Bob Mitchell: Early disastrous flooding events

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Since we have obviously been in the early spring weather season, some events being disastrous to Barry countians, which should be acknowledged by everyone with a hope for fast recovery of the damage.

I noticed there haven’t been any old-time names used for storms lately.

Back in the early days, perhaps 80 years ago, a large storm that swept through the area could have been called by a number of names.

Back in the those early days, when heavy rains visited the area, similar to the 4.5 to 5-inch measurements like was received a few days ago, they could go under the name of toad strangler, cloudburst, gully washer, cats and dogs, torrential or thunder boomers.

Today’s weather forecasters don’t use any of these names when referring to weather conditions, perhaps they aren’t classy enough to go out over the airways.

Biggest mess

Recalling the biggest mess of early days had my family living at the corner of Fourth and West streets, where Sunrise Restaurant now operates. This storm that visited Cassville pushed Flat Creek to an all-time high flood stage. Water was sufficiently high enough that it washed logs from Houn Ditch Inn’s building out of the exterior walls and right into our backyard. The fact is, there wasn’t much that didn’t settle in this location when the water went back into the creek channel.

That particular building later became Ozark Furniture, owned and operated by Ernest and Ilene German for many years.

The exterior of the building was later changed and so was its use, as it was where young people congregated, and yes, even danced in those early days.

A bird dog experience

The night of that storm my dad awakened me out of a second story bedroom with information that my Pointer bird dog, Sport, was in the flooded basement and all efforts to get him out had failed.

Armed with a flashlight we went outside to a basement window, broke the glass and looked into the flooded area. There at the opposite end of the area was Sport, standing on a table with his front paws up on the wall. The water was up to his front shoulders.

After shining the light on him, it took a couple of calls before he turned off the table and swam to the window where he was rescued. This happened to be my most exciting personal flood incident.

For days after the flood, there were disasters up and down Flat Creek that required news coverage.

Cleanup required help

There was no way at my young age that cleanup of that yard could be accomplished by this young one. Fortunately, help came from Loren and Leon Perfect, the twins that lived next door and whose yard was high enough to avoid the flood waters.

Blalack Motors, that was back when Cassville had a Chevrolet dealership, needed a lot of sweeping to remove water and mud and later a parts department that required some cleaning.

Another toad incident

Living in Springfield, a long awaited weekend fishing trip to Tanycomo came into being with my dad, Ted Hutchens, his son Lewis Gene and myself. The elders had prepared for a week toward this outing, gathering bait, food and all the trimmings.

We were off for the Forsyth area early that morning, the closer we got to a destination the more dastardly weather conditions turned, eventually letting go in heavy downpours.

Our only recourse was to find shelter, which we did under the Swan Creek Bridge, and set up at one end for fishing the rising creek. After a short period of time, we noticed at the opposite side under the bridge was a lone fisherman, in the same situation as we were in. Eventually, Ted noticed it was C. C. Woolford, legendary weather forecaster on radio out of Springfield.

Eventually, approaching him, my question was, “What happened to the good weather forecast?” His reply was something like, “I’m as disappointed as you are — my instruments failed me!”

In later years, he related this incident while acting as master-of-ceremonies at the Cassville Strawberry Festival. He acknowledged that it was not one of his perfect forecasts.

Back in the Mule days

Barry Electric’s publication recently had a good article about Missouri Mules, which that history reaches way back in Barry County history.

The era was World War I, when mechanization hadn’t reached the armed forces, and moving equipment most generally required horse or mule power. Many of the animals required by the Army either came out of Barry County or were provided by the Keen family.

The elder Louie Keen was a major provider of mules of that time for the Army that eventually found their way to the battlefields of Europe.

Members of the Keen family in the Kansas City area were also involved in providing Mule Power with their buying and serving as a staging area for the animals and had access to railroad transportation.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.