This account of the Spring Valley flood is made available by Dick Lowater. It is a compilation of notes written by his mother and articles (including photographs) published in the Spring Valley Sun during the weeks immediately following the flood:
“This hastily put together scrapbook may give you an idea of why you didn’t get your usual letter in October. Love, Flo Lowater”
Scenes After the Flood
Of Sept. 17, 1942
“This house was moved two blocks – rode the water but caught on something and held. A woman 60 years old was riding upstairs with her feet in water as it was moving.” –Flo Lowater
“This gives a little idea of what the back office looked like after the flood. The water was over the lights you see and when it went down they were covered with mud and alfalfa hay.” –Flo Lowater
“The windows in the front office broke and were washed away as were all desks, records, chairs, and, in fact everything but the empty safe that was too heavy to be floated down the river.” –Flo Lowater
Quick Thinking by Victims and
Prompt Action By Rescuers
Play Important Role in Flood
Right in the middle of the hectic activities in Spring Valley on that flood night of Thursday, September 17, were Mr. & Mrs. C. E. (Ed) Fox, who live in their building on Main Street over the Hans Christensen tavern. During that evening they saw the rushing waters smash through into other buildings – first into the Sun office front, then into the Valley Café and finally into the Pence garage, all across the street from them. They watched the workers in each building and when the water crashed in they were sure that at least part or all of those workers drowned.
The people trapped in the Christiansen tavern cut a hole through the ceiling up into the Fox bedroom, overturning the bed in their haste to get through, These people then rushed into the Fox’s front room and began chopping a hole through the floor there to rescue others from the tavern who had been caught up in front.
During this same time Mr. & Mrs. Fox heard cries from the adjoining building on the south, and found Mr. & Mrs. Gehart Gunderson and Betty on the Lilllie jewelry store roof; these were taken in through the window. Then some one shouted from the north side of the building for an axe – and with that mighty handy weapon a hole was cut through the Noterman hardware store roof to release Theodore Noterman and his son, Jimmy, from a perch in the attic of the store.
Mr. & Mrs. Gunderson and Betty rescued themselves from a tough place. The ceiling of the Lillie jewelry store is covered with ornamental tin. With a jeweler’s small screw driver Gehart pried open the ceiling and tore down enough to get his wife and daughter and himself up through.
Betty then crawled through the attic to a small trap door on the side of the building and from there reached the edge of the roof and pulled herself up; from there she aided her father and mother to the roof.
Down the street an even more thrilling rescue was being made by the Frank Ducklows. Mr. & Mrs. A. R. Bertelsen and their three helpers were trapped in their drug store. The Ducklows, living over their tavern, saw the predicament of the people in the adjoining one-story drug store building. Lacking a rope, Mrs. Ducklow tore a new sheet into strips strong enough so that Alois Ducklow lifted the Bertelsen crew through a small single-sash window into the upstairs Mrs. Bertelsen had to swim the length of the store to get to the back and safety, and became so covered with oil that she was too slippery to grasp and had to be covered with a towel. When Mr. Bertelsen, the last to leave, left the window he looked back down only to find this last opening to safety covered with water.
Farther down the same side of the street Victor Mulhollam, owner of the Variety store stock, had to swim nearly 30 feet in the boiling maelstrom to reach the safety of Ed Schindler’s residence up over the clothing store. Ed and his wife were among the lucky ones to get out just ahead of the crushing water; they went upstairs (via a step ladder and a trap door) into their living quarters overhead.
Four men in the Wolf hardware store, after battling the water until the battle became hopeless, went upstairs in their building and then traveled too the Schindler residence over the roof tops.
There were eight men in the Pence garage building, mainly to try to protect the live stock housed there for the coming Farmers’ Day. These men battled the flood by lifting the live stock up into trucks at first, and then later even holding the heads of the animals above water to try to save them. Rex Pence had his motorboat in storage in the garage; when the windows were smashed in the men took to the boat.
They discussed the problem of rescue and some thought of putting out into the stream in the boat; cooler heads suggested going up through the attic and the roof, and that is what was done at last
In the Valley Cafe, Leonard Thompson had seven others with him. Fred Weber, who lives over the café, and (Long) Hans G. Hanson, were holding the front door to keep it from tearing away when the plate glass front gave way and they had to run for their lives. These eight people were then rescued via a ventilating transom in the toilets; Leonard, standing on the top of the water closet, was in water to his chin before he was pulled up to safety.
