The Flood of ‘51
By Mr. Bruce
I listened with interest tonight to the national news when Brian Williams told about the auction of a painting today by Thomas Hart Benton (our favorite Missouri son from Neosho, Missouri). It went for 1.9 million dollars in New York City. Benton painted this to depict the need for flood control after the horrific floods in the spring of 1951. This flood devastated a great amount of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. This news item immediately brought back memories of this event.
It was in the spring of 1951. My father was the District Superintendent for Campbell 66 Express based in Joplin, Missouri. Campbell 66 was one of the largest trucking companies in the area. I was in high school. Early in the week by dad’s phone began ringing every day at the trucking terminal and at home at night. The repeated calls were from the Red Cross and other Disaster Agencies with the same request. “ The flood waters in Kansas are moving south toward Miami, Oklahoma and predictions are that two thirds of the city will be flooded- we need all the trucks we can find to evacuate the city.”
Dad made plans for five trucks for the rescue in Miami for Saturday morning. You can imagine my excitement when he asked me to go along.
Our little convoy departed the Joplin terminal early Saturday morning down route 66. Route 66 did not look much different to me on the way to Miami, 30 miles away, until we were to a point known as twin bridges. Up ahead we could see many vehicles on the side of the road and we stopped and got out at the first bridge. The first bridge goes over the usual docile river called Spring River and the second bridge goes over the Neosho River. Both of these rivers run south and come together just south of the bridges. We could see that the flow of water from both rivers was tremendous but it was obvious that the Neosho River was the most powerful. In fact, it was so powerful flowing southward that it had reversed the flow the Spring River pushing it backwards to the North. Suddenly a site came down the Neosho that I will never forget. It was a beautiful white two-story farmhouse floating rapidly down the river. We hurried back to the trucks and moved quickly toward Miami.
One of the highest points in the city of Miami is right down town and we soon were in a long line of vehicles of all kinds on the main street. We gradually moved up to a corner drug store where a boy scout came out and got on board with an address. A few minutes later, we arrived in a nice neighborhood. From the action of the people, we could certainly see panic taking place. Roy Blakeslee, our Campbell 66 driver, carefully backed the trailer across the yard and up to the front door of a nice brick house. The people came out of the house running up to us to explain that the water was moving up toward the rear of the house and that we must load up the furniture quickly. The house owner identified himself as a doctor. We emptied that house in about 30 minutes including the wall-to-wall carpet. All the time I moved furniture I could see no water anywhere looking out the windows until I got out to the back screened in porch and looked out the back. There in the back yard I could see the water coming up the back yard. It was about six inches deep and moving fast. We had to leave - and now. It was the flood of ’51.