Summer 1967: Who’ll Stop the Rain?

In the summer of 1967, I was 9 years old and we had only lived at Sherman for three years.  We were blissfully ignorant about Alaska’s capricious weather, and little did we know that this was going to be a summer none of us would ever forget. Our house still had a flat tarpaper roof. We were still learning about Alaskan gardening and how difficult it could be to successfully grow certain vegetables. As you garden in Alaska, you learn that vegetables which require a short growing season are the ones that do best, so you grow cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

We planted our garden and thought we’d harvest plenty of potatoes and cabbages and…oh boy were we ever wrong! Not long after we had finished planting, the rain began. At first it wasn’t so bad, but it never really let up…and we began to notice that the Susitna River was awfully high, and our creek was awfully high…and that was June.

The new plants we had put in the ground in early June were kept from realizing their full potential by the rain. Instead, they got leggy – rather than cabbages forming heads, the plants just got taller, and the broccoli never made anything; the garden got progressively wetter

 

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July rolled around…and the rain just kept coming down. The river got higher and higher and the creek was a roaring torrent…and we were getting more and more nervous.

August was the death knell for the garden. As the rains continued, we noticed that there was standing water on our front path and the garden was a morass of mud with row upon row of leggy broccoli, cabbages and tiny, stunted potato plants.

And the rain kept falling…and falling…and falling…remember Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” That was our theme song for the summer of 1967. “Good men through the ages tryin’ to find the sun/And I wonder still I wonder who’ll stop the rain.”

By early August, rain had begun to swell all the rivers to the north – and in Fairbanks, the Chena River began to burst its banks. What does this mean for drainages to the south of Fairbanks? Well…you do the math. When it floods in Fairbanks – as it did in 1967 – then everything to the south experiences flooding as well.

In Fairbanks that summer, people took to canoes to provide transportation. Fairbanks was underwater. As bad as things were for us with the bridge washed out and no way to get into Anchorage, it was worse for people in Fairbanks. The rains in Fairbanks had started around August 8 and continued until August 20 – and when I say continued, I mean that it did not stop raining for twelve straight days – pouring, torrential rain.

The Susitna River was over its banks by the first week of August. We were fortunate because the homestead sits far enough away and high enough that flooding from the river isn’t the real problem. The real problem is Sherman Creek. It flows from east to west and represents the northern boundary of the homestead.

Every night I would lie awake listening to boulders tumbling westward to the Susitna River. The rocks must have been as big as a truck, because after about a week of extremely heavy rains, the bridge over Sherman Creek had washed out. This was a creosote piling bridge. The boulders had just smashed the pilings out like they were so many matchsticks. The bridge itself hung, suspended from either end, looking more like a swayback old horse than anything.

And still those boulders roared down the creek to the river…and the water rose higher and higher…but we were safe. Our house sits up higher than the creek…although the water got halfway up the creek path after the creek burst its banks, and it was weeks before it was safe to walk all the way down to the creek itself.

Eventually the Alaska Railroad B&B (Bridge & Building) crew came to replace the bridge. They bulldozed the creek bed to widen and deepen it, and instead of replacing the piling bridge with another piling bridge, the crew poured three huge concrete supports that were laced with rebar. It would take a hundred-year flood to wash that bad boy out now…

That was the summer of 1967. If you ever get to Fairbanks, visit the tiny museum in what was the old City Hall building. They have a wonderful exhibit about the 1967 flood. Just remember your waders…and flotation vests…

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post…and we were supposed to link to an old post OR write a new one…and I’ve been reminiscing a lot recently about the summer of ’67…so you are welcome! FTSF is, as always, hosted by one of THE most incredible women I know: Kristi Rieger Campbell of Finding Ninee (https://findingninee.com/this-aging-thing-aint-a-joke-friends/), and her lovely co-host, Kenya Johnson, of Sporadically Yours (https://www.kenyagjohnson.com/blog/2018/8/30/southern-drawl).

6 thoughts on “Summer 1967: Who’ll Stop the Rain?

  1. WOW! I’m so glad you wrote this! I love learning about Alaska and who’d have thought that only certain plants have time to grow properly there? YIKES to the flood and WHEN I come, I’ll definitely go to the museum.

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    1. Yeah – Alaska has about a 90-day growing season…that is to say, IF the snow is gone by early May, and IF the leaves on the birch trees are the size of squirrel’s ears by June 1st…then we have 90 days to either plant seeds (peasr, carrots, radishes) or bedding plants (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts)…and then hope & pray we don’t have a cold and wet summer. Interior Alaska – Fairbanks, for example – generally enjoys a hotter summer and a bit longer of a growing season.

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  2. I’m all about waders. I need them for moose photographer. And a BIG zoom lens.
    by the way, I do plan to make it to Fairbanks one day. I actually have Fairbanks on my iPhone weather app. I know that’s weird but it fascinates me. It doesn’t seem to have the same gloom as some other places.. or the same chill. In the summer anyway. I need to hit you up for weather and northern lights advice.

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    1. Fairbanks doesn’t have the same chill as other places? Really…you must be thinking of a different Fairbanks than the one I know and loathe. Fairbanks winters are legendary for the chill…like 45 or 5 below zero…like ice fog for weeks on end…like tires freezing to the ground in the winter. It’s COLD…in the winter. In the summer it’s one of the hottest places in Alaska…usually. Just not in 1967. As far as Northern Lights go, Fairbanks is well-known for being the center of aurora research. Some Japanese think it’s good fortune to conceive under the aurora, or so they say. Winter is the season for aurora, starting around the first hard frost and continuing until spring. But I warn you…it is COLD.

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  3. So was there always a rainy season and then that year it was “more than ever”? This reads like a passage from a book. I enjoyed your story and the pictures. I lived in Okinawa, Japan for three years and we had a rainy season. It was something that happened every year, nothing catastrophic unless there was a Typhoon. But I remember that when it when the sun would finally come out it was so blinding, you just forgot how dull and dim the landscape was without the sunshine.

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