In the Sun office Don Lowater and Lloyd Alton punched, hacked and cut their way to safety through the shop roof in time to help pull those people out of the Pence garage and then to help W. H. Tousley, Miron Tousley and Clark Keyser out through the skylight of the Tousley furniture store.
Further down the street, Mr. & Mrs. Harvey Hanson and their two small children were forced to flee to the upstairs apartment occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Charles Casper. Next door Mr. & Mrs. Ed Keller were perched on the roof of their store. Ed saw a sheep floating by and lassoed it with a rope, hauling it up and tying it to the chimney. Next morning the prize animal was high and dry on the roof, bleating or help to get down.
This is a very incomplete and inconclusive story of what happened on only one block of Main street that night. The Sun will endeavor to get more true and thrilling stories from other parts of the town for future issues.
“This looks up our hill past Wolf’s Hardware. The water came up the hill as far as the Congregational Church and was deep enough to cover and float away cars that had been run up there for safety. We were at the water’s edge there all nite watching piles of lumber go down as if on freight cars, seeing whole buildings go, hearing cries for “help” and not knowing what was happening to Donald and others.” –Flo Lowater
Wolf Hardware on right looking toward Church Hill
These Also Saved in Flood
In last week’s Sun, the story of the narrow escape of those in the buildings in the central block of Main street was told. This week we will try to tell the story of two more blocks.
In the Clifford Arneson store, Clifford, Berven Arneson, Harley Larrieu, Allen VanDelist, Mrs H. P. Tanberg and Caroline Johnson were working, moving merchandise up and keeping water out. When the flood finally broke in the north windows of the store, it caught the two women and Berven Arneson in the dry goods side; the rest of the crew were in the grocery side.
Berven Arneson was perched on the flood gate in the front door, pushing away the logs that floated against it. Noise of the rushing water was so loud that he did not hear the shouts of warning from the others as the water rushed in from behind him; the wall of water and debris nearly washed him out into the torrent. But he managed to climb on top of the north wall shelves and was making his way toward the center of the store when the shelves fell over, throwing him into the deep water.
He then made his way to the shelving on the south side of the building, where Mrs. Tanberg and Miss Johnson were perched. As the current hit those shelves first, its force held them upright for a time. Siezing a broom, Berven pounded a hole through the plaster ceiling and began pounding on the upstairs floor.
In the meantime, Harley Larrieu and Allen VanDelist, in the grocery part of the store, had made their way upstairs and heard Berven pounding on the floor. Berven was able to make them understand that he and the two women were under the part occupied by Doctor Moore’s dental offices. Allen VanDelist smashed in the door of the office and, after locating the sound of the pounding, cut a hole through the floor.
Even then rescue was not completed, because the hole was but 16 inches wide and some feet away from the shelving on which the folks below were perched. But they made it, and soon after Berven Arneson went up through the floor the shelving where the three had been standing crashed over into the water.
But this was not the only close call in the store. Those in the grocery department had not all been able to get out the back way and over the shed roof. Clifford Arneson, the store proprieter, was trapped in the southeast corner of the grocery department by the rising water. He succeeded in breaking the ceiling, which is of insulation board, and got his hands up on the raters just as the grocery shelves on which he was standing went over. The group on the shed roof cut three different holes in looking for him and had given him up for lost when by a flash of lightning they saw his hands over the rafters and cut a hole there.
Mr. & Mrs. Victor Knodt owe their lives to the fact that they were too tired from the flood of the night before to try to stay in their store; they had a premonition of what was coming, due perhaps to the very close call they experienced in the May flood of this year.
Mrs. & Mrs. Knodt and their crew left their store when the water was about waist high, going to their home to carry some caned goods out of the cellar. While they were at work doing this the flood broke in their cellar wall and the wall in falling just missed Vic as he went up the cellar steps.
It was largely due to Vic Knodt’s and Melvin Emerson’s knowledge of the seriousness of the situation that started the Ellsworth people into such full scale action. They told the first group here from Ellsworth at about midnight that the Valley would be without food and water and that group, headed by Harold Doolittle, got busy.
