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January 27, 2023

Funny Papers Again Column | ‘If It Keeps on Rainin’, the Levee’s Gonna Break’

Many of you, or some of you, or heck maybe none of you will, recognize the title of today’s column as the opening lyrics of the song “The Levee’s Gonna Break” made popular by Led Zeppelin in 1971 (actually it is a re-working of a 1929 song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie about the great 1927 Mississippi River Flood; the re-work was done by Robert Allen Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., whom we know as Bob Dylan…but I digress).

I thought it an appropriate heading as rain and wind and flooding have once again lashed and gusted and roiled into the area. And while I do not make light of death and damage done by recent flooding, I will say to those under 60 years of age, well, you ain’t seen nuttin’. Let me relate a couple flood stories, some of which I experienced firsthand and one which took place when I was still a wee lad.

It must first be said that with increased residential and agricultural use and improved water management flood concern is not what it was a few decades back. Prior to these influences that old, slow flowing, sandy Salinas River could at times get up a head and do some real damage, and the same went for some of its contributing watersheds.

In the flood of 1958, 3.5 inches of rain fell in Arroyo Seco in a 24-hour period, so much so that Army helicopters had to rescue a marooned family in the Greenfield area, while down in King City the San Lorenzo Creek overflowed its banks and flooded a chicken farm killing 23,000 birds. That was some serious water flowing. (If anyone in Greenfield or King City, or indeed anyone who reads this column, has any information about that rescue or that chicken ranch, please get in touch; curiosity, ya know.)

My first real encounter with flooding was as an eighth grader in Greenfield during Christmas vacation of 1965-66. There was significant flooding in the Valley; something I witnessed as my orthodontist was in Salinas and I remember riding north with my father in our 1964 VW Beetle on the 101 and seeing acres of farmland underwater. The local news showed film of the Salinas River Bridge on Highway 68, where the water filled from abutment to abutment and about a foot below the bottom.

In Greenfield, we went down to see the Arroyo Seco flow over Thorne Road west of town and then crossed over the Valley to where the Salinas was flowing over Elm Avenue near Metz Road. And while at both sites the rushing water had washed away asphalt, road closure barricades were placed only a few yards from the waters edge allowing the curious to park and walk very close to the wildly running rivers; it was cool.

It was exciting for me at that age, and for most of my classmates; unless of course you were the child of a farmer losing crops. But at the time I didn’t think about the loss to farmers and ranchers, I was thrilled seeing the two rivers I knew as mostly recreational venues now running brown and frothy on both sides of town, and just a short drive apart if one was old enough to legally drive, which I was not. But for the next big gully washin’, turd floater of a storm I was indeed the rightful possessor of a valid operator’s license.

The storm and resultant flooding of 1969 was one for the record books, literally. The rain in the Big Sur area came down like a cow peein’ on a flat rock and a whole lot of that water flowed into the Valley and caused widespread damage and loss of crops; which financially affected thousands of owners and workers for years to come. There are incidents of that time, which stretched into weeks after rain began falling in late December, involving both rivers that distinctly come to mind.

A couple of us ventured as far up the Arroyo Seco River canyon as we wanted but had to negotiate a small hurdle; it seems some Rangers thought a river washing furniture from riverside cabins out to sea was a danger, so they blocked off the Gorge Road. Assuming the barricades were for stupid people and not us we made our way upriver and then down closer to the water’s edge. The usually green beckoning river was a furious brown frothing madman forcing rocks the size of basketballs and larger down the steep stone riverbed sounding like the muffled rhythm of a drunken bass drummer. It was a frightful sound.

Down at the Salinas River, two vivid memories come to mind; one an act of nature quite remarkable, the other the act of a teen driver quite unremarkable. We became aware that the river was cresting due to release of water from the dams, and at a certain time this crest would pass by the Metz area. This was adventuresome, so we made our way down there and after a wait of a couple hours, sure enough a wall of water about 12-18 inches high and bank to bank passed northward toward the Pacific Ocean like a miniature tsunami. It was a memorable sight.

Soon after on a day when a half dozen cars were parked on both sides of Elm, I stopped on the side of the road and right then a driver began a three-point U-turn; I was sure he was going to bump the front of my parent’s car, so I quickly put it in reverse and, without looking back, hit the gas. I went about three feet and bang. I heard glass breaking, not good. I looked in my rear-view mirror and there behind the wheel of his parent’s car was a friend from kindergarten days, he gave me a feeble wave. Luckily, the cost of two headlights was the only penalty.

Take care. Peace.

Steve Wilson
King City and Greenfield Columnist

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