Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cousin Lost in a Snow Storm

My 2nd cousin, James Lawrence Ashton, was a lineman for Utah Power and LightAshton James Lawrence Company in the early years of the Twentieth Century.   Utility linemen frequently engage in activities to keep the power on that 99% of society would never consider doing of their own free will. 

Think about it.  When a major storm or disaster happens somewhere, who do we see in the television coverage of the event?  The reporter, cameraman, police, fire and medical personnel and power company line and ground men.  Linemen are involved in even more nasty weather conditions than those in the 'big' events.  They are constantly called out in the nastiest weather conditions to repair downed power lines so the rest of us stay warm in well-lit homes.

Early in 1951, the power line that crossed the mountain from the hydro generationAshton Lawrence lost snowstorm2 plant at Snake Creek, Utah to American Fork Canyon in Utah County, failed during a record breaking snowstorm.    The line failure caused the voltage in Utah County to sag due to storm and cold related line loading.  it was dark.  It was cold.  People used more power and part of the supply wasn't available, so voltage sank until sections of the system was systematically turned off to protect the rest of the customers.  The related power outages weren't acceptable in those weather conditions.

On Monday night, two power company linemen, Alma Earl and Lawrence Ashton, started walking the line route on snowshoes from the American Fork side to slog through over 5 ft of new snow looking for the downed wires.  By late that night, they still hadn't returned home nor contacted the power company dispatcher.     Concern mounted that the men had become trapped in the record breaking snowfall.   Tuesday came and went and there was still no contact from the men.  On Tuesday evening the two families started calling asking for volunteers to go look for the missing men.  Just as the rescue party started to organize, the men returned home.

The severe snow storm had brought the lines down in multiple locations and the repairs took a lot longer than the men had anticipated before they left early Monday morning.  They spent the night in a ranger's cabin protected from the weather and finished the repair work before walking back down from the top of the mountain pass to the valley far below.

Rescuers on both sides of the mountain were quickly notified of the safe return of the two men. 

Why is the story so interesting to me?  My father was a lineman.  I managed linemen and construction crews for years.  I know of the bravery and hard work that this group of folks do to keep the power flowing to our homes.   Beyond that, even though I had a photo of my cousin Lawrence Ashton, I had little knowledge of he and his family.   The storm story added a lot of context in my mind about his life and the lives of his family.  We shared common reference points and to a degree, similar events in our lives due to our common occupations.

Genealogy research isn't just about names, dates and places.   They are only theAshton Lawrence lost snowstorm3 base framework in the lives of our ancestral family.  It's the stories that add the flesh to the barebones fact.   It's the stories that bring them to life in our minds.  It's the stories that make them memorable.  Be sure you are searching for the stories while you look for your ancestors.  The stories will make your ancestors real in the minds of your children and grandchildren too.