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Date: 03/28/17 09:20
60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: rrman6

The recent days of March 22-26 cover the 60th Anniversary of one Western Kansas storm to be remembered that brought the Rock Island's Golden State Limited #4 passenger train as well as similar ones of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific to a halt.  NOAA weather from the Dodge City, KS office has posted March 23-25 1957 articles from the local newspaper, some as shown here.  The following link will show the entire article.   http://www.weather.gov/ddc/1957Blizzard
I recall this 1957 storm as a high school sophomore living in Haviland, KS on the Rock Island railroad's Golden State Line.  My town was between Pratt, KS, 20 miles to the east and Liberal, KS, 110 miles to the west.  Both of these cities were crew change points at that time.  As the son of a Kansas farmer, I helped my father in farming and moving through various Western Kansas counties to reach our farm land and am familiar with most locations on the RI, AT&SF, MP, and UP and realize how the weather can change abruptly, bringing high winds, blowing dirt, and finally a snow blizzard.  As I recall, we had a large snowdrift across our yard and 1 to 2 feet of snow on streets plus a loss of elecricity during this time.  Fortunately, in our house was an early battery powered Philco radio that we could get the weather reports on.  Popular music was Marty Robbins with his "White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation" for me!  The following is some details of the weather and of the stranded Golden State #4.
On Friday, March 22, 1957 it was a clear evening, but meanwhile, the recipe for a fierce winter storm on the Kansas Great Plains was brewing.  North winds after midnight began at 10 MPH bringing blowing dust due to drought conditions and then snow.  As the early morning hours advanced with lower temperatures, the United States Weather Bureau at Dodge City reported winds with snow and blowing snow increasing and bringing 3/16 mile visibility at 8:25PM on Saturday, March 23rd.  By 10:30 zero visibility began with 35+ winds and continued into Sunday March 24th with continued zero visibility and up to 47 MPH winds.  This weather across eastern Colorado and western Kansas brought virtually all road and rail travel to a stop with snows up to 20 feet deep in cuts west of Meade, KS on the Rock Island route.  
In the following I credit a deceased Pratt newspaper man, Alar Mawdsley, for some recollections from his book, "Iron Men and Iron Horses" in presenting an account with the Rock Island's Golden State #4 premier passenger train, its crewmen, passengers and aiding people from various communities during this incident.
When the Rock Island's Golden State left Tucumcari, New Mexico at 4:00 Saturday afternoon, March 23, 1957, it was snowing briskly and it snowed all the way eastward to Dalhart, Texas.  The snow didn't slow down the train and it arrived there right on time, but from Dalhart eastward, the fall gradually increased.  It took #4 nearly twice the normal time to get through Guymon, Oklahoma and on to Liberal. Kansas.  It arrived at this southwest Kansas point two hours late.  Liberal was the point which #4 usually met westbound #39, The Imperial, and it was standing there when #4 pulled in.
There had been much communicating between Liberal and Kansas City, KS which was the headquarters of the Rock Island's Missouri-Kansas Division.  The resulting opinion between officials was that #39 was to proceed no further west than Liberal.  The storm through which the Los Angeles to Chicago #4 had just come through had reached such intensity that it was decided to hold ALL westbound traffic from Liberal.  Also, there was question as to whether the Golden State #4 should be allowed to proceed eastward.  During this time of indecision the elite #4 train underwent customary servicing of mechanical inspections, fuel and water for the boiler.  The ultimate decision was up to Superintendent Voss is Kansas City, who after weighing various opinions, gave the right to proceed eastward.   At the time the decision was made, it was decided to pull two power units from #39 which would no longer need them and add them to #4 as insurance.  Normally the Golden State was operated with four units.  The train now was composed of 6 E units plus 18 cars.  In addition, an extra engine crew was assigned who rode in the rear E8 A unit.
Now with the decision reached and the big train serviced, it was shortly after midnight early Sunday morning, March 24th, that the train departed with its approximately 300 passengers.  Scheduled departure time was 7:30 Saturday evening, March 23rd.  Engineer, N.V. (Whitey) Benson was at the throttle on #4 when leaving Liberal.  When he'd climbed into the cab the wind was driving the snow hard and he was later told that night the wind had reached near 80 MPH in his area.  Soon after leaving the Liberal station they began hitting snow drifts but plowed through them with no difficulty.  A Rock Island "loaf of bread" wedge snowplow was sent hours before clearing the way, but barely was the snow dislodged when heavy new snow replaced it.
