Shirley Povich and the Bowie snow storm

“Live Racing has been cancelled Wednesday, March 6 due to inclement weather,” the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races Web site read on Wednesday morning.

Well, in the good old days, they’d race right through the blizzards, as George Solomon reminded me, referencing one of Shirley Povich’s classic columns, which is reproduced below.

This one dates from February 17, 1958, or 55 years and three weeks before the Great Snowquestration. Imagine the Twitpics we could have published of stranded horseplayers starting dice games while stranded in a freezing Bowie clubhouse.

This Morning…With Shirley Povich

At 1:30 in the morning the last Bowie horse player was hauled aboard the Pennsylvania Railroad’s mercy train which mushed in from Baltimore and reached trackside, its blinking lights promising passage to the outside world again for the beleaguered bettors of Bowie.

After the train was arriving, the hoards of sleepy, angry horse fans bolted from the harsh barracks Bowie had provided in the clubhouse, and sloughed the 100 yards to the rescue coaches. The snow that got in the way of their stampede was simply kicked away.

These were the last left over — 2000 Bowie fans of whom a day at the races had stretched into dusk, darkness, cold, hunger, food, warmth, beer, fun and then less fun. Stabbing at them all the while was a growing suspicion that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place to let the biggest snow in 22 years close the trap on them. There had been warnings against the weather.

Now their automobiles were immobilized, either in the ditches, like sideswiped igloos, or in the helpless community of the track’s parking lots which for hours had been in a snarl without a motor turning. Bowie was under siege by snow.

It therefore was a wild surge for this last train of the night that was understandable, because these last 2000 were the losers in the previous train-rush of four hours before. Ten coaches had pulled out leaving the frantic 2000 to shake their fists at the retreating train and stomp their way back through the snows to another long wait in the clubhouse.

Women were being shoved around now in the new rush across the snows and the frenzy to board the train could have a frightening foretaste of evacuation panic on H-bomb day. It smacked of Europe’s refugee mob scenes and un-American in the sense that it never happened here before quite like that.

But there were some who could laugh and the man next to me said, ‘this wouldn’t happen to anybody but horseplayers. We’re the champs.’ And that sounded sensible because horseplayers could make what was happening in the least incredible, and there is doubt that in all the years of racing they have improved their own breed.

In the beginning, when they couldn’t get their autos on the road and were made welcome in the clubhouse, it was being treated mostly as a lark. And there were card games and dice games which the county police indulged, except for running out some of the sharpies they recognized. But with the passing hours and the food gone and the floors littered with sodden cash, enthusiasm for the whole thing leaked rapidly.

Midway during the afternoon when the snow was coming down in threatening thickness, only the cautious folks reacted and got the drift of it, making good their escape in their cars after the fourth and fifth races. The others got the drift when they saw their autos buried in it…after the eighth race.

Walter Haight ventured that those who were standing stranded were the day’s losers at the mutuel windows. “Who’d stay for the last two, three races?” inquired Haight. “Only the people who are try to get even late in the day. Now they are stuck out here and have to eat themselves even from the free food in the clubhouse.”

It could have been that the Pennsylvania Railroad, too, had a bad day at the races. So closely sardined were the passengers on the early morning rescue coaches that conductors who tried to collect fares were unable to get to the line of scrimmage. They gave up, and it was a free ride for everybody.

One of the first attempts to collect a fare from a determined horseplayer produced his colloquy: “Fare, please.” “You kidding, this is a rescue train.” “Fare, please, I’ve no time for jokes.” “If you can find the fare on me, you can have it. I checked out on the seventh race.” The conductor got the message.

It is not certain though, that horse players are going to achieve any special growth from such as the experience at Bowie on Feb. 16. Not untypical perhaps was the horse player who, recognizing turf writer Walter Haight in the midst of the stampede for the train, said “What do you know that’s good on the Monday card?”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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