Midwest Musings: A Flood of Memories

I started the third and final installment of my “Matchmaking Motor Coach” series, Keeping It Casual, with a memory from my final days of high school. That year, just prior to graduation in my hometown of Burlington, Iowa, which is directly on the Mississippi River and where most of the action of these three books takes place, the town and surrounding area suffered one of the worst floods in its history, surpassed since then only by one in 2008. untitled

In my story, the hero, Geoff McKenna, returns to the motor coach customization business he runs with his two brothers exhausted after a tough night of sandbagging. Sandbagging is one of the major defenses against the rising water. Geoff has multiple sclerosis and has overextended himself physically. Later in the story, rested, he takes the heroine, Alexandra Appleby, to Crapo Park, which overlooks the river, so she can see how far the river has overflowed its banks on the flatter, lower Illinois side.

The flood from my high school days was a far off memory. To ensure credibility, I went to members of my graduating class for their recollections. Here, in their own words, are some of their reminiscences.

Craig WoodI do remember being let out of school to go sandbag. I think we went to the Burlington Basket Company, or one of those factories just north of downtown. They must have called the high school for help or something. It was pretty warm, but I think it was early May. My favorite part was that somebody kept bringing us doughnuts (well, that and getting out of school). I remember being a little in awe of looking over the top of the wall of sandbags and seeing the river at eye level.

Bryan R. AlexanderI remember the 1965 flood…it was one of the worst floods. The river was 8 miles wide at Burlington, Iowa. The water got up to Front Street and in some situations up to Main Street. Some of our classmates that lived north of Burlington and in Gulfport, Illinois – we had some classmates that paid to go to the Burlington school – when the levee broke their family farms were flooded. My parent, I and other stood on the bluffs overlooking bottom land [to] watch the area flood.  

John McCartneyThe National Guard took the lead in the 65 flood. My Dad was in the guard. He was on the helicopter that almost crashed. It didn’t, just a hard landing. Citizens did volunteer to sandbag and help the guard.

Alta Masterson CookWe farm bottom land by Mississippi River and have had flooded land more than once. Most all of the people that helped sandbag in our area was volunteer citizens.

Rita CarlsonI remember Butch Thornton and others from our class sandbagging in May of 1965.

Judy ZachmeyerI was in Green bay bottom at the time and we had the Fort Madison prisoners sand bag during the day time. They couldn’t do it at night but were great during the day. Farmers did the night shifts. The levi down there held.

Bryan R. AlexanderTo see the Illinois flood damage my parents, their friends and I took a Sunday afternoon car trip on U.S 34 to Gladstone after the flood waters receded from the highway. I recall seeing a red and white 1957 Ford 2 Door Sedan buried in mud over the hood and trunk of the car…all you could see of the Ford was the windows and roof. Evidence that the flood waters had brought a lot of mud with it. In the middle of the flood waters there were houses above the water on built up mounds of dirt with docks coming from the top of the mounds with motor boats attached. Apparently, numerous farmers and home owners had prepared for the possibility of flooding…these homes which in some cases are still there became known as “Flood Mushrooms” in 1965.

Thank you, guys. I think I got it right.

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