In the (C)Old Days by Gary D. Crawford
We know that winters used to be colder than they are these days. Jim Dawson, the bookseller-historian of Trappe, did extensive research and wrote a fine article about Maryland weather [“Our Capricious Weather,” June 2008, Tidewater Times]. He noted that during the winter of 177980 the ice was so thick that carts and carriages crossed from Annapolis to Poplar Island ~ which tops the old tale about black cats escaping from Poplar by a good bit. A few years later, in 1794, the ice kept Baltimore harbor closed until mid-March. They called 1816 the “year with no summer,” when farmers wore overcoats and gloves during the July wheat harvest. In 1852, the Susquehanna River froze so hard that railroad tracks were laid across the ice at Havre de Grace and were in use for over a month. Those who work and play outdoors in the winter grow accustomed to the cold, of course, and prepare for it. Yet it remains a wonder to many of us how our oystermen managed to survive the biting cold, sharp wind, and icy spray to bring home a mess of oysters day after day. Cold weather is one thing, but a hard freeze is quite another. Freezes brought more t han discomfor t,
Dredger bundled against the cold. they brought ice. As it thickened, it interfered with the work of the watermen, trapping their boats in port and cutting into their hulls. Occasionally, a freeze would last more than a few days and cause serious hardship. If the temperature stayed dow n for too long, some oystermen were forced to desperate measures. When this happened during the Great Depression in 1936, oystermen began cutting through the ice with axes and saws, using tongs to reach down for oysters on the bottom. They even drove vehicles out onto the ice to pull dredges a long t he bot tom and t hen tow the oysters back to shore in skiffs ~ a practice both dangerous and frowned upon by the authorities.