By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN This spring marks the 45th anniversary of the 1965 flooding in Delano, and with this year’s high water, local residents have been ‘flooded’ with memories of floating picnic tables, helicopter rescues, and chicken dinners brought by boat.
An April 15, 1965, article in The Delano Eagle, called it Delano’s “most severe flood in history,” with the Crow River cresting at 18.4 feet, an all-time record high.
The damage to homes, businesses, and the surrounding landscape was extensive, at a cost of more than $1 million.
Delano resident Don Krueger vividly recalls the 1965 flood.
“I was 23 years old, and I had a wife and 10-month-old baby at home,” he said.
Krueger’s father ran the sewer disposal plant in Delano at the time, and when the flooding started, Krueger took a leave of absence from his job in the Twin Cities to help keep the plant running.
“I put in about nine straight days, almost,” he said.
The sewer plant was completely surrounded by water, earning the nickname, “Alcatraz of the north.”
“You could only get there by boat,” Krueger said.
A few Delano residents who came to the plant got seasick and had to leave.
“We weren’t moving, but when you’d look out, you’d see the water moving,” Krueger explained.
The Red Cross provided army cots for people to rest on, but Krueger said that no one was able to get much sleep.
“They wanted us to sleep with life jackets on,” he said.
The power plant was another challenging place to be during the flood.
Delano resident Milton Voltin was the plant’s line foreman and chief engineer at the time. Voltin and his son Darwin, along with Eddie Libor, Ed Otten, and Len Logsdon, all had to be rescued off the power plant roof by helicopter.
“It was a free helicopter ride,” Milton laughed. “The current was so swift they couldn’t get a boat in there. They tried.”
Two men from the creamery roof were also rescued by helicopter.
Milton and the other four men worked to keep the water out of the plant for as long as possible. When pressure caused the basement walls to start cracking, they had to start letting water in.
“We didn’t get any sleep at all,” he said. “We were working. There was no time to be scared.”
After he was rescued from the power plant, Milton went to the sewer plant to help with sandbagging and keeping the pumps running.
“We were pumping raw sewage into the river,” Krueger said. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it prevented the sewage from flooding people’s houses.
“We got special permission from the Department of Natural Resources and state pollution control,” Krueger said.
They had 37 pumps, some of which could move 500 to 700 gallons per minute. A 1926 Studebaker pump ended up running for 48 hours straight, Krueger said.
Thousands of volunteers spent countless hours working to control the flooding. Boats were hauling sandbags 10 to 15 at a time.
“When you get in a situation like that, you can’t believe how good people are,” Krueger said. “We had one lady who made a full chicken dinner, and brought it to us by boat.”
Delano resident Bill Eppel, who had his own boat, helped people out around town, in addition to working a full-time night shift job in Minneapolis.
“Everybody helps everybody at a time like that,” Eppel said. “You’re so busy, you don’t have time to sit down and think about it.”
The house Eppel currently lives in, which used to be his parents’ house, was completely surrounded by water.
Some of his neighbor’s houses, however, fared even worse.
“The water was up to the windows,” Eppel said. “Everybody was moving around, staying with relatives.”
According to The Delano Eagle’s 1965 article, about a third of Delano’s residents were out of their homes.
“We had about 14 people staying at our house during the flooding,” Delano resident Pete Theis said.
A city in isolation
The city was virtually isolated, and many of the roads were impassable. Even traveling by boat could be dangerous.
“There was a lot of current in that water,” Krueger said, adding that some estimated the current at 60 miles per hour under the bridge.
About a third of the town was left without fire protection.
Monday, April 12, 1965, the Delano Legion Club building caught fire and was completely destroyed.
“There was no going back to it at all,” said Theis, a long time Legion member and former firefighter. “It burned down to the water level.”
Theis owned a service station in town at the time.
“I raised as much as I could off the ground level,” he said.
“You don’t think it’s going to go that high, and then it comes through the door, and it’s too late,” Eppel said. “I think it went higher than anybody really figured it would.”
In a March 18, 1965, article in The Delano Eagle, US Weather Bureau hydrologist Joseph Strub, Jr., reportedly predicted a crest of 16.5 feet, almost 8 inches over the previous high of 15.7 in 1957.
Strub’s prediction was made before two hard rains, which raised the estimate by 2 feet.
“Although many people are doubtful of the river reaching flood stage, Chief of Police Stein, who has been close to the situation, said Mr. Strub is very seldom wrong in his predictions,” the article stated.
The 1965 flood was later referred to as the “flood of the century,” and a flood photo from Delano was even featured on the front cover of Life magazine that year.
The waters began to recede around Easter time, and getting to church for Holy Week proved to be difficult for many.
Duane Stahlke, who owned the bus company at the time, picked people up on the west side of Delano to take them to church on the east side.
It was only six blocks, normally, but because of underwater roads, Stahlke had to take a route that totaled 37 miles, Krueger said.
Elwood Kritzeck, who owned store in town, came to church Maundy Thursday with waders on, according to Krueger.
After the flooding people saw a few unusual things, as well.
“One of the boats that was bringing sandbags hit the top of a sign. When the water went down, we saw a sign that was bent over,” Krueger said. “That’s how high the water was.”
During the flooding, Eppel saw a picnic table floating in the city park.
“I grabbed a rope and tied it to a tree so it wouldn’t float away,” he said. “When the water went down, they had to take ladders to get it down.”
After the flood, there was a large mess to clean up, Krueger said.
“It was quite an ordeal, but the people in Delano were great,” he said. “We pulled through it.”
According to people who have been through it, the 1965 flood was truly the “flood of the century.”