Nov. 11 now is called Veterans Day. But in 1940, it was still known as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I.
On Nov. 11, 1940, however, another war - World War II - was on, although the United States wasn't directly involved as yet. It was still looking at the election the week before in which Franklin D. Roosevelt had defeated Wendell Willkie against a backdrop of news stories about bombing raids in Europe.
In Minnesota and North Dakota, however, life went on despite the war clouds.
The Saturday before Nov. 11 was a tough day for local football teams. Morningside defeated North Dakota Agricultural College 21-13 and Macalester shut out Concordia 12-0.
On the bright side, you could get some deals in winter clothing in Fargo stores. Women in particular could stock up because, according to Forum ads, Moody's had fur-trimmed coats on sale for $39.95 and Herbst's was selling women's rubber galoshes for 89 cents.
But nobody knew winter clothing would be badly needed Monday, Nov. 11, 1940 - the day of the Armistice Day blizzard.
Duck hunters out
Wayne Wilson, now of Fargo but then a recent Falkirk, N.D., high school graduate, was asked by a car dealer in Washburn, N.D., to go to Minneapolis with him and others to drive some new vehicles back.
So, on Friday, Nov. 8, the drivers headed out. They stopped for breakfast in Fergus Falls, Minn., and found the café was filled with duck hunters, who were out in force in Minnesota that weekend.
In Minneapolis, Wayne was given a new GMC pickup to drive back. But he took a side trip to Cambridge, Minn., for a quick visit with his uncle and aunt on the way home.
He wound up spending three days there.
'Few flurries' forecast
The weather, that morning of Nov. 11, was downright beautiful for a mid-fall day, with a temperature of 60 degrees above in much of the area. The forecast for the rest of the day called only for colder temperatures and a few snow flurries ... nothing out of the ordinary.
But before the morning was over, rain was falling, the temperature nosedived and the rain turned to snow. Eventually 26 inches of snow fell in parts of Minnesota (Willmar reported 20-foot drifts), winds were clocked at 50 to 80 mph, and the huge storm spread from the Dakotas to Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
People were caught unprepared. The final death toll throughout the area: 144.
Small towns jammed
Small Minnesota towns suddenly jumped in population as the storm shut down highways, forcing motorists to seek shelter. They stayed in restaurants, gas stations, private homes. Grocery stores ran out of food when delivery trucks couldn't get to them.
Farmers took a whipping, losing considerable livestock. A farmer at Vernon Center, Minn., reported losing more than 4,000 turkeys.
But the duck hunters paid dearly for being out on what initially looked like a wonderful day for hunting.
"Outdoor Life" magazine says the weather at first was a "waterfowler's dream," with ducks coming in by the thousands.
But when the storm hit, hunters found themselves in trouble. Some on Mississippi River islands tried to row boats to safety, but the boats became coated with ice and many of them sank.
Some hunters waded into water as it was warmer than the air ... and died there, "frozen like fence posts," the magazine says.
Of the 49 people who died in Minnesota, between 20 and 30 were hunters.
No deaths were reported in North Dakota. But in the Fargo-Moorhead area, telephone and telegraph lines were down. Planes flying out of Fargo and Bismarck were grounded. Some trains didn't run, and those which did ran five hours late. The Union Bus Depot, Fargo, suspended operations.
But by Tuesday, the 12th, the storm had cleared out, highway departments had opened area roads and Wayne could at last head back to Washburn.
During his extended stay in Cambridge, his biggest concern had been that new pickup he was driving. With the weather so mild when he left Minneapolis, there was no reason to put anti-freeze in it.
Fortunately, he and his uncle got some into it the first day and it was spared damage.
A major memory of the trip home was of many pheasants along the road looking for something to eat.
But at least he was safe. On that Armistice Day blizzard 64 years ago Thursday, 144 others were not.
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail email@example.com