The Knodts are salvaging a small portion of their goods and have them on sale in the former Stenborg store location.
The Forthuns – Doctor and Mrs. and the four children and George Kezar, who was there for safety from his home on River street – expected their bulding to give way at every fresh wave of the flood. The water reached the second story level, completely covering the chiropractic rooms on the ground floor.
As they watched from the upstairs windows they saw first one bullding and then another go down with the water – the former Spindler building and the feed mill to the south of them, McLaughlin’s house and Knodt’s store to the north of them. Mr. Forthun got a rope and tied them all on it so that if their building did go the family would be together, no matter what might happen.
“The people of Spring Valley deserve much praise and admiration for the pluck they show in going about the tremendous task of cleaning up after the flood.
We imagine one could easily be tempted to sit down and say “What’s the use”, but this spirit does not seem to exist in this little town, and we hope that it will soon be set up again. Spring Valley will always be Spring Valley, wherever it may stand; and may it never again be ravaged by flood waters.” – Wellwisher
“This is at the Telephone office. A large hole is above and a man and his wife and the telephone operator’s two children were up there. The people downstairs got the ceiling boards loose but there is a false ceiling and they were suffocating for air. The people upstairs chopped thru a tough oak floor with an old ax and saved them.” –Flo Lowater
These Also Escaped the Flood
Among the many who dodged death in the flood, none came closer to the end than Martin Olson, elderly gentleman living alone in the trailer-house just west of the community building.
Martin, who is crippled by arthritis and rheumatism, has always stayed with his trailer-house through all our floods. He decided to do the same on the night of Sept. 17, too. To keep water from his trailer, Martin had built up the house to more than four feet above the ground.
But the house wasn’t high enough to escape the big flood. At about 10:30 that night water poured into the floor of the trailer, forcing Martin to climb up onto his bed. Then the rising water floated the trailer-house, swinging the building completely around and against the poles of the Northern States Power Co. substation.
The water crept higher and higher and the trailer-house rose and rose with it. Now the Northern States Co. had built a platform about 12 feet off the ground, to service their automatic switches controlling the street lighting in Spring Valley. Martin Olson crept through the ventilator on top of his trailer-house to the platform on which the power transformers, switches and time clocks were located – and there he lay during the entire night.
Almost as soon as he reached the safety of the platform, the trailer-house broke away from its moorings and floated away. The house lodged in the alleyway and was not destroyed; Martin has had it moved back and is living in his house again.
At the Sweeney hotel, things happened fast, just as they did all over town. Mrs. Zauft and Lorraine, Mrs. Speckman and Mike Sweeney went upstairs just as soon as the water entered the first floor. Art Mahar, the mason who is building the fine stone structure at Crystal Cave, rooms in the hotel and was present, too.
Mr. & Mrs. Herman Stanz, living in their trailer-house just north of the hotel buildings, got out of their trailer and waded to the hotel building early in the evening. This prompt action saved their lives, because their trailer-house disappeared completely and not even a trace of it has been found since.
Mr. & Mrs. Stanz were very proud of their little home; it was the product of their own hands and represented more than a year of hard work.
Another trailer-house, C. W. Pence’s, went in the flood. It had been stored in the Pence garage next to the fire-hall. Remains of this house were found on the Mary Peterson farm below town.
In the Badger bowling alley, Lee Richardson and his two helpers, Bobby Gavic and Harlan Smith, had the water stopped out until the wall gave way under the building and let the flood pour up through the heating registers. The three then went through the doors into the hotel to stay until morning.
Mrs. Caroline Stark was brought to the hotel early in the evening by her grandson, Arnold McKernon. Water rose to the ceiling in her home back of her former store and tore up the floors of her building as well.
Vic Langer and George Glampe, sensing that this was no ordinary flood, had left the Langer tavern on Main street to go to their homes; they got as far as the hotel, but no further, and there joined the throng upstairs. George’s house floated off its foundation and the lower floor of Vic’s house was wrecked.
