The Times West Virginian

February 15, 2014

Thanksgiving snow of 1950, broken and frozen water lines recalled

By John Veasey
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Fairmont and Marion County have been suffering through a very hard winter.

But there have been bad winters before, and William “Hoppy” Fleming recalled a couple of them.

“As bad as this winter has been, I remember some being just as bad. I know we had a bad one in 1960. But I don’t have access to records any more,” Fleming said.

“That winter of 1950 was real bad. That’s when we had the 48-inch snowfall at Thanksgiving.”

Fleming was employed by the City of Fairmont at the filtration plant for 43 years. He served as superintendent for the last 15 years on the job.

He remembers the winter of 1976 and 1977 as being very cold.

“We didn’t have any snow cover, and we had many water lines break,” he said. “Restaurants had to close or only be open five or six hours a day. Some manufacturers closed. Beauty shops closed. Businesses closed. The state wrestling tournament was scheduled in Fairmont, but it had to be moved because of the water problems.”

Fleming said Westinghouse needed water, and Fairmont couldn’t supply it because of all its broken pipes. Westinghouse got some volunteer fire departments to haul the water.

“We moved water from Sharon Steel to Westinghouse. We took it in tanker trucks. We would fill up a tanker truck and drive it to Westinghouse. I know Winfield did that also.”

He also remembers that year because the weather became so cold it froze the main water lines on some of the streets.

“The temperature got below zero, and it froze the main water lines. With all the leaks, we had trouble keeping enough water in the clear wells,” Fleming said.

Fleming said the Fairmont Fire Department “took a pumper truck up and bulldozed a road in and got to our reservoir and pumped it into our treatment plant. The demand for water was very high. It was more than our station could keep up with.”

That year the “cold caused problems because there wasn’t any snow, and the ground became very hard. Fairmont kept firemen at our treatment plant. They hauled gasoline up for the trucks.”

Fleming remembers the last time the river froze over.

“It jammed up by the fork of the West Fork and Tygart. We had to move things from our pump station. That could have been the same winter we were talking about.”

Fleming also remembers the Thanksgiving snow of 1950.

“During the famous Thanksgiving snow of 1950, we were able to operate and keep enough water, and the snow insulated the ground before it got real cold.” Fleming said. “Three of us stayed there for three days because workers couldn’t get there. They had to bulldoze the road so we could get chemicals in.

“The railroads had a lot of trouble.They couldn’t operate the switches and had to hire guys off the street to shovel snow for the railroad. That affected just about everything.”

Attempts to get statistical information from the Fairmont filtration plant proved unsuccessful.

Email John Veasey at jcveasey@timeswv.com.