Snow Job - 1924

In December, 1924 Harry L. Bartlett, owner of Verdi Lumber Company in Elko, had an idea. His curiosity about how much snow fell on the nation's sixth largest county was more than he could resist. Perhaps Harry had too much time on his hands.

According to the Elko Independent, Bartlett anticipated a heavy snowstorm the next day and spent a few minutes sweeping off his coal yard's weighing scales before heading home.

When he got up the next morning he looked out a window and saw heavy snow falling. The storm continued until a deep nine inches covered the streets and homes in Elko. Reports from around the county indicated the snow was general over the whole area.

Harry was ready. He adjusted his bifocals, slid the counterweights back and forth over the scale bar, then noted that nine inches of snow on the scales weighed 800 pounds.

He sharpened a pencil and began calculating. Figuring the size of the scales, the weight of the snow, and dividing those numbers into Elko County's 17,187 square miles, he was astonished with the answer on his scratch paper. The county was covered with 1,853,000,000 tons of snow. Count the zeroes - that's almost two billion tons.

Not content with that bit of interesting trivia, Harry scratched a few more figures on the scrap of paper and came up with the freight bill the railroad would have submitted had it hauled in all the white stuff. The bill would have been $677,780,000,000 according to the railroad company's 1924 rates.

He wasn't through figuring. Harry jotted down a few more numbers. The storm dumped the equivalent of, now get this, five hundred million gallons of water on Elko County.

A couple of weeks later, Harry and the other folks in Elko County couldn't keep warm enough when the temperature plummeted to 46 degrees below zero. Automobiles were kept in garages for a few days and delivery wagon horses stayed in their stables. Water pipes froze and people stayed indoors when possible. 

Harry's statistics give northern Nevadans something to think about this winter when snow begins flying over the Silver State. Some Elko County residents spend the five months of winter trying to remember the warmth of summer.

A few years ago, Elko made the national weather news when almost twenty-four inches of snow fell in 24 hours. Snow plows piled the white stuff in the middle of the streets. Then more snow fell. It took about a week for the town to get back to normal. That was not a normal winter - most of the time it just gets cold and when it does snow it usually dissipates quickly.

3 November 1999

Notes: Bartlett was one of the four assemblymen from Elko County in 1921. The Elko Daily Independent reported, on May 7, 1921 that he authored the lethal gas bill for capital punishment. Nevada was the first state to use gas for execution and honors went to Jon Gee who was, in 1924, the first to die in a gas chamber.

An engineer friend and I figured (well, he did the mathematics, I watched) the number of gallons in South Fork Reservoir and determined that Harry's statistics were probably correct. There are other factors, such as the Ruby Mountains getting more snow than the flats and valleys, but I think that might balance out county places that received less than nine inches of snow in 1924.

This is a story I wrote for Nevada Magazine in 1997.

©Copyright 1997 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper credit must be given to the author, Nevada Magazine.

[Back to Hickson's Histories Index]