the team over the frozen river than to go overland into town.
Mother was already working at the hotel in Sanish, but with no easy way to get home and back (only an hour in this century, but 4 or more hours, even on the frozen river shortcut back then). So, her first Christmas away from home was in 1935.
I’m not sure if my dad (they weren’t married yet) was back in Sanish at that time or not, but in August, 1935, he was at a CCC camp in New England, ND. The Aug. 8, 1935, Tent Town Tattler says, “…considering making a deal with Johnnie Benson’s girl so that she would let the banjo plunker off for practice once in a while…”
The coldest temperature ever recorded in Bismarck, ND, 45 below, was set on Sunday, Feb. 16, 1936. However, at Parshall, just 21 miles east of Sanish, it was 60 below. Langdon, ND, 245 miles east of Sanish was below zero for 41 consecutive days that winter. “In spite of the weather,” Mother recalled, “there was still a Saturday night dance at the hotel where I was working.” She told me there was seldom a canceled Saturday dance.
During one of our discussions about weather when I was a teen, she told me that the only good thing about those times was that there were no indoor plumbing pipes to freeze. However, it’s hard to imagine having to thaw snow for water, then boiling it to kill any unseen critters. And, having to use a frozen outhouse for… well, you know.
It wasn’t just the cold, but the fact that it lasted into the planting season. Crops in the region didn’t have a chance to set roots before the record hot summer started. My grandparents Larson gave up trying to till the North Dakota dust and moved to MN.