Local Author Reflects on Snowy Days of Bend’s Past

While the storms of recent winters seem out of the ordinary, it really did used to snow a lot more in Bend during the past. In January of 1950, there were 56.5 inches of snow in just one month, and for many years the annual snowfall was between 70 and 90 inches. Since 2000, the average snowfall for Bend has been about 36 inches per year. Winters are not as cold as they used to be either; there was a time when the ice on the ponds around Bend would stay frozen for many weeks allowing for recreation and traditions for locals.

Troy Field, sandwiched between Bond Street and the old Troy Laundry, just south of what is now McMenamins Old St. Francis School, was more than the dog park it is today. Every winter for many years it was turned into an ice-skating rink.

Once the weatherman predicted a long cold spell, the fire department flooded the field and began building up layers of ice. It took several nights to put down a good base before skaters were allowed on it. If it snowed, the city would furnish a tractor with a sweeper to clean off the surface. Overhead lights illuminated Troy Field at night, and someone usually built a fire on the side opposite Bond Street. Skaters came right up to the fire to warm their hands and faces before skating back into the crowd of people who were perhaps gliding in time to the music playing through the speakers at the field, whether The Mills Brothers 1952 hit Glow Worm as they sang, “Shine little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer,” or 1954’s hit from The Chordettes, Mr. Sandman and its familiar refrain, “Mr. Sandman bring me a dream.” The scene resembled a dream. Mostly, kids came to skate, but sometimes adults did too, skating hand in hand, their arms crossed, looking as though they were in a Currier and Ives print.

Ice-skating wasn’t the only winter activity. After a snowfall, younger children often played the game of Fox and Geese. So as not to mess up the pristine layer of snow with tracks that would ruin the perfect circle, one kid was allowed to take a few light steps to the starting point and then begin the circle, going clear around and then cutting the circle into a pie shape. After that first outline, everyone worked to tamp down the trail and a base in the center. There weren’t strict rules to that game—designing it was always the fun part. The basic idea was to run around the circle as geese and try to get on base to be “safe” from the fox. And when children tired of that game, there were snowmen to build and snow angels to make. No one wanted to go inside until their mittens froze.

In addition to the skating rink, the City of Bend stepped up to provide safe fun for sledding. The city closed off some streets that were not well-traveled so that kids could have good sledding hills. On the west side of town, Shasta Place had a good hill, and Norton Avenue was a favorite sledding spot on the east side. There were also great places to sled or toboggan if parents were free to drive their families up to the Skyliners ski area — Bend’s first ski slope. Today, skiing may be the main winter sport in Bend, but in days past, kids found ways to have fun in the snow around their own neighborhoods, and it was free. No one needed a ticket to skate at Troy Field or to sled down a hill.

 Sue A. Fountain is the author of Too Cold to Snow, a memoir about growing up in Bend during the 1950s and early 1960s.