Saturday, December 5, 2015

The slow, difficult clean-up after 1950's big post-Thanksgiving snowstorm

The early predictions about how long it would take to clean up Ambridge's 26 inches of snow were just about as accurate as the predictions about 1950's post-Thanksgiving weather had been. So, not at all.

(If you missed the post about the surprise, record-breaking snow, you can read my November 28 post by clicking here.)

Although, given that on Monday, November 27, Ambridge's Daily Citizen reported that the digging out was going well and "well advanced in most communities," that Ambridge's main and secondary streets were open, and that side streets were expected to be "accessible" soon, those who lived, worked, or shopped in Ambridge might have expected a swift return to life as usual in the area.

After Monday, it became apparent that digging Ambridge out would take longer than first expected.

On Tuesday, November 28, the Daily Citizen published the photo below showing the snow-covered 500 block of Merchant St. looking south. On the far left, you can see Gusky's Home Furnishings, 550 Merchant and Krauss Jewelers, 546 Merchant.

500 block of Merchant St.
after the big snow
Daily Citizen
November 28, 1950

The Citizen's original caption for the above photo read:

CONDITIONS ON MERCHANT ST. are far from normal as the above photo suggests. While traffic is livelier today, there are few vehicles. Roofs are being cleaned of the excess snow. More buses are operating and the situation is developing to the normal stage.

Tuesday's Citizen reported that more streets were "passable," and Ambridge Street Commissioner Joseph Matzzie said, "We ought to have everything well under control within a few days. We are over the hump but not yet out of the woods."

But some neighborhoods were still snowed-in. Contractors Sigmund Gavlik and Stefan Blanarik and Stefan's son Steve, had taken it upon themselves to clear Ridge Rd. Ext.

A.M. Byers announced that the payday scheduled for Wednesday, November 29, would be postponed until Friday, December 1, since banks were closed.

Buses were running, but not necessarily via their usual routes or schedules.

The snow presented economic opportunity to people willing to shovel, especially shoveling roofs.

Clearing roof of snow
Daily Citizen
November 28, 1950

The Citizen's caption for the above photo of men clearing snow from a roof read:

ROOFS BEING CLEANED OF DEAD WEIGHT of snow is giving employment to scores of persons charging $3 per hour, some owners of Merchant St. buildings have paid out $50 for removal. Still the work continues as many are fearful structures will collapse because of the pressure. Borough officials have requested prompt removal of the whiteness without delay from flat roof structures. 

Monday, Ambridge school officials had said they planned to open schools on Wednesday. But by Tuesday, they realized that they didn't know when school could or would resume. On Tuesday, the Citizen reported that public and parochial schools in Ambridge would remain closed "indefinitely." All school activities and special functions were canceled or postponed.

But no school meant playing in the snow, assuming kids could get out their doors, and the snow wasn't over their heads. Parents were reminded that children should not ride sleds on streets with busy intersections like 4th, 5th, and 14th Sts. at Duss Ave.

On Wednesday, November 29, Burgess Walter Panek reportedly said that "all possible measures" were being taken to clear the streets of the huge snow banks. Harmony Township reported that it was using bulldozers and graders and working "around the clock" to clear the snow there.

The Citizen reported that bus lines were jammed, and service was "far from normal."

But you know conditions might be improving in Pittsburgh, at least enough for essential activities, when it was announced that the twice-postponed Pitt - Penn State football game was going to be played on Saturday, December 2, although at Forbes Field, not Pitt Stadium, as Pitt had been unable to get the equipment needed to clear some 2,000 truck loads of snow from its stadium.

By Thursday, November 30, there was some good news: H. H. Robertson had resumed operations, and Laughlin Memorial Library, closed for six days, would reopen the next day, December 1, and no fines would be charged for November 24 through November 30.

By this time, the 400 block of Merchant had been cleared. The 500 block was supposed to be cleared next, but then Ambridge announced it might clean the 700 block first. One problem: Ambridge's snow removal had been hampered by the State Highway Department's commandeering of the Gavlik Co. equipment Ambridge had been using, and Ambridge was reduced to using only its own equipment.

