Recalling the Blizzard of '78

 ... on duty in the teeth of the blizzard

By Len Dalton

Editor's note: Len Dalton's piece on the Blizzard of '78 was inspired by the special section on that subject in the March issue of the Mirror. It is notable in that he stayed on call for the duration, and went far afield to aid those in trouble.

It was a roll of the dice that I was on duty to respond to no-heat calls on the night of that blizzard.

So fearful were the forecasts that I insisted my boss allow me to buy and install chains on the heavy van. He said that was OK so as the snow fell harder and harder I received no calls until near midnight. By then the streets were impassable to most ordinary vehicles; Route 128 was entirely shut down, clogged with abandoned cars and trucks. Two calls for no-heat came in. I took off and the chains really paid off. Both calls were made. The customers were amazed that anyone would come to their rescue and I feel sure they talked a lot about getting a serviceman that night; good advertising for the company.

The next day, after clearing a two-story snow pile from the front of my driveway, I was sent to the north shore where things were bad. In Salem Willows, almost the entire community had basements flooded and, of course, had no heat. The salt water had gotten into the controls and the wiring so electricians had to go there first. When they got their job done, I had to go back and replace and wire all the controls. The same situation was found in Swampscott. Salty wires had to be replaced. I had to be extra careful to avoid electrocution. In Nahant the storm tide had rushed over Short Beach and crashed in the neighborhood across the ballpark. A gentleman residing in a basement apartment drowned when the walls collapsed and the sea rushed in full of big chunks of ice. The customer I went to had the good sense to hastily disconnect his oil burner and place it high out of harms way. After he got all the water out all I had to do was re-install it. He told me he saw the ocean rushing right over the road 100 yards from his house four feet deep!

During that first week after the storm the oil burner mechanics in my firm worked hard to get heating systems back where they are supposed to be with heat and hot water and it felt good to be of benefit to so many people in need.

April 4, 2003

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