While springtime flooding in Iowa is not a rare occurrence, the magnitude of this year’s high water is far from the norm.
Both the Missouri River in western Iowa and the Mississippi River in the east have wreaked havoc with Iowa Farmers, many of whom find the task of Springtime planting put on hold while rivers have overflowed into fields that would normally be planted with this year’s crops. It’s not just farmers who’ve been battling high water, cities along rivers have also felt the wrath of springtime flooding.
In Davenport, for example, the “River Bandits,” a Class A baseball team, have yet to play before the home crowd and have been forced to play their early-season home games at other venues in the area.
Of course, flooding is not new to Iowans. For decades those who call Iowa home have fought battles with rains that have filled rivers and streams to overflowing.
I’ve witnessed some of that high water myself.
One river that has, in the past, been prone to overflowing its banks is the Boone River which winds its way across the state until flowing into the Des Moines River just northwest of the small Hamilton County town of Stratford, a place I called “home” for the first 10 years of my life.
I recall one early flood before I’d even begun Kindergarten in the fall of 1948. We still lived in a big four-square house at the top of a hill on what is now Xavier Avenue. The gravel road juts north off a blacktop that runs from Stratford to a point just north of Dayton, crossing the Des Moines River a few hundred yards west. Xavier runs in a northerly direction and travelers can see the Des Moines by looking left across a small farm field.
After traveling along that road for a time, drivers come across a bridge. That bridge crosses the Boone River, which joins the Des Moines just south of that point. The Des Moines River, meanwhile, winds its way, down from Lehigh and Fort Dodge. Drivers make a left turn just before crossing that bridge and the road continues in a westerly direction. The Des Moines River is hidden among some dense trees.
My memory may be a little foggy, but as a 4-year-old I remember the situation quite well.
My Uncle Jack Knox, just home from his honorable and heroic service during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, had driven by Mother and me (and my baby brother, Roger), along with two of Mom’s younger sisters, into Stratford for some groceries. We returned along Xavier Avenue.
However, floodwaters appeared on the road just before we were to cross the bridge. Still, we drove on. Once over the bridge, more floodwaters were across the road; in fact, from the bridge to a point several hundred yards west, the road was completely covered with Des Moines River water. It flowed across the road and into a farm field on the other side, the water coming in from both sides – the Des Moines River to the left and the Boone River to the right.
The old Model A Ford, though, sat high enough that Uncle Jack thought we’d make it. I was too young to be afraid, but I could sense the fear in my Mother as Jack slowly drove down the far side of the bridge and into the flood waters. He paused momentarily on the bridge as if to ponder the situation.
I remember my mom saying, “Here, Billy, squeeze this and keep quiet.” She handed me one of those packets of margarine, a squeeze packet that contained a packet of bland off-white lard-like paste and a separate packet of yellow coloring (that’s how margarine was sold in those days after the war).
So, I began squeezing the two pastes together, my mom having broken the seal separating the two. Still, I couldn’t help but notice the looks of the faces of my mom and two of her younger sisters as Jack slowly drove the old Ford down from the bridge and into the murky floodwaters. Slowly, Jack drove on.
Mom grabbed onto the side of the door with one hand, holding my baby brother with the other. One of my aunts held me in a standing position on the back seat. My aunt in the front seat with Jack leaned forward and grabbed hold of the dash of the old Ford. I could tell both my mom and my aunt were afraid
The road was invisible, but Jack had driven it so many times, he stayed on the road, which was between water that showed the ditches on both sides with small ripples. For perhaps a quarter mile, we drove through the floodwaters, then reached a spot where the gravel road turned back north again, for a short jaunt along the road until it reached a hill.
My aunts, and probably my uncle Jack, let out visible sighs of relief when the old Ford finally left the floodwaters and began to climb the hill. We drove north, passing historic Vegor’s Cemetery along the way, and finally reached the top of the hill.
That’s where mom and I got out of the car. We lived in the big four-square white house that once stood there; I think folks referred to it as the “Swanson” house.
Even at that young age, I remember the tense journey through waters from the Boone and Des Moines rivers that flowed over the road.
I was very young, but it’s something I’ll never forget.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at Bhaglund13@msn.com.