The train was traveling near 80 MPH on this white night until the block signals began indicating "yellow" so Benson cut the speed to 40.  It was later discovered the block system had been affected by the storm and though the signals were showing "yellow", they should have been "green" for a clear track.
Despite the E8's powerful headlight, Benson or his fireman, Wally Rich, could see no more than a few hundred feet due to the falling snow.  Suddenly, as they headed into a deep and narrow cut west of Meade, KS, they saw snow piled high in front of them.  They were expecting some snow but not snow that reared to a height of ten to twelve feet.  By now there was nothing they could do but drive into it.  The train must have come to a stop without too much of a jar because no passengers seemed alarmed.  The conductor and brakemen decided not to tell them the train was stuck until morning, however, in an hour or two the passengers began to feel the chill and began making inquiries.
In the cut and buried were all six power units, baggage car, mail car, dormitory car and two chair cars and a third car was almost covered.  Drifts eventually were piled up in varying degrees against the remaining thirteen cars but didn't envelope them.
For a few hours it was comfortable in the locomotives and there was plenty of fuel to keep the steam boiler working with heat to the train, but after seven or eight hours the water was used up and therefore, no further steam.  Not only was the heat lost--there was no lighting, ventilation, no water pressure to flush toilets, nor any drinking water.  As the train became increasingly cooler all the extra blankets from sleeping cars were distributed.  It got down to 18˚ F. part of the time.  Fortunately, the engulfed diesel power units kept the freezing, slicing wind from whistling in through the cracks.  There was little room in the cab for exercise to keep the blood flowing, said engineer Benson.  Although these two crewmen were faring well under the circumstances, they weren't sure of the other two men in the rear unit, but after walking through the six units they found Engineer Kessler and Fireman Sears doing as well as themselves.
The conductor and brakeman with their battery powered lanterns patrolled the cars during the night, but they found few complaints and no particular concerns.  When daylight came, the passengers in the forward cars were unable to see from their windows that were completely covered with snow, and consequently, they began to feel uneasy.  Drastically contributing to their feelings of anxiety were the radio reports being heard on some passengers transistor radios tuned to KGNO in Dodge City.  Reports were saying this was the worst blizzard of the century and there were no signs of the storm diminishing.
Later, reports were heard that there would be breakfast for ALL this Sunday morning and most passengers perked up.  There was bacon, eggs and pancakes to be had.  The chefs used their propane-fired stoves and there was propane to spare, but…there was no drinking water.  Fortunately there were soft drinks and beer that usually sold for at least 50 cents a bottle.  At the time, the Sunday selling of beer was not permitted in Kansas!  It's believed the dispensers handing out the beverages didn't draw a line on that particular Sunday morning between strawberry soda, lemon sour and Miller's High Life or Budweiser!
Breakfast on the marooned, isolated, snow-bound Golden State between Meade and Plains, Kansas on this Sunday morning was highly appreciated, but it pretty well depleted the train's larder.  No noon meal was served but at 5:00 PM sandwiches were served.  The cooks found adequate filling enough for one sandwich per person aboard. 
Later in the afternoon something disturbingly happened.  Some passengers began losing consciousness and at one time ten were comatose, all being in the forward cars enshrouded with snow and with no ventilation or means of oxygen.  No windows or side doors could be opened, but the end doors could, and were, opened but also, this dropped the temperature considerably.  Engineer Benson remarked the outside temperature dropped to 19˚ and had it reached much colder the train would have frozen.  Three passengers who succumbed due to scarcity of oxygen were carried to the rear of the train.
Up to this point there had been no need for outside communication, although the railroad officials knew #4 was stranded and knew it had passed through Plains and had yet to reach Meade.  They also knew that the parallel U.S. 54 highway was blocked with high drifts.  Rear Brakeman, Jim Chapman, knew they were stranded near Missler, the sight of a passing track and only an old grain elevator and he knew there was a trackside dispatchers telephone there.  Although the train carried a portable telephone, it was unable to be attached to the pole line due to the wires being buried with the continuous blowing snow.  Chapman wore a light raincoat over his blue uniform and walked the track toward Missler, seeing the rail tops when possible and feeling his way with his feet.  With the blinding snow he eventually reached the phone finding it workable.  Officials in Liberal weren't very reassuring saying everything is tied up there and they can't even get out of the yards, but he was granted a degree of happiness.  He was told the National Guard at Pratt was notified and would be making an attempt to reach the stranded train.
