Sleeping soundly, I awoke to the loud crack of what I thought was a rifle shot. Reaching over and trying to turn on the lights, there was no power, rats, we had an all electric home too! The “shot” had awakened the whole family, including Rooster, our Brittany and Nick, our cat. We were all sleeping around the big fireplace in the basement,. “What was that Dad?” “Sounded like a shot to me!” “Beats me kids,” I replied, but later we found out that it was the crack of a pine tree snapping from the weight of accumulated ice. At the time, I didn’t even know that could happen.
We had moved from Phoenix to Atlanta in August of 1976 and by January of 1978 had really settled in. We didn’t live in the city but in an unincorporated area of Fulton County, Sandy Springs, that was a ‘buffer’ between Atlanta and Roswell. We had selected a home in the Lost Forest Subdivision and it truly was a lost forest, very hilly, a lot of pine trees, but ten minutes from my work and best, outside of the Atlanta ISD!
Being ‘flatlanders’ and since the last two winters had been mild for the area, we really didn’t know what to expect when the TV weather alerted us for ‘a severe winter storm and possible ice storm’. Since this was a new, high corporate mobility area, most of our neighbors were at a loss too. Finally a local surfaced and told us, “Folks you’d better prepare for the worst. We could be shut down anywhere up to a week!”
Early the next morning the storm hit in full force, rain, sleet, snow, high wind and plummeting temperatures. By evening the temperature had dropped to +5 and by early morning of the storm’s second day, -5. The coldest weather I’d ever seen! We thought we’d be ready, but soon found out how wrong we were, even with a cord of wood and fireplaces on two floors of our three, story house. The fireplaces, in particular, the one in the basement, and the wood certainly came in handy over the long haul of this storm.
Long haul it was! We were iced in and our house was on the middle of a hill. We couldn’t go up or down. We knew we would slide down and never even tried to go up the hill even in our 4WD, Dodge, Power Wagon. Our freezer was in the garage and since we had below freezing temps for over two days the loss of electric power didn’t cause a ‘great thaw’! We just opened the freezer doors and let the sub freezing cold blow in.
The biggest fireplace was in the basement and our lives centered around it. We were without power for almost four days and all cooking was done like the early settlers, over the fireplace fire. Thankfully, we never lost water pressure, our bathwater was heated over the fire and they were really only quick “rinses”.
The fourth day of the storm the weather moderated some so we loaded up four of my neighbors in my 4WD, Dodge Power Wagon with a sleeper, camper on the back end and headed off to our office. We all worked for the same large company, crept in slowly in low 4WD and finally arrived safely. Nothing much could be accomplished since we only had a skeleton staff that could make it in, but by the next day, schools were opened, business began ‘humming’ and power was restored to our part of Fulton County.
During the ‘Great Ice Storm of ’78’, our time was spent keeping the fire roaring, heating water for baths, cooking all day long, venturing to the colder portions of the house for clothes and needed items and surviving the best we could. Our time outside the protection of our basement fire was spent visiting with neighbors and helping, and being helped, with the clearing and cutting up of the numerous pine trees splintered by the ice accumulation.
This was a real learning experience for me, but just stop and think all that our forefathers had to endure, that today, we take for granted. Think of the effort expended, cutting, trimming, splitting, hauling and stacking a cord, 4’X 4’X 8’, of wood; or raising enough food to feed the family and livestock for the winter; or digging a 10 to 20 foot well for water or hauling water every day for the family’s and animal’s needs; or shearing, making the yarn, weaving and sewing clothes. All of this with no power tools, no electricity, no running water, no cell or telephones, no ‘modern medicine’, only the strength and ingenuity of the individual.
I think we’ve gotten soft!