The Al Bell Blizzard

Most of us of a certain age remember the anticipation and excitement of the annual Al Bell Show at school.

Some of us especially remember the weather during his program at the Earlham school in 1961. I still refer to it as the Al Bell Blizzard.

From 1949 to 1979, according to Becky Bell-Greenstreet’s website about him, Al Bell presented assemblies about exciting places all over the world to Iowa schoolchildren. 

AlBell
Al Bell photo courtesy of Becky Bell-Greenstreet, AL BELL REMEMBERED, copyright 2010

The 1961 show at Earlham was scheduled right before Christmas break.

Heavy snow had been predicted for that day, but the school certainly hated to call off what we all had looked forward to. Al Bell Shows were booked months in advance.

Parents began to call the school, worried about getting their kids home. Other began to arrive at school to pick them up.

Nothing was mentioned about the bus routes, so we rural kids stayed and enjoyed the show. Afterward we gathered up our books and band instruments and boarded the bus for the ride home–a ride long remembered by those of us toward the end of Harold Cooper’s route.

At home, then southwest of Dexter, Dad had parked his old Chevy at the bottom of our steep driveway, and trudged through heavy wet snow, relieved to get to the house–until he realized that Mom was home alone.

“Aren’t the girls home yet? They won’t make it up the hill!” He shook his head, stomping snow from his boots.

Mom had been busy in the kitchen, probably listening to Christmas music, and hadn’t noticed how bad the weather was getting. The tone of Dad’s voice alarmed her.

A few minutes later, the bus dropped off Gloria (a sophomore) and me (a senior) at the end of the lane. Snow already reached the tops of our boots. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school in those days. We both carried an armload of school books for break, and lugged a French horn.

Slogging up the hill, we had to stop often to catch our breath. We couldn’t see the house. The tops of fence posts helped to keep our bearings.

Once we made it to the house, Mom and Dad were so relieved. Our coats were plastered with snow. So were our bouffant hairdos. My bright red legs stung.

We found out later that the bus got stuck at the next stop, Kellers, on an east-west crossroad. Judy Neal and Marilyn Lawson were the only two riders wearing overshoes. Mr. Cooper sent them in to ask Mrs. Keller to call the parents of the kids still on the bus.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cooper got the bus “unstuck.” Afraid to wait, he drove back to the county line road. He drove as far as Bill and Helen Neal’s, telling them that the crossroads were impassible.

MrCoop1961 (2)

Mr. Cooper drove straight on south to his own home, but five kids ended up staying with Neals–their daughter Jane, Glenn Heckman, the Morford kids–Jane, Carol Ann, and David. Their electricity was off so they built a fire in the fireplace and played games.

Judy and Marilyn, who’d gone in to Kellers’ to make sure the other parents were notified, spent the night there.

Mr. Cooper got home okay. Just the crossroads were drifted shut.

The next day the roads were still impassible, but in the afternoon Fred Morford drove his tractor across the field–where there were no drifts–to get his kids. The others finally got home, too.

The Winterset Madisonian of January 3, 2007, it was one of the most paralyzing snowstorms in the history of Madison County, starting Friday morning and increased in intensity through the day and night. Nearly a foot of snow was measured at the Des Moines airport.

Is it any wonder we still remember the Al Bell Blizzard of 1961?

—–

Becky Bell-Greenstreet asked me to add this note:  “BECKY’S WEBSITE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY.  DO NOT ORDER HERE.”

Her book, Al Bell Remembered, is available for $20 from her at this address: Becky Bell-Greenstreet, 1079 State St., North Bend, OR 97459.

“CHRISTMAS SPECIAL! To order my book, “Al Bell Remembered” and the 29 films in the dvd package for only $85, please contact me at beckybellgreenstreet@gmail.com. OR, if you hustle, mail a check to me w/your information to 1079 State St., North Bend, OR 97459.” This discounted offer is good through Christmas Day.

—–

Here’s another story about our bus driver, Mr. Cooper.

9 comments

    • Always such fun! He had a personality that was bigger than life and would tell such exciting stories in a way that captured your attention–and you learned things along the way. I posted this on the Forgotten Iowa Facebook page and am amazed at how many people said the were inspired by his programs to a lifetime of travel. One even said they’d been to every continent except Antarctica because of him!

      Liked by 1 person

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