Rain was predicted – heavy rain.  I wasn’t too concerned because, after all, having lived in Portland for five years, I had seen plenty of rain.  But this had been a steady rain for two days and now we were heading for the San Francisco Bay area where it should be clear and sunny.

The moving van had left the day before, and Carol and I, having cleaned the house, and loaded our new Pontiac station wagon with the more valuable of our possessions and Christmas presents were heading for a change in our lives.  Carol had taken George, Jr., one year-old, and Anna, four, to her parents’ house in Burlingame the week before.  It was now a few days before Christmas in 1955.

Despite the rain, travel went pretty well, but as we drove farther south we found the road slightly flooded at times. We got weather reports from time-to-time on the radio, but it was always more of the same – rain.  Towards evening we arrived at Grants Pass.  We knew we needed a one- night stop-over.  Should it be Grants Pass?  We had no choice.  Guards and barricades on the highway declared the road east to Medford and the road west to Crescent City closed due to flooding.  There was no way out.  Or was there?  In talking with one of the guards, he mentioned that the county road to Medford on the north side of the Rogue River might be opened in the morning.

We moved into a motel, had dinner, and tried some sleep, but it was fitful.  About one o’clock I suggested to Carol that we try the north-side river road and move on.  We didn’t want to miss Christmas with our family.  We found the county highway and took off in the pitch-dark night with the rain still falling steadily.  There was no other traffic or signs of life until we came to a small town.  The “life” here was the townspeople standing beside a bridge across the Rogue and under the light of car headlights were watching to see when the bridge would be swept away by the raging river.

No time to waste.  We kept on and soon saw the lights of a car approaching us.  We both stopped to exchange road and storm information.  They said they had to cross a log on the road a few miles back, and then, before that, the river was flooding the road, but if we hurried we should make it.  Hurry, we did, and soon came to the log and crossed it with no trouble, but now we were getting a deeper flooded roadway.  In daylight it might be easy to determine the roadway, but at night it was difficult to see the pavement.

Then the water became deeper and we realized this was the river flowing over the road.  Not just flowing, but coursing over the road.  I could feel the pressure of the water against the wheels and the front of the car.  I was only guessing now where the road was.  And then, suddenly, no headlights.  The surging water had covered them.  How could the engine keep running?  What would we do if it stopped?  I had had wet sparkplugs and wiring in other cars, that stopped them cold, but I held my breath and kept the car going slowly and steadily.  But where to steer – there was nothing to guide me.

Then, for a moment, the headlights emerged, then went under then again emerged and flashed their light on a darkened service station up ahead.  And then, dark again. The question – was the road on the left or right side of the station?   If I assumed it was to the right of the station, and I steered right, all would be well, if my assumption was correct.  But if I was wrong then we would be over the bank into the river.  These calculations occurred instantly and unconsciously, and told me to steer to the left.  Slowly we emerged from the water and passed to the left of the station on a road we could now clearly see.

We soon got to a darkened Medford, found highway 99 to California and headed south, feeling somewhat comfortable, but why no traffic anywhere.  I saw the sign of an Oregon Highway Patrol office and pulled into its parking lot.  I could see the faint glimmer of a lantern light in the window and went in.  The officer immediately asked where I had come from and what the condition of the road was. His communications were out but he knew the road northwest to Grants Pass was closed, and the road south to California was closed somewhere before the town of Weed   His only suggestion was to try to drive south to Ashland and take the highway across to Klamath Falls, for he thought we could get through to the Bay Area from that point.  So, again we took off, and still, with the rain steadily pounding, found state highway 86 to Klamath Falls to the east.  Though the rain turned to snow as we topped Parker Mountain we arrived in Klamath Falls at day-break.

Life looked brighter here.  The rain had temporarily stopped, they had electricity and restaurants were serving. After refueling ourselves and the car and getting advice that roads were open to the south, we continued our trek, deciding to forego any sleep.

When we arrived in Burlingame, it was still raining.  This was one of the biggest rainstorms ever recorded for the area.  The Yuba River overflowed into Marysville and Yuba City.  Santa Cruz was flooded, and many other areas suffered.   But now we were comfy and warm, with our children and their grand-parents.  Merry Christmas, stay dry, and don’t do such a stupid and dangerous thing again!

George W. Parker


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