The Jim Tabor family lived upstairs in the Tousley building in that block; downstairs were the Avalon beauty shop and the former Mrs. Kezar dress shop. The Tabors were in comparative safety but for one thing – Mrs. Tabor was expecting a visit from the stork at any time, and the terrible night of the flood was no help in her condition. Next day Mrs. Tabor was taken to the Baldwin hospital and that same day gave birth to a husky boy – a baby who will have some story awaiting it or a birthday remembrance.
Down the street at the Red & White Store Peter Blegen, his daughter Florence and “Gunny” Gunvalson worked hard putting goods above the regular high water mark. The work proved to be futile, as there was eight feet of water in the store that night.
These three had a hard time getting through the rear of the store to an outside stairway leading to the upstairs and safety. Floating debris blocked the door until a big effort cleared it. Pete Plegen was fortunate that the flood in May showed up the weaknesses in his building and he had a new wall put under his store building just in time.
In the Bauer & Armstrong store, George Bauer, Lloyd “Tory” Armstrong, Teddy Davis, Frankie Cassel, Ralph Gavic and Jackie Armstrong spent the early evening lifting all the frozen food from the lower tiers of lockers up one row; they also lifted the first three shelves of goods in their store up to higher shelving and upstairs. Their work proved futile, except in the case of the material taken upstairs.
The boys were not sure that the store building would stand and so ducked out on the roof of the locker plant.
“This gives you an idea of what happened to many cars that night.” –Flo Lowater
Highlights of the Flood
Vic Langer has torn the wood floor out of his building on Main street and is replacing it with concrete.
Last Sunday we realized what we had been saved from for the first week after our flood. Curiosity seekers from far and near, thousands of them, jammed our streets, walked our sidewalks and butted into business places where cleaning-up was in progress and even into private homes. It was a great day for the manufacturers of photofilm. If the town had been opened the previous Sunday it would have been all carried away in bits as souvenirs. During the time the State Guards had control it was supposed that nobody was allowed to enter unless properly vouched for by some responsible Spring Valley citizen or by an officer. A number of passes bearing the forged signature of Sheriff Vic Gilbertson were used by some people who wouldn’t like to have their names published.
One night a man in a big car was stopped by a guard in uniform; he told the guard that he was coming in to help Don Lowater, a personal friend, at the Sun office. It happened that Don himself was doing civilian guard duty that night and was standing nearby. “Do you know this man?” the guard asked Don. “Never saw him before in my life.” was the answer. Without a word the fellow whipped his car around and got out of there, at faster than wartime speed limit.
The Red Cross stopped its canteen services here at the weekend, but has established headquarters in the band room in the high school building and several experts are here to conduct a rehabilitation program for the needy in the village. That program will be a long one and one involving many thousands of dollars.
A number of Spring Valley business places are now open for business (not quite “as usual”) or will be open this week. Some of them make announcements in this week’s Sun, and most of the others will dig out and begin work by another week.
It will be longer before the creamery can resume. Some partitions in the creamery building were washed out and machinery disarranged, so the interior downstairs is being changed around and rebuilt and improvements made. Main entrance will be switched to the west side.
The locker plant is out, probably for the war duration. The building in which it was housed was so badly twisted by the flood that it will probably never be used again; “Tory” Armstrong and George Bauer say that they hope to put in a bigger and better plant – in the new location in the sweet bye and bye.
Although one of its big lumber sheds went down the river with all its contents, Roy Segerstrom says that the Consolidated Lumber Co. will do business as usual here, moving to the new location when the time comes.
In last week’s rush the Sun forgot to mention that the village largely owed its quick recovery of city water service to the all-day-and-all-night work of Joe Sieberns of Minneapolis and Ted Vanasse of Gilman.
Work on repairing the Omaha track from Spring Valley to Woodville is being rushed; trains may be running again before this is read. For a time, at least, the track will extend no farther than the Valley Elevator Co. in the village.
If Al Michaels could only use all the firewood, in the shape of broken boards and timbers, which is heaped up housetop high on his front lawn, he would be all set for a year at least.
Trustys Arrive To Clean Up The Village
Warden Burke of Waupun, spent Friday in Spring Valley arranging for the maintenance of the 40 to 50 trusties who arrived here the first of the week to help Spring Valley clean up. Mr. Burke arranged to buy nearly all their provisions from local stores.
