Unless the Mayan calendar apocalypse comes to pass, my little home town, situated where a river meets a lake, will never have a flood.
Lake Huron’s levels are closely monitored and controlled by the St. Lawrence Seaway commission, the geography is stable, and it would take something larger than a falling Chinese Space Station, to cause a tsunami. The land quickly rises, so that most of the town is 50 feet above water level. My birthplace house is more like 70’.
The closest thing to a flood is the spring ice-breakup in the river. It starts 3 miles upstream, below the little rapids. The thin ice breaks, pushing downstream against the thicker and thicker layers, partly impeding the water flow, until finally it lets loose. Suddenly, thousands of tons of ice blocks, 2 – 3 – 4-feet thick, and as big as buses, thunder down the canyon, scour the harbor docks, and spew into the lake.
I’m told that it is an awe-inspiring sight and sound, but silly little things like education and employment have never allowed me to be present. In late fall, the docks are cleared. Ladders for swimmers and boaters are unbolted. Fishing boats are winched onto the concrete, and placed well up on the banks. After the cascade, ice that’s in the way is bulldozed back into the water. Blocks that aren’t, are still melting beside the little park, well into June.
When we made our pitifully few visits to the lower United States for vacations, we were usually fixed on getting to our destination as soon as possible, and took the Interstates. Humming along steadily for hours, at 110Kmh/70MPH, the extra distances were made up for by not having to follow some farm tractor, or stop at every stop sign and red light in every goober little town.
The time we took our On Top Of The World trip, we decided that we had the time, not to go 100 miles from Buffalo to Erie, PA, to get on I-79. Instead, we took State highways down and back, from Buffalo, through Pennsylvania. The entertainment and education justified the decision.
We passed through Du Bois, PA, named after W.E.B. Du Bois, a 19th century Negro civil-rights pioneer. Both names are pronounced ‘due–boys’, rather than the French ‘due-bwah.’
We found a small PA town that clings to a mountainside so steep, that the northbound lane of the highway/main street, is 8 feet above the southbound lane, with a guardrail to prevent cars from falling in. The industry in another Pennsylvania town was a Weyerhaeuser paper mill. We could smell that one 3 miles before we got there, and 3 miles after we left, and rolled the windows down to clear the stench.
Rolling into one town we were faced with 6 or 7 truck-docks, at the back of a large plant. Each dock seemed to be a different color, red, green, orange blue, purple. When we got closer we found that it was a Pittsburgh Glass plant, and what we’d seen was hundreds of pounds of broken bottles and other glass, all sorted by color, which had fallen below the docks as it was being brought back in for melting and reuse.
As we were coming back north, we reached a spot where a secondary road met the highway at a T-intersection to our left. Suddenly, in the middle of Nowhere PA, miles from any town or city, I was faced with the first roundabout I’d ever seen.
Like the 1942 song That Old Black Magic says, “Down and down I go. Round and round I go.” Round and round the roundabout I went, missing the northbound, uphill highway. Instead, I continued ‘round, and exited onto the westbound, downhill road.
Six miles this steep, two-lane blacktop weaved its way down and down, with not a sign of a turnoff, another side-road, or even a farmer’s lane, to turn into to turn around.
Finally, after losing hundreds of feet of altitude, we reached a sign that said, “Welcome To Johnstown PA”. Johnstown?? Like in the Johnstown flood?? Sure enough, there was the Conemaugh River, before we started our long trek back uphill.
In 1851 a dam was built 14 miles upstream, to provide water for area industries, and for a barge-canal system. Later, trains replaced barges, so the dam was sold to a railway company. The Railway Company wasn’t in the ‘dam’ business, so they didn’t maintain it, even removing and selling piping that could lower water levels behind it.
In 1889, a ‘Century Storm’ dumped 12 inches of rain in the mountain valley in two days. The dam finally failed, and the flood roared through several small towns and Johnstown. It caused $17 million 1889 dollars worth of damage, almost $500 million today, and killed over 2200 people.
I quietly drove back up to the highway and home, to compose this happy tale for you. Stop back again later, when we visit The Rockies and talk about avalanches. 😯