January 28, 1934: First Ski Tow begins Operation in Vermont

“You ought to be able to think of something to get us up these hills. Each of us is spending $40 apiece to enjoy a weekend in Vermont, yet the most we can do in a day is to climb a hill half-a-dozen times. We want to get in all the skiing we can on these weekends. We want to be carried uphill.”Rope Tow

Tom Gammack had spent most of a day with two friends, Doug Burden, (who would later develop Florida’s Marineland) and Barklie Henry, climbing the slopes of Clint Gilbert’s Hill in Woodstock to enjoy a few brilliant moments skiing down to the bottom.

After their day on the slope the three men, all businessmen from New York City, sat at the White Cupboard Inn, chatting with innkeepers Elizabeth and Robert Royce along with “Bunny” Bertram, the former captain of the Dartmouth ski team, who had given them a bit of instruction.

They all had some aches from the day’s activity and good-naturedly started badgering Elizabeth about easing their uphill trek. Gammack was intrigued by Burden’s report of a rope tow he had seen in Canada that was powered by an old automobile. As the conversation heated up, Bunny asked Mr. Royce if he had a Sears or a Montgomery Ward catalogue so that he could estimate the cost of the rope for such a pull.

According to Bunny, Mr. Royce asked Bunny what he wanted the rope for, and when he deduced what Bunny was planning, made certain to rent the hill before Bunny got to it, paying Gilbert ten dollars for the season.

The ski tow cost $500 altogether, $300 coming from the three New York businessmen who each invested $100. It ran up a 900-foot incline, hoisting skiers with 1800 feet of rope that circled through pulleys that were attached to a tree at the top and to the drivewheel of a Model T Ford at the bottom of the hill.

They soon announced the grand opening of the “White Cupboard Skiway” and celebrated with a parade through town featuring a band, the Woodstock Fire Department, and “the big red Maxim truck.”

The first to ascend the lift on January 28, 1934, were three local boys – Bobby Bourdon, Lloyd Brownell, and Buster Johnson. In order to use the tow, they had to grab onto the rope and hold on for dear life as the rope sped them to the top. They soon learned to approach the rope carefully, grabbing with both hands, “one hand in front of the other, bending their knees and pitching their center of gravity back over their heels.” If they felt the ride was slow they would yell “Step on the gas!” and the operator in the truck would floor it.

As the rope pulled, it twisted, wringing and often stealing gloves from skiers as they reached the top. If a skier wasn’t careful, they could get hung by their own scarf.

One woman was unlucky enough to have a thread of her heavy knit sweater catch in the twisting rope. It began to unravel as the rope hauled her to the top and, as it was spring and she had gone to the slopes with nothing but the sweater to cover her top, she arrived at the top of the hill completely bare-chested.

Bobby Bourdon quickly presented her with his ski jacket.

November 3, 1927: The Vermont Flood of 1927

It rained a lot that fall. By the end of October the ground throughout Vermont was thoroughly saturated, and by early November even an average storm would have caused flooding.

vt Lood 2It started to rain again on the evening of November 2nd, and then the next morning and into the afternoon it poured. Seven inches of rain fell in six hours on November 3rd. By 4 p.m., the Winooski River rolled over its banks and down Montpelier’s streets. By night, the river topped out, 12 feet above the downtown sidewalks.

Roy Buxton got into Burlington just after the bridge to Winooski washed out, just in time to join the crowd that watched the firemen dynamite the gristmill in a desperate attempt to enlarge the engorged river channel. The next day, when he travelled to Jeffersonville, he watched a forlorn farmer haul 50 drowned cows out of a barn.

Ruby Dalley was living on Winooski Street, right near the iron bridge over the river. “My father had gone up the street to get groceries because we didn’t know what was going to happen. While he had gone down the street, my mother and I are standing in the door, and we hear a terrible, terrible crash of the bridge washing out.” By the time her father returned with the food, the water was rushing dangerously near the house. He set his groceries on a chair, hurried the family out of the house, and then dashed back in, but by then his packages were already afloat. Moments later “our house moved across the road and so did the garage.”

Harry Cutting and his wife and three children lived down the street from Ruby. The water rose so quickly that Cutting and his family were trappedVT Flood on the second story. In desperation, he lashed some doors together into a makeshift raft and tried to float the family to safety. “When it got in front of the Catholic Church, it bucked a tree, and his whole family went, but him. He got in a tree and his whole family drowned.”

John May and his wife and three children were in their Bolton home when it got picked up by the floodwaters in the middle of the night. Their neighbor, Will Agan, startled by the noise of the structure bumping along in the river, looked out to see John May standing in a window of the second floor with a lantern. Over the roar of the waters he heard May call out “Where are we?”  Agan answered, “You’re at Will Agan’s.” May shouted back, “Well, we’re gone. Goodbye” as his house careened down the raging river carrying him and his family to their deaths.

The Lieutenant Governor of the state, Hollister Jackson, was driving near his home in Barre when his car hit a deep hole in the street which had been concealed by the rising waters of Potash Brook. Dazed by his sudden stop, and with his hat and glasses knocked off, Jackson began walking back towards his house, but by then the water was rushing so fast that it cut a channel right across Nelson Street. His neighbors called out and tried to save him, but he was knocked down and then swept away by the torrent. The next day his body was recovered about a mile away.VT Flood 3

Henry Royce was 8 years old when the flood filled the Little River valley just north of Waterbury. He remembers people running to escape the river. He also remembers seeing a small pig swimming for dear life. Somehow, he and his sister rescued the animal. “I loved that pig,” he recalled. “I never could bring myself to eat it.”

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