The call came in that Thomas J. Johnson needed an ambulance. He was seriously ill and needed to get to the hospital. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem, but in early 1958, getting anywhere in Garrett County, Maryland, was to say the least difficult.
The ambulance attempted to reach him, but it couldn’t get through to Johnson’s Herrington Manor home. Help came in the form of bulldozers and snow plows that struggled to carve a path through drifting snow as high as 15 feet. It took six hours for the plows to reach the 67-year-old Johnson and rush him to Garrett Memorial.
During another incident that winter, Trooper First Class Robert Henline walked three miles through deep snow that vehicles couldn’t get through to deliver medicine to a desperate family near Gorman.
Other incidents occurred, some serious and some just major inconveniences, but there were a lot of them. In seven weeks in 1958, nearly 112 inches of snow fell on the county, beating out the previously bad winter of 1936. No other winter in the 20th century to that point even came close.
The Cumberland Sunday Times reported that the bad weather “practically isolated most of the county despite heroic efforts of State Roads and county roads crews, National Guardsmen and other volunteers.”
Although the first snows of the new year had fallen mid-January, the first big storm came at the end of the month. Ten inches of snow fell on January 24 followed by three more inches two days later. “For a short time on Friday afternoon there was snow, sleet and ice falling at the same time,” The Republican reported. A heavy fog also slowed things down.
The heavy snows led to the rare occurrence of closing Garrett County schools in the county for three days at the beginning of February.
“It was the first time in several years that there had been the loss of even one day of school,” The Republican noted.
School Superintendent Willard Hawkins said he “was afraid to put the buses on the roads because of poor visibility and icy conditions.” The Republican reported that Hawkins had intended to resume school on the third days until he found out that many children and teachers were still snowbound.
A week later nearly 10 inches of snow fell on three consecutive days. Pleasant Valley, Kempton, North Glade, Sanders Lane, and Herrington Manor were the worst hit, reporting snow drifts of 15 feet or more. With visibility near zero, the Maryland State Police issued an emergency travel only order.
The blizzard left about 40 percent of the county roads impassable for two days, according to Paul DeWitt, assistant county engineer. Garrett County had 140 men working 45 snow plows around the clock to try and open and clear the 740 miles of county roads.
State road crews were running 20 snow plows and a giant snow-blower over the 158 miles of state roads in the county. The only state road that was impassable was Route 495 between Bittinger and Grantsville.
With so much snow on the ground, the snow plows were only able to push it so far off the road before running into previous piles of snow that had been pushed off the road. “By that time there was no place to push it and consequently many of the highways drifted completely over,” The Republican reported.
In Oakland, snow and vehicles competed for space and the snow often won. “Parking space was at a premium and many of those who found places at the edges of the drifts found themselves unable to move when they returned to their cars,” The Republican noted.
All of the snow busted the county’s budget that year with rented equipment costing $1,000 a day and snow removal equipment using 2,000 gallons of gasoline a day.
Although the snow totals blew away previous snowfall records in the county, at least the temperature records still stood. In 1958, the temperature fell to -17 degrees, but the 1912 record was -40 degrees.
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