January 06, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Ninety years ago Northeast Oregon was in the midst of one of its worst winters since the pioneer days.

Conditions were so bad in early January 1912 that:

A passenger train near Union was stuck in snow for more than a day.

The temperature reached 30 degrees below zero in North Powder.

Snow drifts on some La Grande streets reached heights of at least 5 feet.

The stalled passenger train was the biggest story. The train 3 miles from Union was stuck from 10 a.m. Jan. 8 until the morning of Jan. 10. The passengers were never in danger.

The train was immobilized for an extended period because a snow plow had broken.

The passenger train was one of three that stalled in Northeast Oregon on Jan. 8. The others were at Telocaset and Baker City.

The region already had had a snow-filled winter prior to early January.

The weather stands as a sharp reminder of pioneer days, when many feet of snow covered Union County every winter, an article in the Jan. 8, 1912, edition of the Observer said.

On that date it was reported that the temperature in North Powder had fallen to 30 degrees below zero the previous night. The low in La Grande was 3 below zero according to La Grandes government thermometer. The Observer reported, though, that some La Grande residents were recording temperatures as low as 12 below zero.

Chilly in Wallowa County

The cold snap extended to Wallowa County where the temperature reached 26 below.

Conditions were particularly bad in La Grande during the evening of Jan. 7 because of a snow storm. Conditions made it difficult for horse-pulled delivery wagons to get around.

Residents were urged to make their orders for groceries and other items early because it was so difficult for the wagons.

Out of compassion to beast and man it behooves housewives to turn in all their telephone orders early and group them with one delivery. Tenacious grit is responsible for any deliveries at all this afternoon, the newspaper said on Jan. 8.

Snowfall was also heavy in Wallowa County. The Observer reported Jan. 9 that people were able to ride sleighs from Wallowa to Troy and past the Grande Ronde River. Such conditions were reported to be unusual.

Wallowa County was spared the snowstorms that wracked Union County.

Big storms miss this favored land, stated a headline in the Jan. 11, 1912, edition of the Enterprise Record Chieftain.

The weather began to warm in Northeast Oregon after Jan. 10 and snowfall was replaced by rain. Articles in the Observer expressed concern about potential flooding but none was reported. How hard did it rain after Jan. 10?

On the evening of Jan 15 a dance started at the W.D. Grandy Ranch in the Ladd Canyon area. The dance did not end until 6 a.m. on Jan. 16. People had to stay at the ranch until then because of the heavy rainfall.

Snow remained despite the heavy rain. The Observer reported on Jan. 17, 1912, that the roof of a barn near Mount Emily collapsed under 4 feet of snow. No people or livestock were hurt.