Mother Nature told me I needed to clean my room.
This was supposed to be the start of a string of new articles. Well, ol' Mom decided she had other plans. This past month has been pretty bizarre, sad and daunting. One month ago, this very day, Christmas Eve, it all started.
As I mentioned last issue, we senselessly lost Henry Gutierrez. It has been almost daily either someone I know personally or a prominent celebrity has died. One of the drawbacks of a society so rich in culture and genres of entertainment, aging takes them away from us. To those souls, mighty and unknown, peace be with you in your rest. . .Happy Trails.
Once more, I have jumped the curb in my original missive and I digress.
The weather here, this time of year is as predictable as a five year old on a sugar kick. Christmas day was incredibly beautiful, mild and sunny. I spent most of the day with the windows open, it was intoxicating. One you commit to memory and you reminisce for years to come.
The next day, the beginning of four solid days of rain. Ten inches fell here and with that comes the all too familiar flooding. Not a major inconvenience really, with a lot of farm land being what takes the hit. I usually have to take another route to the shop when we ‘get water’.
Being the end of the year, I had a few jobs to do and planned to take off the last couple, to dive into some major work on the Hippo. I wanted to get it all documented and present it in my next installment here. I need to stop here a second and thank Thomas Ommen, Jr., for his incredibly generous donation of well preserved, era correct Goodyear Blue Streak slicks. I was floored and flattered. So, formally, thank you Mr. Ommen. Hell of a Christmas present!
The routine of ‘getting water’ here typically goes something like this. The first couple days the water starts coming up the riverbanks on The Narrows, a portion of Highway W running along sheer bluffs on one side and Big River on the other for about a mile. With the confluence of the Big River and the Meramec River in the immediate area, heavy rains can bring the slow rise. Once or twice a year a possible covering of low spots on the road. You learn to gauge the depth by where it breaches the road and can drive through with no issue, or take the ‘back way’ over some ridges.
It came up fast this time, much faster than usual, covering much of my regular route a day and a half sooner than originally thought. No big deal. The next morning, Monday, December 29, I took the back way and when I crossed the bridge over a creek that rarely floods the water was getting pretty high. "Going to be a good one," I thought to myself. We've had a few big ones over the last 33 years. In fact, this one was being predicted as a record breaker. That Monday, a sandbagging effort was starting to form. Everywhere I went that day there was talk of how bad it could get. The prospect of exceeding the ‘82 flood kept being tossed out.
My place was built by the fire department in '83. The floor was set at a foot out of the flood plain, four feet higher than the record. I was obviously a bit cocksure, no way was this going to hit my place. Even if it did, it would only be the back warehouse and that was two feet lower than the front shop. Monday, I headed out of here and when I crossed the bridge over the creek that never floods the water was about 3 inches over the bridge deck. "Damn, this ain’t good,” I said to myself. Instantly, I begin planning my alternate routes in my head. A few miles later on the other side of the ridge, I see reflections of my headlights in the fields ahead. "Crap, this is really bad," I had to admit to myself as I traversed the next couple miles with the farm fields spilling water onto the road.
The last time it was this bad, Interstate 44 had been closed. That was in 1992, which was a broader coverage than the ' 82 flood. It has to do with what is down river and in '92 the Mississippi Valley was inundated, thinking about this was above my pay grade.
My route to the shop was one that took a few minutes and miles longer. I arrived at the shop, set up for my jobs and didn't pay much attention to what was going on. I had figured if I needed to when I got back from my job in the city I'd prep for what could come. When I left, there were even more sandbaggers and an eerie sense around town. With it being the week between Christmas and New Year’s, a number of good souls were helping out. Our community is like that, a lot of helpful types who pitch in.
Tuesday 1:00 pm:
I returned a couple hours later and what greeted me as I crested the hill, crossing the railroad tracks into old town, was like looking at war zone scenes. Sandbags were stacked along the perimeter of a half block on both sides of Central Avenue. Police and public works vehicles outnumbered shoppers and diners vehicles. At this time, the bulletins were coming out and it was expected to crest at 4 feet above the record.
