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A View From The Attic

Week of June 27, 2011

Fremont County Historical Society

Floods Past - Part one

By Jerry Birkby

I have written about Rich "Dick" Bobbitt before. When I was a boy growing up he seemed ancient to me and perhaps he was; he was born April 25, 1869. He was raised in a large brick home that stood near where Horse Creek passes under Bluff Road, where Jerry and Pat Hume now live. He told me of an experience he had during the flood of 1882.

In April of that year, a friend of the family landed a boat in the field in front of the Bobbitt house to visit with Dick's father. On learning it was Dick's birthday, he took him for a boat ride to celebrate. They rowed around what is now Veda Hume Hilding's land, Golden's landing strip and some of my land. The river was truly bluff to bluff that year.

The spring of 1951 was very wet. I remember we could not get all our crops planted. In late August of that year, my father and I were digging post holes out on low ground and water came up several inches in the post holes. Then the winter of 1951-1952 saw monumental amounts of mountain snow in Montana and Wyoming and the spring of 1952 brought warm rains that melted snow in record time. The dams, now in the news, were largely unfinished so the water ran off unchecked.

Reports of flooding began to circulate and farmers around Percival began to ask my father if it would be all right to park some machinery on our higher ground. He always said, "Of course." So it was that we went to bed one night and woke up to a yard full of machinery, a barn full of livestock and a shed full of seed beans and oats. The word had come during the night that a break in the levee was imminent. This was in the days before computers, cell phones or Code Red but we did have the party telephone line.

The break held off for several days. I was a sophomore in Sidney High School and volunteered for sand bag duty. I don't remember where all we worked, but I do remember being on a levee somewhere with the water a few inches below the top of the levee and a two story house across the way with water running in the upper windows.

One of the last days before the break, we worked the levee just north of the Nebraska City Bridge. Crews had driven 2 X 4's into the top of the levee at regular intervals and nailed a couple of foot boards onto them. The top of the levee looked like it had been snowing sledgehammers. Brand new six-pound sledge hammers lay everywhere. I have always wondered where they came from and where they went. Of course they had been used to drive the 2X4's but my little farm boy mind couldn't grasp the sheer magnitude of the effort involved.

We boys threw sandbags against the boards, but soon ran out of sandbags. The main thing I remember from that day (besides the sledgehammers) was the way the water surged through the chokepoint under the bridge and then dropped some four or five feet when the river widened on the other side. I thought then, and I think yet, "Poor design," but it has never been changed from that day to this.

To be continued.