Saturday, June 22, 2024

Opinion: Christman recalls flood

| June 5, 2024 8:40 AM

The Great Flood of 1964 had a profound effect upon my life.  In fact, in my stories of “Tales of a Misspent Youth,” the day of the flood became a directional point,  a remembrance that none could forget.  And as they say, you had to be there, and I was.

Even though 60 years has passed, I remember those moments in June of 1964 as if they were yesterday. I just turned nine years of age, yet even then I could feel the tension in the air as to what the river was going to do.  My folks, 3 year old sister, and I lived on acreage just east of the Old Red Bridge.  My Uncle Fred and Aunt Clara lived to the southeast of us, and my Grandma in her homesteaded log cabin on one side of the Alfalfa field.  Many of the neighbors (Ernie Vitt, Fred Fowler family, the Ellmans, Henry Rahns family, and many more) around us were also affected by the Flood’s rage.

My folks and I, a few days before, fished well at the Hungry Horse Dam in our 12-foot aluminum boat.  The rains were torrential at times, and when we got home, my father left the boat on the back of our truck —  he bailed out the boat several times.  He pounded a stake in the ground near the dip in our driveway out to the main road and told my mother, if back up water reaches the stake, check on my grandma, load up the dogs in the boat, grab the kids and head up town.  He then went to work at Plum Creek Sawmill.  

It was a matter of moments into the late afternoon, the stake became underwater, my mother rushing about.  I grabbed several Giant Superman comics to bide my time.  My Grandma was safe with my Uncle and Aunt and we began to head out and the dip was completely under water.  My mother floored the truck and we headed across the old Red Bridge before it was shut off to traffic, us being some of the last to cross.  I remember well seeing murky water and floating trees and stumps every where the land was supposed to be as we crossed the Red Bridge.

My mother drove to Todd’s Cafe and waited out the moments. It seemed like hours to this 9 year old.  Finally I asked my mother when were we going back home.  The answer back was short and to the point.  There is no home to go back to.  So many stories in those minutes were played out in the aftermath.  With The kindness of friends, we stayed with the Elmer Ward family for several weeks until a house belonging to Jack Hoerner (the Plumber) where we were allowed to stay rent-free for a month until my folks could find a place.  Those were tedious times, of an unknown future.

I look back and we were fortunate.  The Great Flood affected many in the Flathead County with countless property damage but things could have been so much worse, like the flooding at the same time on the other side of the Mountains to Great Falls area and Sun River taking a number of lives with it. They say what does not kill you, makes you stronger.  In some aspects this is very true. An event like the 1964 flooding shapes one’s life, brings out the best in people and that tragic time, is remembered truly the worst of times and best of times.

Lyle A. Christman

South Cle Elum