Fellow Book Benders
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    This is the 35th edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond.  This month features a special segment regarding a brief summary of flooding along the Russian River, including last month. And don't forget, my novels are still available at  All major credit cards accepted.  Free shipping and handling.
         March, 2019                                     Vol. 4, No. 3
      The flood on Wednesday, February 27, 2019 will go down in history as one of the worst along the Russian River.  But there are differences of opinion as to which historic flood ranks first.  According to the Russian River Historical Society, the 1986 flood crested at 48.8′, making it numero uno.  This coincides with findings of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The National Weather Service (NWS), however, states that the December 23, 1955 flood topped this at 49.7′ (photo on left).  But both organizations agree that the recent deluge ranks sixth all-time.
      The last twenty-five miles of the Russian River cuts a narrow path thru the Coast Range to its mouth at Jenner, leaving little room for the angry waters to roam.  It is here where the river accumulates most of its runoff.  It has flooded in the low-lying communities 36 of the last 64 years.  Flood stage at Guerneville is 32 feet.  Last week it crested at 45.4 feet, the highest level since 1995.
       Sidebars: Barbara DeCarly says, "There was an adjustment to the gauges or elevations at some point. I think anyone who has been here for any length of time will agree that 1986 was the record."  Bob Perussina, Mike Murphy and Chris Wikeen are in agreement.


      The ninth highest flood along the Russian River was in 1879 when the very first recording of such torrents took place in Guerneville (upper photo on right). Damage was widespread.  The tracks of the San Francisco & Northern Pacific Railroad dropped into the stream just east of Rio Nido. The boilers and engines at Korbel sawmill were likewise under water. Part of Guerne Mill fell into Fife Creek (near today’s Safeway parking lot).
     The first lower photo on the right pictures the 1907 flood where it destroyed the Bohemian Bridge.  It is uncertain if this was the pedestrian bridge or the railroad trestle.  The later delivered San Francisco Bohemians from where the ninth tee box is today at Northwood Golf Course (built in 1928) to the top of a granite bluff & into the Grove.
     The second lower photo on the right shows a cluster of logs jamming up against the Hacienda Bridge in 1937.   Not only would steel spans incur damage but foundations to homes as well, which were uprooted and sent on their way.
      Sidebars: Can you spy a person standing on floating debris in the upper photo on the right?
     Enterprising survivors would sometimes recover dislodged shacks and cart them off to house new residents.

   The torrents of 1955 and 1964 both occurred during the Christmas holidays. In 1955 two Pineapple Expresses arrived just four days apart, inundating Guerneville (upper photo on left). The aerial view is typical of major floods.  It is difficult for the human eye to distinguish between the Russian River and Armstrong Valley.  Locals recall Santa Claus visiting hungry families at the Hilton Park Family Campground (River Bend Park today) in Forestville, hauling in dinner on a National Guard amphibian.
         The Christmas flood of 1964 was a major catastrophe in California. Governor Pat Brown was quoted as saying that a flood of similar proportions could “happen only once in a thousand years,” and it was often referred to later as the Thousand Year Flood. Nineteen people died, at least 10 towns (including Guerneville) were heavily damaged, more than 20 major highways were destroyed, and over 4,000 head of livestock were killed.  Yosemite Valley was flooded (lower photo on left).   In total, 375,000 acres of the Central Valley went under water.   Back then there was no such thing as the National Flood Insurance Program, which Sonoma County joined in the 1970s.
A wet El Nino swept in a series of tropical storms, beginning February 13, 1986 leading into a three-day weekend capped by Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day. Two years earlier, workers had completed Warm Springs Dam, which created Lake Sonoma. Officials said it spared downstream residents an additional five vertical feet of flooding. But some say that premature releases from the dam increased the water levels (first upper photo on right).
       Evacuees were offered temporary shelter at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Guerneville, though it was abandoned when water crept too close.  In the ensuing days, small groups would leave for the cemetery above
St.Elizabeth's Church where they would be airlifted by helicopter to Santa Rosa (second upper photo on right).
       Further west in Monte Rio, approximately 500 people huddled together inside St. Catherine’s Church high above the flood (first lower photo on right). A few days later people started to return home, not knowing what awaited them. Many lost everything. Several residents were told that the controversial Warm Springs Dam would prevent deluges and, therefore, did not renew their flood insurance in advance.
        Sidebars:  Tony Moscarelli said, “Let me tell you, it was creepy to hear your house groan because of the current that’s going through it."
          Notice the girl's bewildered look in the second lower photo on the right.


