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Return to paradise

Snowballs were flying down at the Medford railroad depot.

Just before noon, the first passenger train from the north since the big blizzard of December 1919 had arrived. California-bound passengers left their cars and opened up joyous winter warfare.

Beginning Dec. 9, a near-nonstop blizzard with deep snow and icy temperatures had paralyzed most of Oregon. Portland was snowbound under drifts of two to four feet, and Salem quickly ran out of coal after 35 straight hours of snow. Near Roseburg, 200 feet of Southern Pacific railroad track was buried.

For the moment, only the Rogue Valley had survived.

“The mild climate of Medford and the Rogue River Valley was again conspicuously demonstrated,” said a Mail Tribune story. “Only a part of the big storm was felt here in the shape of a 25- to 50-mile-an-hour gale of wind, accompanied by a little rain, and with a very moderate temperature.”

Barely three days later, Mother Nature turned the tables, forcing editor Robert Ruhl to admit “the weatherman is supreme. We had the temerity to question his supremacy Wednesday, and he proceeded to freeze us into a shivering silence about 12 hours later.”

Dec. 11, 1919 brought Medford and the valley the most snow ever recorded on a single day — a whopping 11 inches — followed by a hard freeze and a daytime high of 9 1/2 degrees.

“There have always been a few people — principally from Kansas,” Ruhl said, “who missed the cold, dry, snappy winter of the Middle West. It was much more invigorating than the milder but more humid atmosphere of the Pacific coast. Now we have shown our capacity to even satisfy this contingent. Nothing could be drier and colder and snappier than the past few days. There is plenty of snow, too, and a fine opportunity for skating on Bear Creek and bobsledding down Roxy Anne.”

Electric, telephone and telegraph lines were down, along with 72 poles between Medford and Ashland. Medford’s Main Street was a slushy mess with dozens of parked Model-Ts trapped at the curb. The Jackson County Creamery announced that because their trucks had broken down while fighting against the snow, it canceled milk deliveries. A broken water pipe eliminated radiator heat and a day of school for youngsters, while reports of broken water pipes in homes, businesses and hotels across the county continued to mount up during the day.

Everyone was trying to keep a smile and a positive attitude against all of their troubles.

Under the title “Cheer up. It might have been 10 degrees below instead 9 1/2 above,” Robert Ruhl called for a change in attitude.

“Let’s all forget the storm and cold conditions, the frozen pipes and other damage and loss in our homes and make the best of a bad situation by going skating on Bear Creek tomorrow, a feature that we may not be able to enjoy again in our lifetime.”

Columnist Arthur Perry continued his usual tongue-in-cheek style with a brief paragraph. “Let nature take its course. The snow will either melt and run off of its own free will — or cave in the roof.”

It would be weeks before everything returned to a semblance of everyday normalcy, but when it did, Ruhl confidently predicted it would be “with the blushing enthusiasm of an exiled angel returning to Paradise.”

Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas, a light dusting of snow, and the happiest of holidays.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.