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Odd Wisconsin Archive

How Cold Is It?

We're seeing some of the coldest temperatures in years. Decades from now, our kids may brag about surviving "the brutal cold of January '14." To put it in perspective, here are some claims made by lumberjacks 100 years ago.

One recalled a winter when a logger wanting to write home "just stepped outdoors and shouted the words he wished to write. These froze solid. He wrapped them up in a gunnysack and sent them home" where his family thawed them on the stove.

Fred Jenderney of Butternut remembered that winter, too. "It was so cold that words froze right in the air… If a teamster swore at his team, the sound of his voice would freeze. That spring when the thaw came you could see all of those oaths thaw out the same day. Never in all history since the beginning of man was a more terrible profane barrage thrown over than there was that spring..."

Chippewa Valley logger Paul Fournier said that one morning his camp cook "set the boiling coffee pot on the stove and it froze up so quick that the ice was hot."

Another winter it was so cold "that the barn boss couldn't blow his lantern out, no matter how hard he tried. Finally he discovered that the flame was frozen, so he picked it off and threw it away."

We can't vouch for the scientific accuracy of their claims, but it's undeniable that Wisconsin lumberjacks had a way with words.

Sources: Jenderny, Fred. "That Lumber Camp." Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), June 13, 1919: 4; "Some Cold Days in Bunyan's Camp. 68 Below Zero in Onion Camp on Big Auger River in 1877." Rice Lake Chronotype, January 14, 1925: p. 1; Brown, Charles E. Flapjacks from Paul Bunyan's Cook Shanty (Madison: Wisconsin Folklore Society, 1941): 4. These and more lumberjack tales are included in the WHS Press book, "Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan."

:: Posted in on February 7, 2014
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