Spring brings recollection of flood years

During our period of joys and concerns in church on a recent Sunday, a young boy rejoiced: “The robins are back!”

Spring is coming, as evidenced also by bulbs shooting flower stalks – flowers will be in bloom before long.

The combination led to remembrances of water levels in several other years, including 1972. We have had high water since then, though nothing to equal that year.

Of course, we didn’t have dikes then.

And then someone recalled the granddaddy of all floods here, 1892. In those days, someone pointed out, the river curved around behind (south) the business district and steamboats tied up behind what is now the athletic field. That must have been something to see.

Damage in that flood was not as severe as that in 1972 (said to be $20 million) because there was much less building in the earlier year. But were there two channels? And if so, did the steamers use both?

That one is too far back for memory, but I can and do remember some things from 1972.

In those days, The Chronicle was still on Main Street, printing by a hot metal process. In the process, a page-size negative was made for each page, and we saved them.

Then Chronicle Publisher Bruce Wilson asked me to go down to the basement, where we stored them, and move them to certain higher shelves, since he expected there might be water in the basement. I did. The water rose and took the negatives, anyhow.

I don’t remember whether we salvaged anything from them or not. I remember seeing young boys trying to ride their bicycles through the water standing on the highway in front of the car dealership just past Shellrock Point. They got only a very short distance each time.

Bruce put out a tabloid-sized special section that told the story from first to last, for the staff hit the streets with cameras in hand, and he put together a chronological story of the flood. He gave it to anyone who wanted one.

People did and came in droves to get copies to send to friends and relatives. It was a masterful piece of work. Scott Wilson, then still in school, was a member of a sandbag crew. (He now is publisher of The Port Townsend Leader.)

There were water concerns in 1972 as to possible later shortage of water. Then came the irony of losing so much of it in a flood.

There was high water all over the state that year, but in some unaccountable fashion, the Okanogan Valley got hit harder than most, with that $20 million damage rating.

I also remember the year with lots of snow, also in the paper’s Main Street days, seeing a man going to work up the middle of Main Street on skis. We had plenty of snow that year.

I haven’t heard anything about plants in bloom on this side of the mountains – yet, but it will come, probably fairly soon. Not nearly as either romantic or beautiful is another sign of the season: My cats are shedding their winter clothes. Messily.

I have been assured that whatever it is, we can’t do anything about it. We don’t have it as bad as other sections of the nation.

Let us – still with compassion for others – be grateful.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,878th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.


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