It was 45 years ago today that we entered the biggest and baddest of Atlanta's winter storms, The Great Ice Storm of '73. With little warning, icy rain fell for hours and then froze like clear steel on Atlanta's trees, roads and power lines. Big pines began to crash down on houses, splintering utility poles and blocking roads. Transformers exploded like incoming artillery and lit up the Atlanta night with freakish blue arcs of hot light. Everything went dark. Black ice covered sidewalks, steps and every road for miles.
Then, unlike typical Atlanta weather patterns, it did not warm up. It stayed cold, below 17 degrees, for several days. When power was finally restored, more trees fell and things went dark again. In our Druid Hills neighborhood, we were without power for ten days. Here are a few heavily edited excerpts from my journal during that time:
Day One: Dad is worried about the golf course. He has decided we must go in to work. I suspect he just wants to hit range balls. I protest. "Dad, it's froze out there."
"Dammitboy!" Dad barks at me while seeing if he can swing a 7-iron in an army surplus arctic parka. (I was one of many in that era who thought my first name was Dammit.) "We should let it melt, Dad."
"Boy, we lived in the Bavarian Alps for six years, we can handle a little cold and ice."
"Ain't us I'm worried about, it's them Georgians out there."
Irrigation pump is cracked. Maybe we need a pump house.
We rolled out in my '66 VW Westphalia Camper. Since there were very few fools on the road--just us--we made the 20 minute drive to Little Mountain CC in two hours of white knuckle driving, sliding sideways into a number of non-functioning red light confrontations and arrived safely . . . if you don't count my damaged long underwear bottoms.
We found the course covered in downed pine trees, later counting out around 3,000. Most were small, 15' tall, four-inch diameter and almost all are uprooted. A few are splintered, broken halfway. Only about 75 really big trees down.
Clubhouse pipes are frozen. In the cart barn, a previously unknown ancient bored well about 4' across, opened up and tried to swallow an E-Z-Go. It was wedged in there really good. I was unable to get it to go the rest of the way.
At the barn, it's bad. No equipment was winterized--no mechanic--only survivors are our '37 Ford pickup, a Ford tractor from the 17th century, a Toro walking greensmower--thankfully, it's air-cooled, no radiator--and a Homelite XL-12 chainsaw with a bow affixed instead of a bar.
Our newest truck, a '54 Dodge, is dead. I pulled it into the barn and its bodily fluids leaked all over the dirt floor. I shouldn't have cranked it. Irrigation pump is cracked. Maybe we need a pump house. The spray rig is probably dead, not sure, haven't used it yet because it has no boom or jets. Also, spray rig wheels were cannibalized from an old tractor and it doesn't look right. Should have used the front tires instead. F-10 looks like it was shot with a .50 AA gun, but it was like that before the storm. Dad tells me to call and see if we have insurance but they won't answer. After holding for an hour, I determine our phones are dead. No power for cart chargers, so cart batteries are dead, but that's kind of normal.
Day Two: Dad hands me the Homelite and tells me to get busy cutting trees off the fairways. Homelite has a special chain that keeps it from kicking back. It also keeps it from cutting. I spend the whole morning trying to crank it. Apparently the manual oil pump trigger is not the starter.
Day Three: My VW's motor blows up on I-20. Dad comes to get me and scowls like I did it to avoid work. (You sabotage one walk mower at age 14 and from then on . . . )
Day Four: VW is missing. I think the police stole it. I begin teaching myself the art of the chainsaw. Almost cut my head off on the first frozen pine. This saw doesn't work by cutting, it's more of a woodburning kit. I ask Dad for a new saw and he scowls at me. I think he muttered "Dumb-ass", but not sure.
Day Five: Cut through large pine with bow saw and tree comes back together--inside the bow. Homelite forgot to put a cutting chain inside the bow. Saw is stuck. Rufus, the 80 year old F-10 driver and AM radio preacher who is helping me by watching, says "Boy, you stuck that saw real good."
Dad brings the tractor and pulls tree apart while I wrestle the saw loose. Dad says nothing, just scowls at me. He has also started shaking his head at me. I think he is doing that now as a substitute for cussing me, cause I told Momma about the "Dumb-ass" comment and she told the preacher.
Day Six of the Ongoing Ice Storm Crisis: Still no power and no shower yet. Have begun stinking like a sewer goat. No one says anything, probably because the only water is lake water and it requires an axe.
Water beads up on me like I've been Turtle Waxed.
Day Seven: Discovered strange phenomena--some uprooted trees, when freed of upper branches, suddenly and violently stand upright. A medium sized pine leaped to attention just as I reduced its length to 12'. It snatched the bow saw from me and flung it through the air like a motorized tomahawk. Saw lands 20' away, up on a tangled clump of twisted, broken limbs. As I climb up to retrieve saw, Dad shows up.
"Always screwing around. Just can't help it, can you, boy?"
"Dad, I think this might be how the Philistines discovered catapults."
Dad shakes his head at me.
Day Eight: Still no shower. Doesn't matter anymore, because now I am waterproof. Water beads up on me like I've been Turtle Waxed. Granny's Country Kitchen has power, so we rush over there at lunch. The lunch ladies behind the counter are apparently ill. They keep gagging. Must be contagious, a dog that came up to me in the parking lot had the same illness.
Tonight, Dad's gym at Toco Hills had power. Ran up there and got in shower just as power went out again. Very dark in the gym and the water turns cold quick. I'm nervous about the situation. I yell out in terror when a hand grabs my butt. Turns out it was my hand--didn't recognize it because it was partially frozen.
Day 11: Still below freezing, but power back on. Finished dragging off trees and limbs. It's a shocking change! The course looks so open and inviting, instead of narrow and suffocating. New theory: Tree-lined courses are an abomination. Real golf should be played on wide open spaces.
Day 15: Dad does extensive After-Action Analysis, reveals new plan for future golf operations.
*Hire mechanic, no matter what, even if half the crew is terminated. I'm guessing that half is me.
*Winterize everything. I suggest we ask Palmer Maples how to winterize trees. Dad shakes head.
*Weather forecasts in the future will be treated simply as a call to place bets.
*Dad says I need to learn how to properly operate a saw. I agree and suggest a pre-emptive strike on any trees near greens, tees, fairways and the golf course. Dad shakes head.
*VW turns up forty miles east. A policeman has it.
Day 75: Dad is offered a big muni. Looks like I will escape any more tree work.
Day 80: First day on new job. They had massive tree damage, too. Dad hands me an axe, points toward pile of logs the size of a high rise and tells me to split it for firewood.
Day 125: The axe is now a part of me. I have named her Brunhilda. Also I have become a Norseman . . . with a severe duck-hook from the wood-busting technique of throwing the axe-head through impact.
Day 16,425: Still have the hook. Also panic attacks when houses line left side of fairway. Tendency to take off running at first sound of glass breaking and car alarms. Discovered Top-Flites can penetrate stucco.
"I learned more from hard times on the job than I did in college."
RW Wilson, NW, MOG