Historian's Corner

Charlene Cole
Sandy Creek/Lacona Historian
Historian's Corner
January 12, 2018

Who was John Daunt?

Sandy Creek News: John Daunt, veteran railroad man, speaking from the experience of more than fifty winters of battling snow on the local section of the New York Central shared his memories of the severity of the winter of 1935-1936.

Compared with the historic blizzard of January 9, 1912 the day the California Block burned, and other storms back in those days and even earlier, Mr. Daunt describes the recent storm as “nothing but just a fog.” He does not, however, recall a period of such long-contained zero weather as during the present winter.

Mr. Daunt who will be 81 on April 20, began work on the railroad at the age of 18 and came to the Lacona section in 1882. He retired 11 years ago after 41 years as foreman, during which time he received many prizes for maintaining the best section of the track.

Railroad men had their troubles in those days, before the invention of modern snow fighting equipment. All the work had to be done by hand, and many winters he and his gang were called out day and night to shovel. Ice caused almost as much difficulty as snow, for the rails were low on the roadbed and derailments were often caused. Rails were light then, being only 40 lbs. to the yard as compared with 130 lbs. now. Often a stalled freight or passenger train would tie the road up for a week at a time. More often than not, the blockade came at “the sour apple tree”, a point just north of Lacona where the drifts used to form right down to the tracks.

Nowadays the snow fences and the big plows relieve track workers of long hours of back-breaking labor.

“People think the snow is deep now; why this is nothing, there hasn’t been a day when cars haven’t run, but I’d like to have seen a car try to run then. I have seen the time when the level snow was so deep you couldn’t see the tops of the fence posts. The roads had pitch holes so deep you could almost have hidden a load of hay in them.” Mr. Daunt said.

Families in those days were prepared to withstand a siege, with frozen beef, pork and their products in the cellar along with jar after jar of preserved fruit. Housewives would make up a quantity of mince pies, let them freeze and then being them out as needed. Families were large, and there was a great deal of visiting back and forth, so large stores of provisions were necessary. Even so, there is a record of one Boylston family which was reduced to the necessity of sifting the horse feed to get meal for food during a long-continued blizzard when the roads were blocked for days.

All in all, storms will have to get worse than they are right now before conditions approximate those of the old time winters, he thinks and many others will join him in that belief.

Charlene Cole
Sandy Creek/Lacona Historian
1992 Harwood Drive
Sandy Creek, NY 13145
315-387-5456 x7
Office hours: Friday 9am to 2pm