December 12, 1967, the snow began to fall in Northeastern Arizona. My Mom, Bonnie Gibson, my two brothers, Ed and Larry, and I were in Holbrook, AZ. The boys had just finished the school session, and we planned to drive to the ranch off Highway 277 on Halter Cross Road, 10 miles from Heber. We loaded our groceries and gear into Mom’s Econoline van in preparation for the drive. I remember my Grandma Ruth Barton insisting we take extra warm wool blankets with us. As we left Holbrook, we learned that we would need to drive the longer way through Snowflake as the route on Highway 377 was closed. We arrived in Snowflake without incident and started our journey towards Heber.
The snow began to pile up, and we fell in line behind a snowplow. He plowed the road for us until he reached the turnoff to the papermill, and that is where he stopped. We continued to the ranch turnoff, and the snow got deeper as the elevation increased.
We reached the Halter Cross turnoff, and we could go about 1 mile in on the snowy road before we got stuck in a drift and could not proceed any further. Mom told us to get ready to walk the rest of the way in. While she was getting organized, my dad, Richard Gibson, came walking up. The snow was so deep he got stuck in his four-wheel drive pickup just a short way from the house, so he knew we would never make it in the van.
Dad put a box of groceries on his left shoulder and took my hand on the right. He started walking, leading the way. He was falling through the snow with each step, and when I would slip and fall, he would pull me along on top of the snow. We walked just over a mile to the house.
December 14, 1967, a record-breaking 38 inches of snowfall was recorded at the Black Mesa Ranger District, Overgaard, AZ. Over the next nine days, the storm produced over 90 inches of snow in the Heber Overgaard area. That’s over 7’ of snow. Schools were closed, highways were closed, some roofs collapsed, and cars were buried. In some areas, the power and phone lines were damaged. Neighbors began to help neighbors as the community pulled together.
Heber Post Office-Blizzard of 1967. Photo Taken by Barbra Westbrook
My parents had to be resourceful to rescue the cattle stranded in the snow. Dad decided to rent a Snowmobile from C. R. Hatch, the local automotive dealer. He bought extra hay and feed for the cattle. He hired Reed Smiths equipment and driver to plow trails to the cattle. He used the snowmobile to pull a sled he built out of the hood of an old car and loaded it with hay to feed the cattle.
Some of the cattle were huddled up and frozen in place; some were still alive but unable to move because their hooves were frozen to the ground.
The ranch covers many sections of land from the Mogollon Rim to a few miles north of Holbrook. The cattle were spread out, and Dad was driving the snowmobile miles and miles trying to find them in freezing temperatures. The lows dropped to about 15 degrees, and the highs never above 32 degrees because it kept snowing for nine days. There were icicles that reached from the eaves of the house to the snowbanks, and the bone-chilling cold would freeze your hands numb, and ice would stick to your eyebrows.
While Dad was out trying to find cattle, he had to fight off a pack of domesticated dogs that had gone feral. The dogs were aggressive, having no fear of humans, and Dad learned to always have his gun with him.
Mom learned that Navapache Electric Company was hiring a helicopter to fly over the area and find the downed power lines that needed repairs. She made some phone calls and somehow managed to get in on the plan. Before long, the helicopter landed in our yard at the Halter Cross Ranch. There was a pilot and two men on the helicopter. Mom told the men to go in the house and help themselves to coffee on the stove. She said, “Well if I am paying for this flight, I might as well take my Kids along for the experience.” Me my brothers Ed and Larry climbed in the helicopter and put our seatbelts on, and away we went.
We flew from one end of the ranch to the other, with Mom taking notes of the locations where the cattle were stranded. I can still remember that the snowbound cattle looked like little ants scattered among the snow drifts.
The information Mom gathered that day gave us a “game plan” for the coming weeks. Dad hired another bulldozer operator, and he would go with one, Mom would go with the other, and they began to push the snowbound cattle to areas they could access.
1967 Barbra Westbrook Walks Through the Snow in Heber. Blizzard of 1967. Photo Taken by Barbra Westbrook
I can still remember Mom and Dad saying, “Santa probably can’t get here this year with all of this snow.” Not too long after that, some mysterious packages appeared on our porch and were carefully covered with a green army tarp. We also received a package from our Great Uncle in Alaska. He sent skis for all the kids. They were about one and a half feet long. We could climb up the hill behind our house, ski over the barbed wire fence, sit down on our skis, and go under the clothesline. We were entertained for hours with the skis, and fortunately, Santa was able to make it after all.
I got my new doll, my brother Ed got a Construction set, Larry got a bicycle with a steering wheel, and we survived the blizzard of 1967.
Merry Christmas to all.
Kathy Gibson Boatman Journalist for Mountain Daily Star