A blizzard of memories

When most of us got of bed Wednesday morning, we were greeted with a very pleasant surprise – the snowstorm that had been expected to bring us as much as 8 inches of snow went farther east than predicted, leaving our portion of the Tri-State Area with just a few inches of precipitation to deal with.

It was a relief, but offered a reminder that those pesky March snows can sometimes give us much more than we have bargained for. All you have to do is look back 20 years; 20 years ago this coming Wednesday, as a matter of fact, to the blizzard of 1993 that dumped 2 feet of snow on us between about 1 a.m. and 8 p.m. on March 13.

That storm remains one of those events that those who lived through it still talk about. Like any event of historical significance, area residents held onto copies of their newspapers so they could share the moment in the future. That front page of the Sunday, March 14, 1993, edition, in fact, was one of several we selected to reproduce as part of our 200th anniversary celebration in 2006, and reproductions still hang in our lobby and in our newsroom.

“Wintry blast paralyzes area,” the headline screams. That seems to say it all, but like everything else in our lives, there is a story behind the story.

This one begins around 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 13, when then-Managing Editor Jim Smith called my house and told me that we were moving our press start for the Sunday edition to 7 p.m. and that we needed to get into work as quickly as we could. Looking out the window, I saw there already were several inches of snow on the ground and the wind was kicking up. A call was made to to my brother, who at the time owned an old four-wheel drive, and soon we were on our way downtown.

Mike Bordo, who at the time worked at the paper as a photographer, had already been out snapping weather art. There was no digital photography at the time – he had to develop film in our darkroom. One of the photos he brought back is the view looking north on Market Street taken in the driving snow that appeared on the front page.

Let’s see … we had the news editor (at the time, me) and a photographer in the newsroom. All we needed was a reporter, but conditions had worsened at that point and made any travel difficult, at best. Mark Law, who lived into downtown Wellsburg at the time, had been scheduled to work, but found state Route 2 too treacherous.

I finally was able to reach then-reporter Paul Giannamore, who said he would try to navigate state Route 7 from Toronto in his trusty Plymouth Reliant. About 90 minutes later, Paul finally arrived at the building, and we went to work producing the newspaper. This was before the days of e-mail, remember, so information from Mark and local officials was taken by telephone and then typed into the system or sent into our system electronically over a slow-speed modem.

As the reporting and editing were finished, Mike, Paul and I helped with what was then called paste-up – the stories that would appear in the paper were printed out on long pieces of film, run through a hot-wax machine and then stuck on a full-size page which, when completed, was taken back to a large camera, photographed and then turned into a plate that was placed on the press.

From there, we moved down to the mailroom, where we helped place inserts into each of the papers as they came off the press. Today’s modern inserter was far in the future at that time, and that meant placing all of the Sunday supplements in each edition by hand.

By the end of the evening, the snow had stopped and crews had begun to open up the main roads. When we got to the front of the building, we saw there was a large snow drift between our parking lot and Dock Street. Undeterred, Paul jumped into his K-car, got a good run and blasted through the drift in an iconic moment captured – on film – by Mike.

Paul remembers that as he was driving up Route 7 he began to wonder where he would park his car once he got to Toronto. He would do what every person of faith does when confronted with a dilemma – he turned to his church. Literally. He found that the lot at his parish, St. Francis, had been cleared, parked his car there and walked a few blocks home.

I was able to get a ride to the intersection of Lovers Lane, which had been cleared, and Preston Road, which, like just about every sidestreet, had not. It took about 30 minutes to trudge through the 24 inches of snow down Preston to Brockton, and then up Brockton to my house.

That day serves as a reminder that when you sign up to work in the news business – and truly buy into the profession – you will often find yourself out working while just about everyone else is at home going about their business, confident they will eventually be able to learn the news of the day.

It’s a lesson learned over many years, and one that was reinforced 20 years ago this Wednesday.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)