Then and Now

Winter driving on Grand Boulevard

Since developers built the first homes on Spokane’s South Hill, getting people home in the winter was a problem. Early streetcars climbed with the aid of a cable that ran under the roadway. Drivers used to chain up before trying to climb Bernard St., Freya or Grand Blvd.


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Image One Photo Archive The Spokesman-Review Image Two Jesse Tinsley The Spokesman-Review

Since developers built the first homes on Spokane’s South Hill, getting people home in the winter was a problem. Early streetcars climbed with the aid of a cable that ran under the roadway. Drivers used to chain up before trying to climb Bernard St., Freya or Grand Blvd. Well-equipped cars in the late 1940s came with an AM radio, playing Perry Como or Frankie Laine, and a spotlight mounted on the driver’s door. Snow tires were commonly placed on the rear tires of a car. This helped, but didn’t guarantee a successful run up the hill. Policemen on motorcycles added sidecars for stability and canvas fairings for protection. In the late 1940s, a cord of cut firewood was $8.50, though oil, lump coal and slab ends from local lumber mills were most common for heating. Many South Hill housewives shopped downtown, traveling by public bus in all kinds of weather. Today, the South Hill is less of an obstacle thanks to front-wheel- and all-wheel-drive cars and trucks, as well as modern snow tires, anti-lock brakes and traction control systems. But scenes like the one above still happen when too many cars meet slick conditions on the hill.
Among Spokane’s snowy winters, the winter of 2008-2009 reigns supreme. The total of 93.6 inches of snow eclipsed the winter of 1949-50 by one tenth of an inch. During the snowy winter of 1967-68, meteorologist Robert T. Small of the Airport Weather Station told the Spokesman-Review that Spokane winters have varied wildly. In 1964-65, for instance, Spokane received more than 80 inches of snow, but in 1933-34, we received only 9.5 inches. After researching 85 years of records, he said, “In this time span, we can find justification or refutation for most any general statement about climatological change.”


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