Personal Histories

Bob Wills History

Water, Water Everywhere...

Early one morning the Fortuna Chief of Police, Dale Livingston, phoned me at a heinous hour and, in a tactful way related that I should get up, and muttered something about "Humboldt County flooding away." And in the next sentence he related "in a not so agreeable mode" that he intended to pick me up in about forty-five minutes. True to his words "he picked me up" and drove south on 101 to immediately south of the Kenmar Road intersection where several sawhorses were positioned to block traffic. My orders of the day, "Assist the CHP. They don't have enough manpower to man roadblocks. Don't let anyone go south on 101." In doing so, he placed me in the unique position of having a grandstand seat at the 1955 Eel River flood. However, there wasn't any seating provided and it was literally a "grand stand." All day I stood, and observed the flood that devastated all of Northern California. There were buildings, parts of buildings, logs, boards, and unidentifiable debris moving toward the ocean. It seemed as if there wouldn't be anything left to the south. The water continually crept up from the south and was flooding between the railroad tracks and the bluffs to the east. Almost all of Alton was underwater. See this area here

There was a large yellow two-story house between the tracks and the highway at the Kenmar Road intersection. I had a ringside observation of the water as it moved higher and higher. First on the foundation, then as it flowed into the windows and up the sides. It didn't inundate the building, but I was thinking all day about the clean up and thrilled that I wasn't the owner.

A few years later, when I was a CHP Traffic Officer, I talked to a gentleman in Myers Flat. Our conversation was about the great flood of 55. He related that he spent that day on high ground to the east of the river immediately north of the store buildings. He could see all the way to the river where it formed a horseshoe bend. A sawmill was there with all its trimmings of stacked logs and lumber, and occupied almost the entire minute peninsula. A small building with a peaked roof, perhaps a ten by ten, was between the highway and the mill. He described how the floodwaters edged up and over the peninsula. The entire area was under water - except for the building. This was getting to be ridiculous, a large part of Myers Flat was being washed to the sea, and that d… building was still standing. What was this strange phenomenon? The riddle was solved only after the water abated. There was no doubt that the building was long gone, but the roof because of its construction was still intact The building had been anchored with a long wire rope that was draped over the top in a north to south direction. When the water dislodged the building, the roof became a suspended float, therefore the higher the water the higher the roof.

Of course all the natives of Humboldt County are cognizant that the 1955 flood was only a prelude to the catastrophic flood of 1964. The roads were not only flooded, they were gone. A few bridges suffered the same fate. In general the county and state road systems were in chaos. Rebuilding the roads required crews to have uninterrupted work for all daylight hours. The Department of Transportation closed most of Highway 101 to all traffic during daylight hours. Again the CHP had a manpower shortage and, because of my knowledge of the area, I was assigned to Humboldt for one month. All of it was night duty. Two of us would meet northbound motorists at the first stretch of freeway north of Laytonville (approximately 25 miles) and convoy them to Garberville. A team from Eureka would guide them the rest of their journey. After two weeks of driving at 25 Miles Per Hour and slower, I was sent to Willow Creek where there was more night duty. All at once I was cast into a situation of where "me, myself and I" was the only night law enforcement between Arcata and Weaverville.

Enter Charles Bryant, also a 1946 graduate of Fortuna High. In high school, Charley was a good-ol' boy who was a "steady as it goes" person. He never made waves and it was an honor to call him friend. In later years, he even tolerated my unmitigated sense of humor. Charlie was a CHP dispatcher in Eureka and ordered to radio me every hour for a security check. Once, in the wee hours of a morning, he radioed and I responded with my 10-20 (location) and advised that all was 10-4. I continued with further prattle about the highways and weather conditions for probably forty seconds, and at the end of the transmission I added, "This, is a recording." That brought Charlie to an alert status and all I could hear were "buts and ers." He then detected that he was being had and, of course, I didn't hear what he said when he was up-dating the station logbook. It was only a few days later that I made a final radio contact with Charlie. I was eastbound on US 299 near the Oregon Mountain Summit west of Weaverville. It was 0600 hours; I gave a "10-10." (Off duty) My assignment was completed and I was in route to Red Bluff. It proved to be my last association with Charlie. He died sometime after 1964.


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