Brian Stambaugh


Written Memory


To me, June 9th will always be synonymous with the Rapid City flood. We lived on Twin Elms Drive in west Rapid. I was nearly 12 at the time. A friend and I hoped to go to the car races that Friday evening. However as the evening progressed it became obvious that the races were rained out. I walked home at about 8 pm. My older brother arrived home telling wild stories of driving through high water. He said that they had driven out Hwy 44 and at Nameless Cave Road they had driven through water over the hood of the pickup. (Sure you did - like it would keep running with water over the hood...) Anyway we thought it would be good to go out and pursue more of that type of adventure. Being clever teenagers we decided we should take the 4-wheel drive Chevy Blazer since it had better ground clearance. Our Mother is an RN and she was due to work the night shift that evening so was asleep. We sneaked into her bedroom and got the Blazer keys. We set out with my older sister and her 2 year old daughter. We went down several flooded streets with water up to the doors of the Blazer. One of the bridges we went over was directly below Canyon Lake Dam and it had two feet of water rushing over it. By this time it was around ten pm. We went to Canyon Lake Park and walked along the dam in the rain. When lightning flashed, it illuminated Canyon Lake which was a swirling mass of debris, houses, trees, boats and other junk. At that time it was one or two feet from overtopping the earthen dam. We walked to the old spillway which was full to the top. It seemed the water was rushing 60 mph down the spillway. The top of the spillway was clogged with debris. I remember there were men there, likely city workers, trying to clear the debris perhaps with crowbars. Of course it was futile due to the force of the water. It was likely obvious to them that the dam would soon be overtopped. In fact it did break less than an hour later. The idea that the dam could break, or the overall danger did not really cross our minds. We were just dumb teenagers. By now it was well after ten pm. We went down Jackson Blvd which was also flooded and past the bank at Baken Park. I vividly recall the time on the bank clock was 10:38 pm. Canyon Lake Dam broke right about that time. We drove back home down Canyon Lake drive, having seen enough unusual sights. If we had driven down Jackson Blvd I would likely not be writing this. I am sure we were some of the last people to see Canyon Lake before it overtopped and the dam failed. Meanwhile Mom had risen from her nap and found that her kids were gone in her 4 wheel drive and by this time there were dire flood warnings on TV. Panic-stricken, she set off down the street looking for us with a flashlight. After a block or so she realized how silly that was, looking for us on foot and went home. We awoke the next morning to the horrible aftermath. I will never forget the smell. Not exactly a stench - just a smell of earth torn apart by the floodwaters. We walked to what was left of Canyon Lake Dam and witnessed a body being retrieved from what was once the bottom of the lake. We later walked down to Omaha Street looking for a friend that lived near Rice Cycle. He survived but some of his family did not. While we were there, police cars went zipping by and sirens wailed. It was rumored that Deerfield Reservoir had broken. We jumped in the back of a dump truck and headed for high ground. As I recall, there were other such rumors the following days, Pactola breaking etc... At the time of the flood my Dad was at a funeral in Iowa. Relatives asked him if he had brought the family and if he had heard the news of the big flood. He could not believe what they were saying so he turned on the car radio to hear the news at the top of the hour. He knew it was real when he heard Dick Shilvock, a local broadcaster, on the national news describing the devastation. Immediately after the flood he drove home as fast as a 1970 Plymouth could go. He was stopped several times by the law but they let him go. Of course he could not contact us as all the phone lines were out. The day after he got home he discovered that the clutch was seized up on the pickup (the pickup my brother said he had driven underwater). We popped the hood and there was horse manure on top of the intake manifold. We concluded that perhaps he really had been in water over the hood at Nameless Cave Road. My brother, sister, niece and I were very, very, lucky to survive. It was an interesting summer, dealing with washed out bridges everywhere. Our family had a cabin west of Nemo. The old road up Boxelder Creek had washed out and it took us several months to find a new way into the cabin. Shortly after the flood we drove up Nemo Road and every bridge was washed out. Crossings had been improvised since it would be months before new bridges could be put in. Our pickup got stuck in one of the first crossings. Dad walked nearly to Nemo before locating someone with a 4-wheel drive to pull us out. Victims of the flood - a classmate from West Junior High, relatives of a good friend, daughter of a co-worker of Dad, several children in a family just three blocks from our house - rest in peace.



“Brian Stambaugh,” Flood of 1972, accessed September 28, 2022,