A lot of snow remained, even on Merchant St. This photo shows the huge banks of snow piled up in front of Davidson's Department Store, 510 Merchant St. On the far right of the photo is the Economy Bank of Ambridge, 500 Merchant. Note that the parking meters have been cleared. Priorities!

Snow piled in front of Davidson's Department Store, Wed. Nov. 29,
510 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Original caption:
PLENTY OF SNOW REMAINS--This photo was taken in the 500 block yesterday in front of the Davidson store. It shows there is plenty of "back-breaking" work to be accomplished before Merchant St. is cleared of the whiteness.

The photo below was taken in front of the Sears store at 653 - 655 Merchant. I don't know what "Market" is behind Russell Peck the shoveler. Anyone recognize it?

Russell Peck shoveling snow
600 block Merchant
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen caption:
RUSSELL PECK, Glenwillard, shoveling snow on a truck in front of the Sears & Roebuck store on Merchant St. 

The Prince Theatre, 638 Merchant, was "closed until further notice" according to the Tuesday, November 28 Citizen. I don't know if it was open at the time its marquee was being cleaned of snow.

Walter Addison cleaning Prince Theatre marquee
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen caption for photo above:
WALTER ADDISON, 310 Park Rd., caught in the act of shoveling snow from the marquee of the Prince Theatre Building on Merchant St.

Shoveling snow on Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen caption for photo above:
DICK CONANGE, 559 Merchant St., had a job on hand removing snow on Merchant St. Looking on is Bill Davis, 643 Glenwood Ave.

While buses were running on Merchant, getting on one could be a challenge as this photo taken in front of Krauss Jewelers, 546 Merchant, shows:

Waiting for a bus in front of Krauss Jewelers
546 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen caption for the above photo:
WAITING FOR A BUS -- People in a narrow area on Merchant St., cut through the snow, stand patiently awaiting transportation to take them home.

Still, snowbanks could be useful:

Mary Kacharin and Joan Artista
snow seat
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen caption for photo above:
MAKE USE OF SNOW -- Mary Kacharin, 104 Pine St., sitting on a snow bank of all places, on Merchant St. Standing is Joan Artista, 1027 Bernadine Ave. 

Not just the shovelers benefited from the snow:

Sol's Harry Neft
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen's caption for photo above:
 LOOKS LIKE GOLD -- stated Harry Neft of Sol's Auto Store as he helped to unload a prize truck-load of tire chains. Assisting are Leonard Copus, wearing cap, 342 Pine St. and Milton Hertneky, 1018 Beaver Rd.

It should be no surprise that alleys behind businesses had sizable snow problems too:

Bobby Knause next to snowbank
alley behind Penney's
601 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen's caption for photo above:
BOBBY KNAUSE, 12, 328 Park Rd., a DAILY CITIZEN carrier is pointing to the large pile of snow in the alley, rear of the J. C. Penney store.

I don't see any pointing by Bobby, but maybe the pointing was very subtle.

When you didn't have to shovel it or travel through it, the snow and icicles were beautiful.

Zion Lutheran Church parsonage covered with snow
Eighth St. and Maplewood Ave.
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

Citizen caption for above photo:
WINTER SCENE -- The icy finger of winter paid a visit to Zion Lutheran church parsonage at Eight and Maplewood Ave., when the old fellow made his rounds here.
As the photos show, Ambridge still had a way to go with its snow clearing efforts. More photos and an article about the final clean up efforts to come.


  1. aka jd john domansky

    can that be the same leonard copus, that was at a new years sokol club on duss, dance 1953 or 54 & danced with a friend of a girl i was with, i heard he married her later, is that true????

  2. jd aka john domansky

    the showing of all the snow in the alley behind merchant st. i recall shoveling the roofs 1950 near the ambridge theater & we were told to shovel all snow back into the alleys. so alleys were snowbound during the 1950 big snow. also i see people waiting for a bus by krauses store, in front of those waiting people is a guy that looks to be ice skating, i am almost sure , that guy is me, pants tucked into heavy socks, it was very cold at that time. i had figure skates on & used them to skate in chicago area until the 1990s

    also leonard copus may have married the girl in above post she was a great looking blonde as i recall. is leonard around yet???