Ralph Bohlke of Ballston Spa has vivid memories of the February 1958 snowstorm that isolated rural Mohawk Valley families for two weeks or more. For four days, a U.S. Army helicopter was used to evacuate isolated families and bring in food, fuel and medicine to Charleston and other towns.
Bohlke lived on the border between Princetown and the town of Florida in the hamlet of Scotch Church. The hamlet was named for Scottish settlers who came there at the end of the Revolutionary War and built a Presbyterian Church. A cemetery near the former church has gravestones dating back to 1802, some of them for Revolutionary War soldiers.
Bohlke was 13 years old in 1958. They were snowed in for seven days. Relief arrived in the form of a Schenectady County plow that eventually got to Bohlke’s home on Route 160. That evening, a Sunday, produced another big snowfall and they were snowed in for another seven days. Relief finally came again around Day 16 when a town of Florida plow got through.
Bohlke wrote, “The snow was almost even with the telephone lines in Scotch Church because I remember touching them with my hand in front of the church.
“I remember that there was so much blowing snow that it was the only time in my life that I could not get out the front or back door. “There was even a porch on the front door, but the snow was still blown up against the door so we couldn’t get outdoors. We had a wood shed attached to the back of the house with a dog door. I climbed out of the dog door to get outside.”
Bohlke and his mother, Genevieve, stayed home in Scotch Church to make sure the furnace kept working. His father, Harley Bohlke, stayed in Amsterdam with an aunt, Elizabeth Folmsbee on Guy Park Avenue, because he had to operate his business, Mohawk Cleaners & Dyers, on the old Cedar Street.
Bohlke wrote, “I remember digging a tunnel out to the road in the driveway. When my father came home after the two weeks, he had a black bear hat on and when I first saw it I wasn’t sure who or what was coming through that tunnel. Fortunately, it was my father with groceries in both arms.
“We had at least six feet of snow in our driveway except for a small area that was cleared out by the wind. My father and I spent a half day with our tractor and a scoop. We only got about 50 feet cleaned out and decided it would take us two more days to get to the road.”
Bohlke’s father called a friend at Rotterdam Septic in Rotterdam Junction to come with a front-end loader to clear out the driveway.
Bohlke said, “As kids, we loved the two weeks off. We played basketball in Aucompaugh’s barn and did a lot of tobogganing. We would go right over apple trees, going airborne, and crash into the snow. Since there was so much snow, we would just go right into the snow and get buried. You could not sleigh ride as the snow was too powdery and too deep. Those were the days.”
There were about 100 rescues in rural Montgomery County in February 1958. Grateful families provided plow operators with coffee and sandwiches and even full meals. Some farmers had to dump their spoiling supplies of milk. Amsterdam city schools closed for a week.
The spring of 1958 brought major flooding along the Mohawk River. After that, the Army Corps of Engineers built retaining walls along the south side of the river in Amsterdam.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at 346-6657 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.