18 June 2008
How High's The Water?
We have all been watching the news and the floods throughout the midwest that have driven so many people from their homes as well as destroying farmland and crops in the path of the rising water. For those wishing to assist families made homeless by this cycle of nature, the Red Cross is always the best option.
Many people think of the Great Depression in terms of the dust bowl. What gets little mention is the latter part of the cycle and the great floods of 1937. There was often little warning and tragedies of broken dams, levies, or overflowing rivers took more lives than is common today. One of the most dramatic of these tragedies was not a seasonal flood in the midwest but an event that occurred on June 19, 1938 when a western flash flood of Custer Creek in Montana washed out the tracks causing a train wreck that killed 46 people and seriously injured more than 60.
On the evening of June 19, a track walker was sent out to check the rail lines near Custer Creek in Terry, Montana. He reported dry conditions and no problems with the tracks. However, within just a few hours, a sudden downpour overwhelmed Custer Creek. A bridge used by trains was washed out, and when the Olympian Special came through, it went crashing into the raging waters with no warning. Two sleeper cars were buried in the muddy waters. A pitch-black night on the Great Plains made rescue efforts extremely difficult and 46 people lost their lives. The rear cars stayed above the water, but scores of passengers were seriously injured. They could not be evacuated until the following morning.
If you are interesting in history and genealogy, check out the link above that gives the newspaper coverage of the wreck and lists the names of many of the victims. If you happen to be driving in the western desert this time of year, pay attention to any signs that indicate an arroyo or dry river bed. In the space of just a few minutes, these can turn into life threatening bits of geography.