Now, most who know me, know I don't lose my mind over stuff too easily. I think that age thing and being in business this long did it to me, although at this time I had an “Oh shit" moment when I did the math. 4 feet over meant it would be on my shop floor, maybe in the offices.
3:00 pm, Tuesday December 30, 2015:
I got a sick feeling starting to stir in the pit of my stomach. I could possibly be on the losing end of something beyond my control. Relying on years of fabricating, you know the adage ‘measure twice cut once’, well, it has a bastard cousin. It's called ‘add an inch to every measurement to compensate.’ I took the 4 feet they were predicting over the record and added a foot. Through the afternoon and evening I was able to get funny cars, dragster, Jungle truck, motorcycle, tig welder and roadster truck, you know, the important stuff, above the level my math led me to believe would be safe. I called Chrissy and told her what was up and she picked up the boys and came to the shop to help.
Now, I have to remind myself sometimes, I ain’t your average bear. The news media was ramming this down our throats; the Nervous Nellies were at 12 on a scale of 10. I go inward on this stuff and internalize, I am my own army. Others tend to find this a big deal. My wife was one of them and rightfully so. After a pizza dinner at the shop and some scurrying and scuttling of things, I was making her cry with my devil-may-care attitude and the boys weren't really overjoyed either. I sent them home to dry and less harried confines. Throughout the evening I continue to methodically put things up high and dry.
Tuesday evening 7:00 pm:
My friend Mark Schmiedeskamp calls about 7:00 pm, "You okay? We just lost David's house, topped the sandbags." He said. "Do you need me to come over and help with anything?" I told him I was okay and was taking care of it myself. “Bullshit" he says, “I’ll be there in a few minutes." He shows up with his better half, Julie and son David, (who had just lost his house to the water) and starts helping me move things. (Typing this, I get choked up. I do have some really great friends.)
This is the kind of place I live in. The kind of friends I have, the kiss- my-ass spirit in the face of tragedy and chaos. My printer, which is for all intents and purposes my business and wellbeing, is a HEAVY sumbitch. Mark talked me into loading it into the truck. “Get that damn thing out of here, Ed." he says. He sends his son to get help and in a few minutes, six of my neighbors and fellow business owners show up, dirty and beat from sandbagging all day. They grab the printer and load it in the truck, ask me if I need anything else and head across the street to keep the bagging efforts going well into the night. Mark is beat, back hurting and tired after having spent the last two days trying to secure his son's home. I would be remiss if I did not add, his son, David is an Iraq veteran and Mark a Vietnam vet, I salute and thank you my friends. I offered him one of my coveted painkillers, he refused. I thanked him and assured him I would be fine with the rest.
At that point. . .Tuesday night 8:30 pm:
All that was left was the computers, which were easily dismantled. I settled in and decided to hang out until the water was too high or the scare was over. Funny thing about events like this, you never know when things are going to pop. My like-minded neighbor at the plumbing place across the street decided to hang around too.
We were surprised, there wasn't any water! There is a creek that flows through town, about a block from the shop. We walked over and checked it out. Nothing. It wasn't flowing, it was standing still; it had a good four feet before it was even out of its banks.
Wednesday 2:00 am:
After a very short nap, I ventured out to the convenience store and grabbed some food and cruised a couple spots in town to check water levels. Still nothing, creek hadn't moved. Back at the shop, I took a walk around and made sure all was safe and secure. Went in the office and caught up on a couple quick layouts and checked the water level predictions.
Wednesday 2:30 am:
There it was on my screen. We had hit the ‘82 level! I got up and walked outside. It was in the 30's, kind of breezy. I took a walk down to the corner of Central and Dreyer. Looking south about half a block away, water, not a lot, but it was in the low part of Old Town Drive, the area where water always collects when the storm drains reach capacity.
I walk back to the shop and file my first report on Facebook to any locals who may be up. 6 or 7 likes in the first minute tells me I'm not the only one roaming around at this hour. By this time, no question, I was spending the night and the duration at the shop. I needed to protect my investment, keep myself occupied, because there was no damned way I could fall asleep now.