Kaleidoscope: Handful of memories of brutal cold, music park

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

January has passed, and boy was it a cold one! Although there were a couple of days when the temperatures warmed up near 50 degrees, there were two extremely frigid periods when the mercury plunged below zero.

Those very low temperatures were the coldest snaps in 20 years in Northeast Ohio. In fact, one day 20 years ago was the coldest on record in the 20th century -- Jan. 19, 1994, when Cleveland area weather statistics showed a low of minus-20.

I recall that day well.

It was the only time in my driving life that my car wouldn't start in the morning. The cold apparently knocked out my onboard computer, requiring a tow to a shop so a mechanic could warm up my car and reset the computer.

Weather stats indicate that 1994 cold streak from Jan. 18-20 resulted in sub-zero temperatures for three straight days -- minus-14, minus-20 and minus-9.

The second lowest temperature in the Cleveland area was recorded on Jan. 24, 1963, at 19 below zero. Of the 11 coldest days in the 1900s, nine came in January and one each in February and December.

The cold snap that I remember the most was 37 years ago in January 1977. According to Cleveland stats, Jan. 16 got down to 15 below and Jan. 17 was 17 below. That year produced the most sub-zero days -- 20 -- than any other year in Northeast Ohio.

I was living in St. Clairsville (Belmont County) at the time, and the temperatures there on Jan. 16-17 was closer to minus-20.

I was driving a 1973 Plymouth Satellite Custom and thought for sure it wouldn't start those mornings. But my dad had given me a heating device to place near the oil reservoir to keep the oil from thickening. And it worked! No problem starting.

The next year -- January 1978 -- was the big blizzard which encompassed most of Ohio. I had moved 40 miles west to Cambridge, and had to dig my car out of the access road to my apartment complex one morning after it got stuck in the snow.

A couple of years ago I returned to that former residence for the first time since I moved away, and was amused as I gazed at the very spot where I got stuck.

During the two cold snaps this year, I've been fortunate that my car has started fairly easily, and so far this winter I hadn't had to shovel my driveway.

In Northeast Ohio, we're used to snow and cold in the winter, but we still complain about them. Things could be a lot worse, though. Just think of living in Minnesota or Wisconsin, where sub-zero temperatures during the winter are commonplace.

THE OLD PONDEROSA PARK

Back in the early 1970s, a buddy and myself drove from New Philadelphia to Salem to attend Sunday afternoon country music concerts at Ponderosa Park, 5 miles north of Salem on Route 45.

During a Feb. 1 trip to Salem and Columbiana, I decided on my way home to drive by to see what the now closed venue looks like. It brought back memories, but it was sad to see the property in disrepair.

From the early 1970s until 2004, the concert venue and campground hosted some of the biggest names in country music history. My buddy and I saw Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell, Ray Price and Buck Owens there. The latter arrived in a helicopter.

Others who performed there included Johnny and June Carter Cash, Boxcar Willie, the Statler Brothers, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Dwight Yoakum, Kenny Chesney and the Oak Ridge Boys.

My buddy and I would stick around for both of the Sunday afternoon shows, which included time in between to get autographs. Dozens of fans lined up as the featured entertainer signed their signatures while sitting inside a small window.

I got autographs from all the entertainers we saw on a record album sleeve which I always carried with me to the shows. Unfortunately, I didn't keep it when I liquidated dozens of albums after I sold my mom's house in 1999. What a shame!

Loretta Lynn simply signed her initials "L.L" rather than her full name.

THE STAGE and some wooden bench seating were covered, but the sides were open and some fans could sit in the sunshine. Information I found online said the pavilion and lawn seating could accommodate about 3,800 people.

The old pavilion looked pretty decrepit from the road; I couldn't drive back there because the driveway was blocked off. Reportedly, after concerts ceased a large tree fell over on the pavilion's roof, causing extensive damage.

Although country music concerts ceased in 2004, the campground stayed open until 2010, and the back portion of the about 140-acre property (not including the concert area) was sold at auction in 2012.

On the grounds I remember a refreshment / food building near the pavilion called the Red Garter Saloon, a trading post and an indoor guitar-shaped swimming pool.

One of the unique parts of the pavilion were several large backstage wall panels which were signed by the big-name entertainers. The Salem Historical Society acquired them to encompass in its exhibit of Ponderosa Park memorabilia.

It would be great to see country music return to the old park, but the possibility of that happening is probably pretty slim.

The venue is not far from Quaker City Motorsports Park on Route 165, which I passed for the first time on my way home. It's a 1/4-mile asphalt dragstrip with grandstands that seat about 5,000 people.

MUSEUM IS CLOSING

I was sad to learn a week or so ago that a unique museum that I visited and wrote about a couple of years ago is closing.

It's the World War History and Art Museum (WWHAM) in Alliance, which will close in April. It features 325 original paintings and drawings from World Wars I and II and other war memorabilia. Reportedly, the artwork will go on tour in museums in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.

If you'd like to view the exhibits before the museum closes on April 17, it is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 1300 E. State St.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-562-9400 ext. 4189

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