Woman recalls harsh Tahoe winters

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Hilda McMurray, 93, shows photos Thursday afternoon from the massive 1951 snowstorm that blanketed the South Lake Tahoe area with more than 10 feet of snow. The storm isolated McMurray along with her husband, Don, and their children Margie and Norman for more than six weeks.

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Hilda McMurray, 93, shows photos Thursday afternoon from the massive 1951 snowstorm that blanketed the South Lake Tahoe area with more than 10 feet of snow. The storm isolated McMurray along with her husband, Don, and their children Margie and Norman for more than six weeks.

The South Lake Tahoe area Hilda McMurray sees today isn't the Tahoe she remembers.

The Tahoe she remembers existed when there were 41 children in the school system and there was one snowplow.

While the winter months in general were trying, the winter of 1951 ranks among her most poignant memories, said the 93-year-old who, along with her husband, Don, operated a small service station and restaurant after they moved to South Shore in 1947.

A massive snowstorm blanketed the area with more than 10 feet of snow, closing the roads and isolating Hilda, Don and their children Margie and Norman, for more than six weeks.

"It just kept snowing and snowing," McMurray said. "We dug a path from our service station back to the cabin and the snow was over our heads."

Her husband used snowshoes to walk around and was able to clear the roof using a nearby snow bank. His head was parallel to the Texaco sign that hung above their service station, which was on Highway 50 across from the El Dorado County Campground.

To make matters worse, the only snowplow in the area was broken and needed parts from Sacramento.

"We had enough food because in those days you went every fall to Sacramento and stocked up. We didn't have fresh meat or milk, but we were still comfortable," McMurray said.

Even with adequate fuel and food, spending six weeks with virtually nothing to do did have an effect on the residents.

"The boys got so disgusted that they decided they were going to dig us out. One day was all it took to stop that," McMurray said. "We were more or less on our own."

As the weeks passed, the government attempted to provide help by airlifting the necessary snowplow parts into the area.

"We had to build a fire with lots of black smoke so the plane could see and get us the parts. So we took the tires and filled them with gas," McMurray said. "They dropped the box and it sank into the snow. We had to use the streamers they attached to dig it out."

Even after six weeks cut off from now commonplace amenities, the family continued to live in the area until 1968, when they moved to Carson City.

"My husband said the snow shovel didn't fit his hand anymore," McMurray said.

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.

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