On-the-Job Cold Weather Stories

Airdate: January 22

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

During cold weather, most people want to huddle inside around heat sources, but some jobs force people to brave the elements.

Waco businessman and historian Roger Conger delivered groceries for J. C. Crippen & Sons as a teenager in the 1920s. He recalls a winter delivery to Waco High English teacher Marie Leslie that can only be described as a learning experience:

"Her house was on the west side of North Eighteenth Street right across from Providence Hospital. And I pulled across the street to the wrong side of the street, it was. In other words, I was heading north, and it's a steep, downward hill there. And I pulled against the curb, and there was ice on the curbs that particular Saturday. Was a cold, cold day. I left my engine running, and I pulled the combination clutch release and brake of a Model T, which is to your left hand. I pulled that up and thought that I had locked the brakes. Left the engine running, went around to the back, got her order off, and went inside Miss Leslie's house and delivered her groceries. And when I came back out of her house, to my consternation, I couldn't see any truck. I hurried out to the curb, and I looked down the hill, and there was a filling station at the foot of the hill down there, and I saw a crowd of people around in this gasoline station. And with my box in my hand I ran down the hill and found that my truck, still loaded with Crippen groceries, had careened down this icy hill into that filling station, crashed into the back of an automobile that was getting some gasoline in it, and had thrown my load of groceries all over that end of Waco. (laughter)"

Fortunately, both the driver of the vehicle and Mr. Crippen were very understanding.

In the late thirties, George McDowell of Houston, a recent West Point graduate, was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma with the 18th Field Artillery, a horse-drawn regiment. One of his assignments concerned a horse-drawn unit at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, the 12th Field Artillery, which was becoming motorized and had equipment and horses it no longer needed:

"Our battery was designated to drive down from Fort Sill to Fort Sam Houston, pick up 246 horses, 8 guns, and 16 wagons and march them overland back to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, right in the dead of winter. When we got down to Fort Sam Houston, we found out that half of these horses we were going to take back had never been in draft pulling a gun or wagon or anything. So after we left Fort Sam Houston, we—first day, we only made about sixteen miles; the next time, about twenty-four. And we were hitting about thirty to thirty-two miles a day. But we'd try to bivouac by three o'clock in the afternoon. But then it got below freezing at times, and we weren't sleeping worth a damn. And you didn't have sleeping bags in those days. You just wrapped up in blankets and other things like that and did the best you could. The horses were not taking that cold weather. So every morning we'd have a—almost a rodeo getting hitched up. It was dark, and daylight didn't come till about seven o'clock. And so that march taught me, I said, ‘Well, I sure don't want to go to war with horses.' (laughs)"

Shortly after this operation, McDowell was transferred to the army air corps as an ordnance officer and served in North Africa, Italy, and the Pentagon in World War II.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM Waco, NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.

Search our collection of full transcripts available online.