Meanwhile, tension was mounting with passengers becoming more discomforted and problems, both minor and major, were increasing by the hour and he knew he must return to his post on the train.  After he finally returned the one-half mile from Missler and before re-entering the train, he made a visit to the locomotive crews by sliding down the snow and through their windows before returning to the passengers.  On his return he found a traveling doctor aboard who was caring as best he could for a diabetic that had lost consciousness.  This lady had misplaced her medicine before losing consciousness, so the doctor took the chance in giving her sugar.  Luckily, she regained and was able to find her medicine.
The storm at Meade was earlier reported of blizzard proportions by 5:00 PM on Saturday and as the wind howled the snow blew and drifted all of Saturday night and all day Sunday with the wind velocity near 60 MPH.  U.S. 54 highway at Liberal was closed at 3:00 Saturday afternoon.  Motorists and truckers were unhappy they couldn't advance further east of Liberal. 
A Rock Island wedge snowplow which later trailed in the wake of the #4 Golden State was unable to reach the deep cut where the train was immobilized.  The plow had not reached Missler and was off the tracks a mile to the rear of the blocked train.
At 2:00 Sunday afternoon, a Pratt National Guard officer rounded up seven guardsmen with their track mounted M-7 howitzer for the trip.  They drove it to the Rock Island tracks to a loading dock just east of Pratt's Main St. where it was loaded on a flat car.  This westbound train consisted of a wedge plow, the locomotive, the flatcar with the M-7 and a caboose in which the guardsmen and a RI special agent rode in.  They left Pratt at 3:15 Sunday afternoon.  It was stated they plowed snow all the way, leaving Pratt with snow coverage of 1 foot and 5 ½ hours later, reached Meade with 3 ½ feet of snow coverage.
On Sunday evening at 8:00, the National Guardsmen unloaded their M-7 howitzer in Meade.  By 10:00 they were set out in search of the train.  A Meade citizen familiar with the area of the cut accompanied the men and the howitzer with one person walking ahead directing it.  Some took turns leading and when not, they seeked shelter behind a metal shield which was of little value.  Upon finally reaching the train, after seven miles in two hours, they were able to knock on the side of the cooks area and were able to enter where they were greeted with hot coffee.  They had to wait till daylight to begin any rescue.  They first removed the three dead bodies back to Meade then later followed with three school buses for the passengers.  Once the vehicles made several passes the their tracks made somewhat of a road.  These three buses held 101 passengers on the first trip.  As the self-made road became packed, better time could be made.  As advances were made with other passengers, the snow and blowing began to cease allowing better visibility and sighting of better passageways.  There were not many remaining on the train after the second load, but the M-7 crew was exhausted and they weren't sent back for the remaining passengers.  Later at about 4:00 PM a bus managed to make the trip without aid of the M-7 howitzer.  This trip and another one pretty well completed the unloading of train #4.  The sun had gone down, the moon was shining and 253 passengers were registered in the Meade school gymnasium.  A few others had been removed by nearby farmers and were temporarily residing with them in their homes.
Monday morning, March 25th, the sun was shining and a Navy P2V twin engine airplane from the Hutchinson Navel Air Station was dropping canned meat, cookies and milk to those few remaining on the train.  The Civil Air Patrol made some of these drops.  Some ate snow for their liquid.  On Tuesday morning, March 26th, more than 2 ½ days following the abrupt stop, the passengers in Meade boarded a train that had arrived from Pratt.  This train then returned east in reverse with its load.  It was these days after everyone was out of the train that the snowplow could finally clear the track to the rear of the train and even then, it was necessary to pull out the entombed cars individually.
The 2 ½ days of disruption on the Rock Island held three passenger trains in Pratt awaiting to aim for Liberal.  A fourth train was due and it was yet another day before it could get through.  At one point in following days, #4 was re-routed on the Santa Fe to Dodge City, then transferred to the Rock Island's Dodge City sub-division to Bucklin, KS where it reached the mainline to proceed eastward toward Pratt and eventually toward Chicago.
A TIME magazine dated April 8, 1957 is stated to have ten pages of photos and text devoted to this Blizzard of 1957.  During this 1957 Blizzard of Western Kansas, those individuals and towns providing lodging, food, medical care and hospitality for all stranded persons of this storm will always be remembered as "True Kansan's" with "Big Hearts"!
Credit for some attached photos go to the NOAA site, the Kansas Heritage Center of Dodge City.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/28/17 11:38 by rrman6.

