Ron and Nita Eikenberry

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RON EIKENBERRY REMEMBERS THE FLOOD OF 1972

The summer of 1972 was filled full of promise for me. I had worked at the Baken Park Piggly Wiggly since I was a junior in high school and because my college experience didn’t work out, I thought my future was to manage a grocery store for the Nash Finch Company. I started my training June 5 at the Belle Fourche Piggly Wiggly store. As my first week was ending, Friday June 9 brought rain to the Belle Fourche area mid-afternoon. Heavy and steady rain. I headed home at 5 pm in my 1965 International Scout. Along the way it was raining so hard my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I stopped near Sturgis before getting on I-90 and waited for a let up in the rain but that time never came. So I continued at what seemed like a snail’s pace only to stop again at about the Piedmont area. Again I had to continue on with no letup in the rain. Finally, at around Black Hawk I ran out of the rain and got home about 6:30 pm. Home was at 618 Minnelusa Dr. in west Rapid (a small 2 bedroom house built in the 1930’s). The back of the house was about 50’ from Rapid Creek and on the west side of the creek from Baken Park Shopping Center, roughly opposite the Piggly Wiggly store location (now Boyd’s).

When I got home I was shaking like a leaf and told Nita about the crazy rain. I changed clothes into my cutoffs and tee shirt. After some thought I decided to load up some of our most valuable possessions just in case we would have to evacuate. We threw a change of clothes in Nita’s car and just waited. It started raining about 7 pm and came down as hard as it did when I was driving home. I called Paul Crosmer to talk about the rain and discuss the future of his homemade wooden sailboat he was storing at our house. Paul came over and our best thought was to tie the boat to a post used to hold up our carport. Thinking that the boat was secure Paul took off. The boat did make it through the flood.

About 8 pm Ron Oney and his girlfriend Libby Balmes (69) showed up to sit out the night with us. The TV station was warning people in areas next to the creek for the potential of flooding and to stay tuned. By 9 pm the TV announcers were advising people in the low lying areas to leave their homes and go to higher ground. Ron was always thinking and thought he and I should walk to the west side McDonalds, which was only half a block away, to see if they were closing and possibly score a bag full of food already cooked that would be thrown away. He was right and we went home and ate the food.

About 10 pm, after repeated warnings to leave home and get to higher ground, a police officer in a patrol car came down the street with his bullhorn and was telling people to leave. The creek had been steadily rising and it was when the officer came through that we decided we had better leave. We left about 10:15 to go south down the street to Canyon Lake Dr., then to Mt. View. From there Ron and Libby were going to their place in north Rapid and Nita and I were going to go to my parent’s house in the Mt. View Cemetery area. Oney took the lead, Nita second and I brought up the rear. By the time I got to Canyon Lake Dr. Sioux Park was full of water (there was a house floating out there coming toward us) and water covered Canyon Lake Dr. As I headed toward Mt. View Dr. I had to cross a bridge at Rapid Creek. Both of the bridge rails were still there so I decided the road must still be there. Oney’s car flooded out crossing Mt. View, they made it into the Safeway parking lot and from there walked to Libby’s dad’s house in Robbinsdale. Nita’s car floated at the same intersection but the tires caught traction in a center island and she was able to get onto unflooded pavement on Mt. View. She made it to my parent’s house okay. My Scout flooded going across the bridge and I made it to the side entrance of Baken Park and then I pushed it down to the entrance of Piggly Wiggly onto yet unflooded pavement. The night manager was still there after having sent everyone else home. It was probably 10:45 when I got there and the first thing I did was to make 3 trips from my vehicle into the store with the few prized possessions I had saved from our house. By the time I had finished the water was thigh high on me and rising. About 11 pm I called my Mom to let her know where I was. She said Nita had not gotten there yet, so I had no knowledge of her whereabouts. The phone went out while we were talking, followed by the store lights.

The next couple of hours were the most terrifying. There were no windows in the back of the store (the creek side of the store), just big steel sliding doors which were used to get merchandise into the store. Water was coming in at a pretty good rate around the bottom and sides of the doors and the thought came to me that there was no means of escape should the store fill with water. The front of the store faced Mt. View and was full of windows. From the ground up was about 2 ½’ of brick but then window up to probably 8’. We watched the water rise, got to 4’ to 5’ deep from what I could tell. The view looking through the gap was terrifying. Heavy rain coming down but then fires burning as well. I learned the fires were coming from exploding propane tanks and ruptured natural gas lines. The rain finally stopped around 1 pm. Shortly after the rain stopped there were a couple of speed boats running around on the flooded Mt. View Rd., there mission we guessed was in trying to rescue people caught in the raging waters, most taking refuge on building roofs. In all there was probably 6” of mud throughout the store. My Scout floated down about 30’ from where I left it and had water in it up to the dashboard.
The store manager walked in from his house about 5 am so knowing I could get through, I took off and walked to my parent’s house and got there about 6 am. Nita had gotten there without any further complications. Nita and my dad had spent a good portion of their night at the Clarkson Nursing Home helping to move residents across Mt. View Rd. to safe haven in a gas station.

Our house floated off of its foundation (anchor bolts were not used in the 30’s) but surprisingly did not get washed away, we figured it was the big stucco house next door that protected it. All of the contents were ruined however. After a couple of months staying with my parents we did move into a HUD mobile home, high and dry in Rapid Valley.

The 50th anniversary of the flood is shown in pictures in the hardbound book named Turning Point. Nita and I are shown on the back cover (and on page 50) walking north on Minnelusa Dr. toward W. Main St. (McDonalds parking lot with the Cadillac teetering on the edge in the background) a couple of days after the flood.
Ron and Nita (McKinstry) Eikenberry

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Citation

“Ron and Nita Eikenberry,” Flood of 1972, accessed September 28, 2022, https://1972flood.omeka.net/items/show/634.