Bill Fowler | Guest Writer
“Sweetheart,” Dad whispered to Mom, “I’ve got to get out of bed and check on the turkeys.” It was midnight on Saturday, just a few weeks before Christmas. The predicted early arctic winter storm was much worse than forecast. In the early 1950s, weather prognosticating was often a “best guess” science. When Don Fowler left the house, his wife Betty was worried that he would be unable to make it to their farm on Lehi’s north bench.
Snow was whipping around their little white frame house at thirty miles per hour, and there were already deep drifts on the driveway. She watched him chain up the little Dodge pickup and saw his bright red taillights disappear into the white darkness.
Arriving at the farm just after midnight, Dad immediately recognized the catastrophic effects of the storm. His flashlight revealed the icy and complete burial of every wooden shelter. The birds were huddled under the shelters in bunches of two or three hundred. Dad staggered from shelter to shelter, shoveling snow away from the south side of the structures as fast as possible to allow air into the cave-like pockets. He pulled hundreds of birds from each shelter, trying to revive the dying. Many turkeys had suffocated from being trampled by the others that sought protection and crowded in upon them.
Throughout the night he worked, extricating all the dead and carrying them to a pile at the edge of the field, where he covered them with snow to keep them frozen. When he returned to check on the survivors, he found many other birds outside the shelters frozen in the -20-degree temperature. Dad was soaking wet from working so hard in the suffocating piles of birds, and during the trip back home, his clothing froze to his body.
The storm never let up. At 7 a.m., Mom was ready to call for help when Dad’s truck slid into the driveway. He burst through the back door and nearly collapsed on the kitchen floor, looking more like a frozen trapper than her husband. “Call Bishop Gurney,” he said. “Have him tell the Ward to come up to the farm and get a free Christmas turkey this afternoon. Near as I can tell, we have about four hundred frozen birds,” he said, shaking his head in tragic defeat. “Give me a minute to get warm and cleaned up, then I’ll go back up to the farm and have the turkeys ready for anyone who wants them.”
My parents’ turkey farm was located where Skyridge High School is now located. Dad raised anywhere from five to ten thousand birds each year. In the early 1950s, turkeys were sold to holiday shoppers for about twenty cents per pound. The Thanksgiving market was slow, so Dad decided to hold his birds a few weeks to sell them atthe Christmas market, hoping prices would jump a penny or two. A single cent per pound often meant the difference between making or losing money. With seven children to feed, the potential loss of so many turkeys would be financially devastating.
He sat quietly with my mother at the kitchen table in the early morning light. “We’re in serious financial trouble, honey,” he said. “We have lots of dead birds and can’t save any of them unless they are sold immediately. They are frozen but will not last more than a day or they’ll spoil. Let’s just give them to anyone who needs a turkey for Christmas and take our losses.”
Mom nodded. Tears welled up in her eyes. “You’ve worked so hard this year, Don. I am so sorry this has happened.” She began to cry. “Go call the Bishop now,” dad urged.
That morning, Bishop Gurney relayed the tragic story to the 2ndWard congregation, then he called the other five Bishops in Lehi and told them the devastating events of the blizzard on the Fowler farm.He urged them to tell friends and neighbors where a free Christmas Turkey could be obtained.
As the sun burst forth that afternoon, hundreds of cars and trucks filed up the snowy road to the turkey farm. Every frozen turkey was claimed. Friends visited each other and viewed the tragic scene in awe and sympathy. Incredulously, the mood changed as more and more people arrived. Sympathy was expressed to our family, but soon they all realized the tragic event was being salvaged. Friends smiled, talked, and even laughed as the day ended. Someone brought a five-gallon container of hot chocolate, and another Lehi resident had put a Folgers Coffee can for donations on the hood of Dad’s truck.
Nearly every turkey, which had to be cleaned and plucked, was paid for in cash. Coins and bills piled up in the coffee can. Friends and neighbors often gave much more than the birds would have cost at the store.
That night, Mom and Dad shed tears again as they counted not only hundreds of dollars but literally…hundreds of dear Lehi friends.