Remembering the big snow of ‘77

Remembering the big snow of ‘77

To read more of retired Gainesville educator Jane Elder’s blog, Ozark Road, visit To her most recent post, she added this disclaimer: I know there are some people out there that might add to ... or correct ... some of what I remember. I can plead old age ... or some such excuse.


The picture above will be 40 years old in a few days. Or nearly so. The winter of 1977-1978 was almost equal to its predecessor ’76-’77. Cold, lots of snow, freezing temperatures and wind. We had bad weeks or months in the years that followed. But that was one for the record books, in my memory.

We had just moved to Gainesville in May of ’77. We were working on the Grandma Harlin house on Harlin Drive and living across the street, on the corner, in what was called the Jim Hale house. It was small, but fine for us. It had all the comforts of home ... plus a woodstove in the middle of the living room.

I think we spent Christmas in Bethesda, Maryland, with Andy’s folks that year. And when we were headed back through Memphis, the bad weather met us full blast. Always a challenge when you’re traveling that time of year. An ice storm came up, or down, from some unknown region. We made it home, but barely.  

School was called off, of course. And we settled in to wait it out. Living in town made it easier to get to the grocery store. When we lived in the Wilderness we were pretty far from the nearest town, but our local store carried milk and bread, and we made it fine – when we were able to get out to the main road. But here in Gainesville, it was all downhill ... or uphill, depending on which direction you needed to head. We didn’t get the truck out very much. And we had my mother’s Saab parked in the front yard. For a Swedish car, it was remarkably useless in ice or snow.

After the first week of snow and blustery weather, we were looking for a break. But it didn’t come. No. Each day brought more snow, more freezing temperatures, no melting on the roads.  

I do remember that at night the kids in town would bring their sleds up to the corner of Harlin and Fair, where our house sat, and make that hill a little slicker than Mother Nature had. They hauled up tires and set them on fire to keep them warm in between runs down the hill. And that went on until late in the evening. In the morning we would go out and pick up the remains of the tires – wire and tire scrap – and try not to track the black remains into the house.

School was canceled day after day. I wondered if we would have to extend the school year into June. That would be bad since none of the schools were air-conditioned, and, as you know, the old elementary school was hot as could be when the weather warmed up.  

However, the powers that be in Jeff City saw our plight and responded in a logical fashion. They forgave all the days we were out of session. They set the school year’s end date in May and put into law the Snow Day Policy, which said that each district would add so many Snow Days to the school year to be used for bad weather when the buses couldn’t run. And after the Snow Days were used up, there was a forgiveness area that would not cause schools to be in session very much longer than mid-May.

I think we finally went back to school in late February. And how happy all the kids were to see their friends and share the stories about what they did during the Big Snow. 

Oh ... you might be wondering about the picture. Andy was always creative when it came to making snow fun for our daughter, Nina. He took a plastic storage box and made snow blocks. He built a snow cabin out of the block for her to play in in our side yard. A sheet covered the top. I don’t know if she remembers that winter. She was about our grandson Gus’s age then. But her parents do! And we hope we don’t have to endure another one like it anytime soon.  

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