Yakima River railroad bridge with ice jam which added to the Spring runoff problem.

Photograph by Ivan D. Behymer

Richland Washington Flood of 1948

Before McNary Dam & before the dike was built in Richland, Washington, Spring runoffs posed many problems.

Need your 'flood' memories!

If you have any 'flood' memories please forward them to 1948 Flood Memories so that I might add them to this photograph page.

From:  Kathleen O'Shea (Kay Lynch '60)

Someone mentioned The Great Flood of '48 (?) the other day and that brought a 
lot of memories flowing back.  We lived in the first block after GWW and we 
knew our house wasn't in danger - probably.  What I remember about the big 
flood was how excited the dads and big brothers were, as they trooped over to 
fill more sandbags.  Excited, not fearful - it was a fine adventure - and we 
got to bring thermos after thermos of hot coffee to them.  I remember at 
least 3 floods but just one that was Great.

When the water level had dropped and there were no more adults around, my 
sister Pat and a neighbor kid and I took our bikes across "The Highway" and 
positioned ourselves at the top of the ramp-like access road.  Down the hill 
we rolled, yelling at the tops of our lungs, then SPLAT! into the brown, 
silty water.  The brown, silty, cold-as-ice-water which only came up to our 

We stood there, weighing the additional punishment we would face against the 
thrill of walking our bikes into Really Deep Water.  At that moment a great, 
slick shape nudged my leg and then slid its entire length along my thigh, 
very much like a slimy cat that wanted petting.  Oh Mama!  I was up that ramp 
quicker than you could say "sea monster!"  My sister and the other kid went 
on ahead but the cold drove them back before they got too far.  We did come 
back with our swim goggles but the water was too murky for us to see much.  
Still, it was a *great* flood.

Kathleen O'Shea ('60)

Photos provided by Tom Hughes.

***** From Dee Dee Wilcox: I remember the flood even though I was only two at the time. I can still picture the water across the road after the flood was actually over. The Dutch Mill Restaurant also had a bar. My folks used to stop in there and leave my sister and I in the car. The owner would come out and talk to us. He told us he was superman and of course I believed him. He is the one who died when he grabbed a hot wire while cleaning up after the flood. For years you could see the foundation of the place when driving to the Y. I don't know why I remember all that as I was so young. ***** From Ted Rowden: I will ramble on with this and you can take what you want. I worked part time at the Post Office along with Keith Roberts 48, Bill McQueen 49, Ray Conley 46 and others. When the waters came up, we had to pickup the mail from the rail junction at old Kiona and haul it back in borrowed Army 6x6 trucks. A vivid memory because it was a frantic offload, a sort of unscheduled stop. The part time crew who worked at the post office felt sort of left out of the glamour of filling sandbags and driving dirt trucks but we kept the mail coming and going...The graduation exercises were a real hoot---I remember Tom McMillan48 clomping across the stage in very muddy brogans, having left the waterlines to rush and make graduation. I recall he made a big show of the event. Also have a vague memory of Carol Cox48(God bless her) tripping as she climbed the stair to the stage for the diploma. The spring and summer of 48 got off to a lively start... ***** From Dick Harris: The young man who was electrocuted at the Dutch Mill Restaurant was the brother of Gary Nield (49). His name was Vernal Nield (46-RIP), as I remember it. He had just returned from a tour of duty in Korea in the U.S. Army and went to check out the damage for his parents, who were co-owners with the Barron family. As I recall, he had access it by boat, and then the accident happened. It was a very tragic event for that family, obviously! My brother and sister-in-law were living in a small trailer house just east of the "Y" and located very close to the Columbia. He was working on McNary Dam at the time. He came to borrow our Dad's car (that had the trailer hitch on it) and got their trailer pulled into town, just before the rising waters would have flooded it! My sister-in-law and I were both working at the "Mug Inn" drive-in in Kennewick at the time. Following the closure of the highway from Richland to the "Y," we had to drive to Benton City and then east to Kennewick to work. It wasn't long before the drive in closed temporarily, due to lack of traffic and the flood, so our long commute was ended. ***** From Larry Mattingly: Re: Flooding and freezing memories Somewhere in my boxes of "old stuff" I have some newspaper stories about the "miracle mile " dike. Can't remember all the details but it was something like one mile of dike raised 1 foot high per hour? Machines and trucks were moving so fast... dad wouldn't let me out of the car, so I had to watch from a distance. Every evening that spring we would drive down to the river and see the flood and note how high the water was. I remember we couldn't go near the river for a month or so after the water went down. Somebody reported seeing a rattlesnake or two drifting by on pieces of wood. They were caught by the rising waters. There was an article about it in the paper. Someday in my old age I will have to take time to sort through all of that stuff. I haven't touched most of it since my father died 15 years ago. The earlier frozen Yakima river provided some entertainment that winter. The small tugboat from the White Bluffs, or Vernita ferry came up the Yakima and tried to loosen the ice jam just below the old bridge. While they knocked off some big chunks, the jam held fast.There was quite a crowd watching from the Richland side of the river. A day or two later I think it was Army demolitions guys that dropped charges through holes in the ice upriver from the jam. The charges were supposed to float down to underneath the jam on a time fuse. About all that did was to weaken the old bridge piers. Everybody cheered when the charges went off and nothing happened. They finally used some surface charges that broke enough loose to allow the river to flow more freely and take some of the pressure off of the bridge piers. They made all of us move way back. I remember we were so far I had to stand on the car to see. I can't remember what actually did in the old bridge. I thought it was a combination of the ice and the explosives. But now I'm not sure. I do remember going via "Bombing Range" road to get to Kennewick. To their credit Army Engineers wasted no time getting that Bailey bridge across. We watched them for an hour or two a couple of times. It wiggled a bit but worked fine. ***** From Tom Matthews: We lived about 200 yards from the dike on the corner of Haupt and George Washington Way. I remember watching all the trucks drive by on GW Way with the loads of dirt to build the temporary dike as the flood grew. This went on 24 hours a day. We didn't get to watch the action as much as those who lived on Hains where the dike was built over the road and in the front yards of those facing the river. I know we had no flooding in our basement. I also don't remember having any concern about our area being flooded although without the dike it certainly would have been. We do have home movies now on tape showing the trucks driving by and some also of the dike construction underway. That was probably when I took the picture of the dike taken looking south. The H house in the foreground is 1321 Hains, the F house behind it is 1319 Haines where the road starts to curve to the west. Some equipment can be seen in the distance near houses on Gowen Avenue.