       Another look at the '86 flood shows that it inundated much of Monte Rio.  The Highland Dell resort (upper photo on left) sat alongside private residences, taking on as much as eight feet of water.
        In the first lower photo on the left is pictured a classic. VW buses are great for a number of things—camping, hitchhiking, parking at inspiration point—but fording through water, not so much.  You wonder if the driver called for help, or even contemplated returning as the sign above suggested?
       The torrent brought both sadness and humor to the scene. One story relates how the Pink Elephant saloon (second lower photo on left) in Monte Rio kept its doors open despite the presence of three feet of muddy water. Patrons continued to play a game of pool while in their canoes. Others sipped whiskies, feet dangling from bar stools into the river as if it was just another day in paradise. 
       The bartender locked up and began walking through the flooded street to his home. However, somewhere along his journey he lost his way and fell into the raging waters and drowned.
       The family of the deceased complained to the folks at the Guerneville Redwood Chapel when their relative appeared in his coffin without his favorite leather jacket as requested. The mortician’s assistant said that the victim arrived from the local authorities without any such apparel. 
       Sidebar: Soon thereafter inside the town’s Safeway, a member of the deceased’s family spotted the funeral home's assistant wearing the leather jacket. A struggle ensued and the treasured item was removed from the interloper and returned to its proper owner.
        The New Year's Eve flood of 2005 crested at 41.8' at the pedestrian bridge in Guerneville (upper photo on right).  The abandoned amusement park (across Hwy 116 from the peewee golf course) renders new meaning to the term "water slide" (the first lower photo on right).
         A visitor to Monte Rio rented both a vehicle and a house to celebrate the incoming of 2006.  But heavy rains blocked Redwood Drive, which ran to the lower reaches of Northwood Golf Course.  Wanting desperately to feel the warmth of his cabin after an arduous night of bar hopping, the man motored past the second tee box, around the restrooms and started down the cart path, cruising parallel to the fifth fairway.
       The stranger reached a steep slope facing the fifth tee box.  Not familiar with the terrain, he eased the nose of the rented Mustang downward.  The current reached the engine compartment.  The inebriated soul attempted to reverse to safety but to no avail.  Stuck, he abandoned the vehicle and waded thru the waters to his "vacation" house. 
        To counter eyewitness stories that he was driving under the influence on New Year's Eve, he lied to the police and said that he was behind the wheel during the afternoon on January 1st instead.  Unbeknownst to him, the car rental agency had changed its policy for 2006, not allocating any towing fees for the new year.  Outsmarted by himself, the stranger forked up a couple of Franklins and went on his way, not so merrily I might add.

        Sidebar: A sign warns visitors what will happen if they do not use the "proper" facility (second lower photo on right).  Perhaps our New Year's Eve reveler should have taken this as an omen. 

       Major flooding along the Russian River in Sonoma County on Wednesday, February 27, 2019 prompted mandatory evacuations and left Guerneville (upper left photo) accessible only by boat. At 33 feet the river crept onto the peewee golf course in Guerneville (second lower photo on left). No big deal.
          At 39 feet River Road began to close near Hacienda Bridge where rescue workers searched the banks for problems (first lower photo on left).  The Triple R Resort in Guerneville started to flood.   Hmmmm.
     At 41.5 feet, True Value hardware, Napa Auto Parts and Stumptown Brewery along the "strip" between Guerneville and Rio Nido accumulated over a foot of water.  River Road closed, Main Street in Monte Rio was impassable as well as a major mudslide near the skatepark blocked escape to Occidental.  Austin Creek Road closed to Cazadero, which experienced nineteen inches of rain in thirty hours.   Towns became islands. Uh oh.
      At 45.4 feet (nearly 14 feet above flood stage) Bartlett’s market in Monte Rio took on water; parts of four golf holes at Northwood went under.  CHP set up roadblocks.  No way in or out.

      The flood last week was Jeff Bridges’ fourth rodeo.  He is the owner of the R3 Hotel in Guerneville.  Over eight feet invaded his lodge, bar and restaurant (upper photo on right).  But Bridges was not intimidated.  After all, he had had his tetanus shot and was prepared to use lots of bleach and power washers.  However, even with protective gear, it is difficult to keep the river crud at bay.  It splashes onto your face and other areas of exposed skin.  Some were forced to halt cleanup as sickness set in, diarrhea in full swing.
        “It will be a total gut job and renovation,” Bridges said.  “But it will reopen bigger, better and more sparkly than before.”  Such is the uplifting attitude and familiar refrain from many who are determined to thumb their nose at the rebellious Russian River in exchange for a slice of paradise.
        Raena and Brad Metzger watched from nearby as floodwaters rose toward the eaves of their Rio Nido Roadhouse bar and restaurant (lower photo on right).  They had sunk their life savings into the business, which could not withstand the slow moving disaster.
       “I would not wish this on anyone,” Brad said.  And he is not alone.  There are over 3,500 structures in flood zones county wide, including nearly 2,500 homes and 438 commercial or industrial buildings.  Several residences in Guerneville and Monte Rio have been red-tagged or yellow-tagged and will have to pay the $600 permit fee by the county to fix what must be fixed.
       Sidebar: Some complain that the flood is a money-maker for the Permit & Resource Management Department.

NEXT TIME we will visit the Barbary Coast District of San Francisco. Cheers!
This award-winning novel is available at  Free shipping/handling.
Reviews for Don't Stop the Music:
        “For those who remember the era (Summer of Love), Don't Stop the Music is a delicious summary of memory.”
         San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
        "John McCarty has put together a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love (1967) that is cheerful and entertaining and even pays tribute to the beauty of west Sonoma County..."
          Sonoma County Historical Society

          “A trip back in time to the 1960’s San Francisco Fillmore District, up through the Marin & Sonoma coastline to the Russian River hippie heyday and the peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.  A nostalgic read.”
            Russian River Historical Society

            "Somehow McCarty manages to build sympathy for his motley crew as they embark on a classic road trip from San Francisco to rural northern California."
            Northern California Fulbright Association

         "Familiar folks, home-grown scenery, and candid attitudes will put you happily in the middle of all the action."
            Stephen Gross, The Press Democrat

           "All along there is danger, excitement, budding love and a number of unrighteous brawls.  The author knows what he writes about.”

            Bob Jones, Sonoma West Times & News

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of  Russian River floods.   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Barbara DeCarly, Bob Perussina, Mike Murphy, Chris Wikeen, Tony Moscarelli, Ed Bale, Vern Ayers, Robin Monroe (website designer), The Press Democrat, Card Cow Vintage Postcards, Sonoma County Historical Society, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter go to and scroll to the bottom of any page to "Subscribe To Our Newsletter".
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information. As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."   JMc
Copyright © 2019 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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