The 1935 flood and changing wedding plans

Monday, July 24, 2017
Fritzi Prest

Bob and Fritzi Prest were prominent members of the MccCook business and social scene for many years. Prest Drug was located on McCook’s main intersection at Norris Avenue and C St. Besides the tragedies of lives and property lost in the 1935 Republican River flood, there was the necessity of changing plans, large and small, for everyone living in the flood areas.

Years later Fritzi told her story of the flood. Bob traveled for a Pharmaceutical company. Fritzi was a local school teacher who lived with her folks on their farm, which was on high ground on the south side of the Republican River, south of Trenton. Bob had come home for their wedding, June 8th. On Memorial Day of that year, Bob and Fritzi went on an outing at Burr Oak Canyon, south and east of Trenton with two other couples. The weather had been extremely hot and dry, but that holiday it was nice and the young people had a good time. Later that evening the weather changed drastically for the worst.

Storm clouds appeared in the west. The clouds seemed to burst into a torrential downpour. By the time Bob and the other boys departed for Trenton that evening the Republican River had swollen to the extent that they were the last to cross on the bridge before the bridge was swept away.)

With the rains came winds of tornado velocity. Fritzi’s father herded the family into the storm cave where they stayed into the night. Fortunately the Hinkle farm was just on the edge of the tornado, which moved through the country to the northwest, leaving much destruction in its wake. The only casualty from the storm on the Hinkle farm was a new white raincoat, which Fritzi had purchased for her wedding trousseau. What the family had perceived as hail pelting them, turned out to be chunks of mud, which completely destroyed Fritzi’s new raincoat.

Even though Fritzi and her family were personally in no danger from the flood, which came roaring down the valley, it was still a harrowing experience. The family could only watch, helplessly, as homes of neighbors disintegrated in the swirling waters and were swept downstream, along with livestock, huge trees, and debris of all sorts. Five of their close neighbors, from nearby farms, were drowned in the flood.

The heavy rain north of town turned Trenton’s main street into another river, which flooded basements and destroyed homes on the south side of town. Bob Prest and his father, Dr. Prest, were able to persuade Fritzi’s grandparents (against their will) to leave their home near the river in Trenton and take up quarters in Dr. Prest’s office, where they remained until it was safe to return to their own home.

A few days later, when the floodwaters had subsided a bit, Bob Prest and two of his friends succeeded in stringing a cable and pulley, from the north side of the river to the south, in the location where the bridge had been. Using the pulley they were able to travel back and forth in a small aluminum boat and in this way deliver groceries and mail to people on the south side of the river who were cut off from contact with Trenton.

Though the wedding had been set for June 8th, this was a time when a good many plans had to be changed. Bob’s pharmaceutical samples, his clothes, and luggage were all destroyed when the basement of the Prest home was flooded. Therefore, a hurried trip to Kansas City was planned, and the wedding date was moved up to the 5th of June. The Methodist minister who was to have performed the ceremony was out of town, so a young Lutheran Pastor was pressed into service to perform his first wedding.

Even after five days the water was still turbulent and unpredictable. Nevertheless, Fritzi, with her wedding dress and suitcases for the honeymoon, her brother, and her father and mother came to the improvised landing on the south shore. The little aluminum boat was pulled across to the south shore. Fritzi, with all her wedding paraphernalia, got into the boat with her brother. Bob and his father, on the other side prepared to pull them across. Fritzi’s mother hated water, and feared small boats. Still, to Fritzi’s surprise, her mother insisted on getting into the boat with them. She would not miss her daughter’s wedding!

The wedding was held in Dr. Prest’s home, where things were still not back to normal. Though workers were still noisily scraping and removing water and debris from the basement, the wedding went off very smoothly. The minister was more nervous than either Fritzi or Bob, and managed to place Bob on the wrong side of his bride, a fact which Fritzi’s mother laughingly informed them later. The important thing was that she had been on hand to witness the ceremony.

Two weeks later the newlyweds returned from the business trip/honeymoon to Kansas City to find a small footbridge across the river just east of the location of the old automobile bridge. Fritzi was able to return to her parents’ home while Bob spent the next two weeks traveling his route for the pharmaceutical company, prior to moving to their permanent location in Hastings.

During this fortnight, Marion Bundy, the rural mail carrier, engaged Fritzi to deliver mail to his patrons on the south side of the river. Each day Mr. Bundy would bring mail and gas to the south side of the footbridge where Fritzi would meet him with her father’s brand new new car. Then she completed his route over some of the worst roads, and detours, she had ever seen, before or since. She was grateful that her father never knew just how bad the conditions were to which she subjected his new car. Everywhere people were engaged in post flood activities—cleaning up their homes, getting rid of the trees, removing mud and debris, burying dead animals, and looking for loved ones lost in the flood. Memories etched in the mind for a lifetime.

“And you know”, she laughed, remembering that long ago incident, “I don’t believe that I ever did get paid for my two week’s work as a substitute mail carrier.”

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