Photo provided by Tom Matthews.

From Bill ['56] and Bruce ['63 NAB] Berlin, both of Seattle, WA
     We lived on the second block of George Washington Way coming in to town in 1948. 
Kathleen and the Lynch family lived just behind us across the "compound" and were our
friends for a number of years. There was nothing between the river bank and George
Washington Way but the dump and when the river flooded, it also flooded the dump chasing
out a bunch of rats.  The water side of GW Way was sandbagged up to a foot creating one
lane, which was used by heavy trucks and carryalls taking dirt down to the dike to hold
back the Yakima from flooding that part of town.  I can recall the "R and R Patrols"
[Rat and Rattlesnake] patrols my father, Orly Russell, "Hammie" Hamilton, Mr. Berndt,
Mr. Lynch and a bunch of other guys conducted at night using flashlights to locate and
kill rattlesnakes escaping from the raising waters.  
     We were pretty safe since our house, and those of the neighbors, were up another
three feet or so from GW Way but the real problem was down on the Yakima, which was
flooding and backing up because of the Columbia.  The road to the Richland "Y" was
actually a dike built to hold back the waters and that is why the Dutch Inn was some
10-12 feet below it after the flood.  I remember the chap getting electrocuted
at that site and we were all very sad about that tragedy because at 10 years of age, not
a lot of death had come into my life at the time.
     It was a mess down on the "flats" after the flood but with all of that silt spread
around down there, the growth in the next few years was amazing.  I can remember getting
three, maybe four, hay crops a year off about 15-20 acres a guy had down there because
the soil was so good.  A guy in my Father's Army Reserve unit at "Big Pasco" had just
moved a month before to Portland, OR and was living in Vanport when the flood took out
their house and all of their belongings.  They later joked about how the guy should
have jointed the Navy Reserve given his experiences with the flood.
     My Mom, now aged 94 and living in Seattle in her own house, remembers the flood
very well and we spend a couple of hours last night talking about it. 
     Hello to Kathleen Lynch O'Shea.  Once an Irishman, always an Irishman.
     Best regards, Bill ['56] and Bruce ['63 NAB] Berlin, both of Seattle, WA 

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This page created by Gary Behymer...Last Updated March 22nd, 2005.

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