Trucks full of bedding and beds, cooks and the vanguard of the crew arrived Monday. They will live in the village hall, sleeping upstairs in the auditorium and cooking and eating downstairs. The building is ideal for that purpose, since it contains cooking facilities and showers, and rooms for recreation as well as sleeping quarters.
The men will begin the clean-up in the village at once. They plan to pick up the streets, help home-owners in re-setting back buildings, piling up the debris in orderly fashion, and tearing down the hopelessly wrecked buildings remaining upright.
Later they intend to pick up the material lodged along the river banks; that is a job that of major size in itself. Warden Burks said that Governor Heil has instructed him to stay until the job is done or until freezing weather stops outdoor work; they expect to remain about two months.
A New Spring Valley
Business men present at the meeting held here last week unanimously voted to move our village to another location. That vote was a brave and necessary first step, but it didn’t solve our problems nor end our necessary efforts.
Reasons for the unanimity of that vote are not far to seek. Never before, since the ancient glaciers melted away, has the Spring Valley location suffered such a flood; it took the combined results of a moisture-saturated warm air (98%) being met by extra-early wintry winds from the Arctic, just over the Spring Valley water-shed and when the ground was absolutely saturated with water, to produce such a flood. All these factors may never again meet together. On the other hand, they meet again next week. Hence fear and uncertainty hang over our heads and will continue to haunt us as long as we stay beside the Eau Galle.
We are told by government engineers that it is entirely possible to control any such downpour here. Looking at Boulder Dam, for instance, we know that it is indeed possible; but as Gov. Heil said when here in June, “Spring Valley aint worth that much money.” There are less costly and better ways of reaching our goal of safety.
We must remember that Spring Valley’s greatest assets did not consist in our buildiings nor in our stocks of merchandise, but in the goodwill which we have built up in these past fifty years in the splendid, far-spread, prosperous community around us. Our buildingss are wrecked, our goods are destroyed, but we still possess that community.
A farmer who lives many miles from Spring Valley expressed this truth to a Sun man. “You mourn for your town,” he said, “but whose town do you really think Spring Valley is? It’s my town – it belongs to the hundreds of us who live far out of the valley but who love it and depend on it. We can’t let is fade away.”
Moving the physical location of the town a few miles may sacrifice some of our buildings and associations, but it will still retain Spring Valley’s most valuable resources – our community and good will.
Fortunately there are suitable new locations within a short distance from the present village in almost every direction to which we can move and where we will be free forever from the fear of future floods.
But we must begin NOW with full intention to carry on as fast as possible and not to be stopped by any obstacle whatever. There are always lions in the path of those who fear them. There are difficulties of finance, of agreeing on a plan, of war-time restrictions; but these difficulties can be solved as we meet them if we go on now while the feeling of unity and the impetus of our necessity are with us.
The fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Spring Valley was to have been celebrated next month. We now have a heaven-sent opportunity to make that anniversary a splendid rebirth into a new and better-planned Spring Valley that will come closer to our heart’s desire. Like Topsy, the old Spring Valley “just growed” without form or direction; think what we can do now, starting from the ground up. We are in the position of a family whose old and well-loved home is falling; it must be patched up, with the ever-present danger that it may fall in over our heads, or a new home may be built, still on the home farm, convenient, more livable, and one which the neighbors will enjoy visiting.
In building our new home we shall have the active assistance of hosts of friends, far and near – if we do it now. Everybody is glad to help those who also help themselves, but these helpers of ours will soon lose interest if we show hesitating weakness. Such a chance as this comes to very, very few communities and perhaps only a few communities are wise enough or strong enough to make use of such a chance when it does come.
A few years from now, those of us who “stay by the ship” will look back at what now seems to be our great calamity and perceive that it really was the greatest of opportunities for good fortune. Time will prove that Lady Luck’s stinging slap was given us to wake us up and compel us to take the step that shall lead to a future which we never could have realized without her painful insistance and assistance.
Railroad Back in the Valley
The Omaha railroad is back in Spring Valley. A large crew of men started work on bridges and right-of-way Tuesday, expecting to be through by the end of the week.
