by Eric Bombeck
This year’s winter storms bring to mind the major storms of the past that many of us in northwest Pennsylvania have endured. One of those was The Big Snow of 1950, more widely known as “The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950.” Local recollections of this massive “extratropical cyclone,” as the weather experts called it, were published on “Small Town Memories” in 2017.
Here is a captivating story about The Big Snow as experienced in South Pymatuning, PA, researched and written by Eric Bombeck. Appreciation of the cozy warmth of your own home will greatly increase as you imagine the trials of the Trump family and their rescue by some very brave, selfless and resourceful men and boys.
The Big Snow of 1950: Saving the Trumps
By Eric Bombeck, February 2019
On Thanksgiving day 1950, it started snowing in the valley. It didn’t quit snowing until late Saturday. In total, a little less than three feet fell in the Shenango Valley. It became known as “The Big Snow” and before it was over, it killed 250 people and caused 66 million dollars in damage in 22 states. The storm was, in essence, a very rare inland hurricane with gale force winds, causing 5-8 foot drifts.
In town, everything stopped. Workers stuck at Westinghouse worked 36-hour shifts because no one else could get to work or find a place to park even if they could get there. The brand new Shenango Inn was slated to open that weekend but had to be delayed. The roof in a hangar at Chadderton Airport collapsed damaging four planes. Longtime podiatrist, Dr. Leonard Pleban, who was in practice until a few years ago, was going to open his office that Friday but was snowed out. Richard Fahnline was a board operator at WPIC radio that year. He recalls that the only way he could get to work at the station was to walk there. During the 72 hours after the storm, the station became the nerve center of the valley. The skeleton crew there slept in the building in 3-hour shifts, taking to the airwaves to help with one emergency after another.
Getting to the Trump Family
By Sunday, the valley was paralyzed by the snow and word came into WPIC that, out in South Pymatuning, the Trump family was trapped in their house on River Road (near where Joe’s Greenhouse is now). The Trumps, whose six kids were between the ages two and fourteen, were out of coal and nearly out of food.
[Click on image to see an enlargement.]
In Sharon, Humane Society agent Russell Pass was listening to WPIC when he heard about the Trumps. His job was to protect animals, but sometimes you have to make the hard decisions in life, the right decisions. (Maybe even the decision that will get written about 68 years later!) Russell decided that he would take the Trumps enough supplies to get them through until the worst was over. It was late evening and he reasoned he would be home at his regular bedtime. But there was one problem: his station wagon was in his garage, which happened to be blocked by a 6-foot snow drift. He called Sharon city street foreman Ray Stuart who showed up with a bulldozer to clear his drive.
Road crews were not equipped with modern day plows back then and getting to the Trumps all the way out in South Pymatuning wasn’t going to be easy. Russell needed help, he gathered a few volunteers and headed out North Water Avenue. They got as far as Meyers Hill (where the Sharon shooting range is) and the roads became impassable. There was no choice but to hike the rest of the way. Some of the guys carried sacks of coal on their backs while others carried food.
Evacuating the Trumps
Almost an hour of trudging through the waist deep snow finally brought them to the Trump house. When they got there a new surprise awaited them: Mrs. Trump was pregnant with her seventh child. She and the whole family needed to be evacuated. There was no way Mrs. Trump could walk out in 3 feet of snow. Russell Pass decided that there was only one way to get her out…they needed a toboggan.
A phone call was made to WPIC and the weary on-air personalities announced that a toboggan was needed. At the same time, some high school kids were sled riding on the east hill of State Street in front of the Buhl Club. While the boys were warming up at the gas station (near the current site of Daffins), the police, who were tuned to WPIC, came in and asked to borrow the toboggan. Most of the crew were members of the junior class at Sharon that year, many of them Sharon football players. Not only did the guys give up their toboggan, but they also offered to make the trip out to save the Trumps. Back in South Py, Russell Pass began the long trek through the snow back to his car at the foot of Meyers Hill when the police gave the boys a ride to meet him. Then they all ventured back through the snow to the Trump house. By the time they reached the Trumps, it was in the wee hours of the morning.
Mrs. Trump and her family were all dressed in their warmest clothes and the whole crew headed out towards Russell’s station wagon in the middle of the night. Mrs. Trump was lashed to the toboggan and some of the football players carried some of the younger children as they trekked through the high snow back to the station wagon. History doesn’t record who carried the Trumps’ two dogs all the way back but it’s a pretty good bet that Humane Society agent Russell Pass was carrying one of them.
The Trump Family: Rescued!
Finally, the whole crew reached the station wagon. The Trump family was taken to Mrs. Trump’s mother’s house on Grant Street, very thankful to be safe. Russell Pass then drove his trusty station wagon back to the foot of Myers Hill to pick up the boys to take them home. Russell missed his bedtime by just a little bit…it was 8:30 Sunday morning by the time he got home. “The Big Snow” would take many lives that weekend, but not these lives, not on Russell Pass’s watch.
I spoke with Jean Trump Goodhart, one of the Trump children, who was involved in the rescue in 1950. Jean lives only about a mile from her old homestead. When I asked her about that night, she told me she had to rely on her older sister’s memory of the events. Jean actually rode out of trouble that night on the toboggan…but you say wait…Mrs. Trump rode out on the toboggan! Yes, that’s true. You may have already guessed that it was Jean who Mrs. Trump was pregnant with on that legendary night of ‘The Big Snow” in 1950.
Helping with the rescue that night were Richard Heile, Herman Weller, William Pringle, Bob and Bill Weber, Jim Morrison, Dave Bestwick, Andrew Mazuda, Gene Goodnight, Eric Charles and William Wilson.
For other personal narratives about this epic snow event, go to Big Snow of 1950.
For another story by Eric Bombeck, go to Snapping the Whip at Buhl Park.
Eric Bombeck (Sharpsville High School 1979) lives in South Pymatuning, PA, and publishes The Way It Was Newspaper. Check it out on Facebook: “The Way It Was — Newspaper Companion Page.” He also hosts the weekly “Bombeck Show” on WPIC-AM, Wednesdays at 5:00 pm, 790-AM, or http://www.790wpic.com.