Date: 03/28/17 09:23
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: rrman6

Other attachments.

Date: 03/28/17 09:30
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: rrman6

More attachments :

Date: 03/28/17 09:32
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: rrman6

More attachments 2

Date: 03/28/17 09:53
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: Cumbres

Very interesting article and write up.  Thanks for taking the time to do this.  


Date: 03/28/17 09:58
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: gcm

Wow - what a storm !
Thanks for posting the articles and writing up the details on the snowbound train.

Date: 03/28/17 10:01
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: santafe199

Fascinating! I grew up in Kansas and have seen over the years a fair number of blizzard conditions, but nothing ever this bad. WOOF!!!


Date: 03/28/17 11:16
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: SCKP187

Quite a story and great coverage. You spent a lot of time for our reading pleasure.  I was 8 years old and in Salina KS when this took place and my Dad was working the west end Salina to Ellis on the UP and experienced a few difficult trips during this time.  Thanks for shareing this.
Brian Stevens

Date: 03/28/17 12:07
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: goneon66

i never heard of this storm until now.  thanks for making the effort to bring all of this info to us........


Date: 03/28/17 12:44
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: rev66vette

Fantastic post.....and a huge effort too...thanks for sharing....

Date: 03/28/17 12:46
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: wtsherman100

Fascinating stuff, thanks very much for posting.

Date: 03/28/17 16:35
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: The_Chief_Way

Thanks so much for sharing this.

Date: 03/28/17 18:31
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: Rathole

You put a lot of work into this post and it is greatly appreciated! 

Date: 03/28/17 18:42
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: upkpfan

Is this the storm that they used airplanes to fly out and drop bales of feed and hay to the cattle? If so, I remember this very well as seeing the pics of the airplanes dropping hay to the cattle as the farmers couldn't get around to feed their cattle.
I also remember this or it might have been 58-59 winter was  as bad and my wife to be,   stayed at my house so she could made it to work the next day.
Great job of writing and telling of the train. I don't remember hearing about that part though. upkpfan

Date: 03/28/17 18:56
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: ProAmtrak

Man, and the City of San Fran was bad, this is just as bad then compared to a few weeks ago with No. 8 in North Dakota tha tonly lost 22 hours compared to the Golden State and the City being days stuck until they can get the trains out!

Date: 03/28/17 19:28
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: rrman6

Want to thank all here who've enjoyed this experience of the 1957 Blizzard. 
I'm attaching some Google Map shots here that shows the Missler grain elevator and passing siding and their location in relation to the cut and stranded Golden State #4.  If you compare these shots with the newspaper photo taken from the Navy plane you may better understand the locations of the train and distance the Brakeman had to travel on foot.

Marv, yes, this is the storm they used the cargo "flying boxcar" aircraft to drop hay bales to the cattle stranded without feed.  If it wasn't for Mr. Mawdsley's book I wouldn't have near the details.  

I believe he may have had family that in earlier years worked for the Rock Island.  In his later years he posted railroad articles in the Pratt Tribune newspaper concerning railroaders and their families of the Rock Island and the Wichita Northwestern (aka the Anthony Northern).  
That was a dust bowl railroad based north of the Pratt Rock Island depot.  It traveled north and then west to Hopewell, Trousdale, Fellsburg, Centerview, Hodges, Gibson and finally north to Kinsley where it linked to the Santa Fe.  At Trousdale it also branched north to Belpre, Zook, Larned (with the Missouri Pacific) and then northwest of Larned to its terminus at Ash Valley.  It was planned to eventually reach Hays, Ks. but the economy and drought failed it and it was salvaged out in the early 1940's for war materials.  Supposedly a steamer lies in the bed of the Arkansas River south of Kinsley where it fell from the trestle.  Would love to have a backhoe and go digging!

Thank God we're having nice rains here these days and not a blizzard of 60 years ago!  Thanks again to all.  Hope you enjoyed the travel.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/28/17 19:32 by rrman6.

Date: 03/28/17 19:48
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: NiceHandTick

I remember this storm, as I was 9 years old in Kansas City and man we had a big storm in KC too!  It seemed that snow came up to more than half my height and we made snow sled paths in Penn Valley Park, near my home at that time.  I still remember it well after all these years, but I wasn't aware at that age what was happening out west of me.

Date: 03/28/17 20:56
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: NIKS

The train got stuck at the end of the Meade curves. I heard stories of this incident from several rails living in Liberal.

Peter N. LImas

Date: 03/28/17 23:53
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: mp51w

Talk about excellent documentation!  I have that book, and remember reading that story, but
all your pictures and newspaper articles really make it come alive!  I wish there was an easy
way to copy this TO link to my friends in Fowler, who undoubtedly remember this weather tragedy.
The handwritten NWS Dodge City records are especilly cool!

Date: 03/29/17 00:08
Re: 60 Years-The Kansas Blizzard Has Passed
Author: BCHellman

rrman6 Wrote:

> The ultimate decision was up to
> Superintendent Voss is Kansas City, who after
> weighing various opinions, gave the right to
> proceed eastward.

The decision probably ended his career, or at least it ended his climb up the ladder. The railroad can be unforgiving.

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