Railroad officials estimate that $10,000 worth of their bridge material is scattered along the right-of-way between Spring Valley and Elmwood. This is new materials and was in the process of being placed in bridges and other structures washed out by the May flood. No material in existing structures is figured. This must be salvaged – it cannot be replaced
Flood damage on the main line has not yet been completely repaired. At the Knapp hill there is still only one track open, and that track had to be placed on the old railroad grade that was abandoned many years ago. The new grading is completely gone.
Regular train service means that the Spring Valley station will be a busy place. Fertilizer being shipped in for farmers of this community is waiting for the opening of the line – six carloads of it.
In the connection, Melvin Melsby, Pierce county Chairman of the A.A.A., advises farmers to take their shipments of fertilizer promptly on the days designated on the notification cards otherwise the entire unloading procedure will be held up because of the heavy shipments and limited trackage of the present Spring Valley railroad yards.
LOOTERS, TAKE NOTICE
The flood has shown Spring Valley both the good and the bad side of human nature. The good side is overwhelmingly stronger but the bad shows up too strongly at times.
On the banks of the Eau Galle south of Spring Valley lie goods, materials and records from nearly every former business in Spring Valley. Hundreds of people have looted these heaps of many useful things that do not belong to them – some in ignorance but most of them sneaking the goods home in shame under cover of darkness. It is about these thieves – and worse – that this is written.
Spring Valley was defenseless during the first week after the flood. The state guards did a major job in patrolling the highways and the streets of the village, but some people walked two or three miles just to pick up loot found on the river banks.
If by chance you are one of those who carried off something of value that does not belong to you, we hope this will make you ashamed enough to bring the articles back and find the rightful owner. It may be that you were seen and that there will soon be a warrant out for your arrest. Would you rather be branded as worse than a thief – one who kicks a man when he is down – or are you one who has courage enough to bring your loot back?
Think it over, you few. – Make the right decision now before it is too late.
K. L. Schellie, of the WisconsinState Planning Board, and F. W. Sawtelle, one of the board’s surveyors, began work Monday in making a survey of the new site where the village of Spring Valley will be moved, just west of the present location. These men are helped by three high school boys, a different bunch each day, as a practical part of their school work.
At present the surveyors are running contour lines as a guide to grading for the new town, and are also investigating soil conditions and underlying rock. Their findings will influence the exact location of each part of the new town.
The Sun that you get today is the first paper printed in our own plant since the flood of Sept. 17. The fact that you got any paper at all since then is due to those wonderful friends of ours, the other printers of this section.
Heading the list in that friendship are two grand fellows, Oscar Halls and Harold Doolittle, and their loyal crews of helpers: Oscar’s did the first flood issue, and did it alone, without suggestion or aid from Spring Valley – a whale of a good job, too.
Harold’s did the printing of the succeeding two issues; some of the composition on the second issue was done by Aug. Ender and his crew in Durand, and some composition on the third issue was done by Bub White and his crew at River Falls. Oscar Halls filled in the ticket by setting a large part of the advertising in the issue last week.
Wm. Hawley, of Baldwin, spent the Sunday following the flood swamping out the Sun office; Bill supervised the job, too, from a printer’s angle, as the Sun force was kept busy rescuing what machinery was possible to save from rust and mud.
Art Best, of Woodville, and Jack Cory, of Elmwod, offered their plants to the Sun. Jonathan Boothby of the Boothby Printery at Menomonie, sent the Sun stationery, envelopes and a typewriter and began doing the urgent job work brought to the Sun office. The Wisconsin Press Association began collection of a fund for our personal relief.
There were many others, not printers, who gave us splendid aid by helping to shovel out mud and spoiled paper, clean type and machinery, and pick up generally. Warren Weldon, with the help of other men from Hersey, worked several days; and among others were Frank Lowater with his mechanic from Chippewa Falls; men from Baldwin, Beldenville, Gilman, Spring Lake, Rock Elm and the village; and also the ladies from the country and the village who helped to wash type by hand. Altogether this is the reason we are able to print the Sun in our office this week.
We have always prized our friendships highly; but this demonstration of good-will from our neighbors and friends is beyond any words of ours.
For the present, and until future time can let us say it more adequately – Thank you, The Lowaters