November 7, 2018

By Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian

You know, it won’t be too long until winter’s frosty weather will be nipping at our heels. Unlike many other areas in the world, we feel its effects very personally here in Johnson County. Icy roads, the necessity of heat and many other problems comes with the advent of winter. The choices we have for heat varies but there are at least five choices: Electric (heat pump, or various types of electric heaters), propane, oil, coal or wood. Coal or wood was my families’ choices when I was growing up in Johnson County. We didn’t have electricity until the ‘40s or ‘50s and certainly no propane. Oh I almost forgot; for a number of years we heated the house with a fireplace and you could use either coal or wood with it.

Fortunately, it is easier to cope with the cold and breezy weather now than when I was growing up in Johnson County. Those of you who haven’t experienced the trouble of starting the car and keeping it going in the dead of winter as many had to do to go to work in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s may not appreciate the complexity of that task. I don’t readily know when the first four-wheel-drive vehicles were available, but they sure beat going out on a bitter cold day and attaching chains to the rear tires so the rear wheels could gain traction and hopefully get you where you needed to go without winding up in a ditch or worse Jack the wheel up, attach the chain, let the wheel down and repeat on the other wheel were the actions taken to get a measure of stability on the roads. One thing I always dreaded was the inevitable clang, clang, clang or the thud, thud, thud of the chains when they broke about a mile down the road. Of course, there were few if any four-wheel-drive vehicles on the roads then. Most were rear-wheel-drive which made for hazardous driving anyway.

The first time that I knew about four-wheel-drive cars was upon seeing advertisements about them in magazines. It was later in my life that I drove a Jeep in the Army and found out that you sure could get one stuck in snow. Anyway, whether we like it or not, ice and snow will be a part of our lives in the not too distant future. I guess we’ll just have to put up with it. Some people like the winter weather and that’s all right too. I like it too if I don’t have to go anywhere.