Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Driving


Snow Driving Where I Live (taken just after writing this post!) 

I’ve just ordered some food in a restaurant that is mostly empty. The counter person said it was because of the snow and cold. I was surprised. We’ve had three 1/2 inch snowfalls this week, and the temperatures are in the ‘teens. Chilly to be sure and I wouldn’t mind warmer weather. But it struck me that we would never let this stop us living our lives in Youngstown.

This was certainly true with driving. My wife has a friend who will go to the mall in six inches of snow–or more! It had to be really bad to stop us, and sometimes, the snow would come while you were out, because of “lake effect” snows. You either hibernated all winter or drove in snow. Most of us drove.

These days, I drive an all-wheel drive with traction control and anti-lock brakes. We had none of that. We had rear wheel drive cars that loved to fish-tail. No anti-lock brakes. You learned to pulse the brakes yourself. Lots of us learned snow driving in empty parking lots. Part of the learning was doing “donuts” which were easy with those rear wheel drive cars.

This was before the days of all-season radials. We used “snow tires” (can you even buy them these days?). Often, we’d keep them mounted on a spare pair of rims and swap them out in the winter, mounting them on the rear wheels of course. Occasionally drivers added “chains” which were fastened over the tires and added “bite” in icy conditions.

There were all those little things you picked up like building up momentum before a hill and a steady foot on the gas, avoiding spinning the wheels. You learned to “rock” the car out when you were stuck. You slowed down a bit, allowed extra room to brake, used lower gears to brake, learned not to over-correct a skid and never to lock up the brakes.

People helped each other out. As a kid, we sometimes would go out to the hill on Mahoning Avenue near where I lived and push cars that got stuck on the hill. That seems crazy now but neighbors helped each other out that way.

We counted on each other knowing what to do. And I think part of working class grittiness was the attitude that said, “why should a little snow stop us?” Where I live now, you can’t be sure. If people drive in snow, they either crawl along like a granny with new prescription lenses, or speed along like there is nothing on the roads.

I’m probably more cautious these days. For one thing, body work on cars is a lot more expensive! And truth is, even though we knew how to snow drive, we still got in trouble once in a while. For me it was a patch of ice on a curve that bent a wheel and threw dad’s car badly out of line when I hit a curb. It was at the end of a sixty-mile trip a few miles from home, no less.

But if I need to go out in the snow, I know what I need to do, thanks to growing up in Youngstown.

What are your snow driving memories?

15 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Driving

  1. Home for the weekend when a massive storm hit, I didn’t think twice about driving back to Cleveland for Monday’s classes at my grad school, CWRU. After all, as Albert Pugsley had famously reminded us all a couple years previously, this was “northern country.” You did what you had to do! The old VW my mom called “your jalopy” and I called “my liberation” plowed through snow up to her bumpers but kept right on moving up the turnpike as I passed State troopers closing down the entrance ramps. I had one working windshield wiper–well they both worked but the passenger side one would flip out to the right beyond the windshield, doing its thing in mid-air. But we by golly kept on going. I had that paper due the next day. Me and my “Libby” survived. And school? Oh, yeah. It got cancelled.

  2. I remember driving on I-76 past downtown Cleveland.There had to have been a foot of snow, you couldn’t see the pavement of the freeway and people were still going 50 and 55 miles an hour. You could drive in the snow. Just be attentive and don’t go too fast. We also had our own anti-lock breaks – always pump them when you need to stop. Driving in the snow is truly a skill that now many know.

  3. I remember the snow challenges getting to YSU and Dr Pugsley’s comment about Northern Country. The school rarely closed. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Top Ten of 2016 | Bob on Books

  5. We lived on the corner of Hazelwood and Cherry Hill. Bottom of 2 hills.

    Dad would demand a barrel of slag from the city. He would slag the hill so folks didn’t land in our kitchen.

    That’s what people did….help each other out.

  6. I used to push cars up the hill above Pioneer Pavilion. The drivers would think I was crazy when I offered to help. It was actually pretty easy. Made some bucks from some very astonished and grateful folks. Not a good place to be stuck.

  7. And to think we walked to school in it! WE MIGHT never see a snowplow for days. My dad was a furnace man and had to go out in the middle of the night so the elderly would not freeze. Never appreciated the skill he had on those roads.

  8. Remember studded snow tires?? I had a set. The driveway didn’t like it too much! Living here in southern New Jersey the drivers are clueless. I just go about my winter Youngstown driving skills and either pass the guy who spun out (checked on him first) or braked with plenty of space. I just smile and “Thank You” Ytown for another lesson early in life!

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