Jun 24

Epic Floods of 1914

The rain storm of Jan. 24 – 25, 1914, lashed the county with eight inches of rain. Rampaging Arroyo Grande creek ran bank-to-bank, destroying bridges, undermining homes along its bank and tumbling them into the creekbed and otherwise causing great damage. Picture was taken from old glass negatives from a collection by Mrs. Josephine L. Brown, the former Josephine Bailey.

When the rains began to fall Friday night there was no way of knowing how much was coming. In 1914 the only satellite circling the earth was the moon and it wasn't sending pictures. The barometer was falling along with the rain and the little narrow gauge Pacific Coast railway was already feeling the effects.
Excerpts from the San Luis Obispo Telegram:

Saturday – January 24, 1914

The headline on the storm story:

Forecast is for Rain Tonight and Also Tomorrow
Pacific Coast Train Stalled at Santa Maria—Rural Carriers Unable to Cover Their Routes

The previous season had been dry, so perhaps this led Nipomo rancher Hans Wybrandt to say about the rain, "Let her come. It can't hurt anything. We need it. It will help make one of the best years in the history of the county."

Total rainfall for the current season stood at 17.24 inches, normal for the season was pegged at 21.21 inches.
San Luis Creek surpassed the high water mark from the week before and Toro Street was a foot under water at Monterey Street. A small creek, or "pup" had been rerouted north of area a few years earlier contributing to the flooding at this spot.
The Pacific Coast Railway was plagued with problems, a sign that the shoestring railroad was under-designed lightlybuilt. No trains left San Luis Obispo for Port San Luis or Arroyo Grande and points south. Near the Stornetta dairy south of town 50 feet of track was washed out and bridges were threatened in other areas.
Rural mail carriers were witness to roads covered with water. Some had to detour through fields to bypass flooded roads, others found delivery impossible.

"Army" stalled by rain at San Miguel
If the Weather Clears the "Army" is Expected to Leave San Luis County Tomorrow.

"Army of the unemployed which began the march northward and out of the boundaries of San Luis Obispo county yesterday morning under official escort of Sheriff Younglove, is reported "stalled" at San Miguel today owing to the heavy rains.
Sheriff Younglove has notified the office here that he will remain with the "army" until it crosses the county line in a few miles north of the Mission town. Should the weather clear tomorrow (Sunday) will probably see the last of the "army" of the unemployed.

(In other news one of the the first teachers in the state applied to retire on a state pension from our county. The law had just gone into effect.
F. E. Darke had a 29 year career and he had worked for 17 at the Nipomo Street School.)

The Telegram did not publish a Sunday edition so the next update came two afternoons later.

The Daily Telegram front page January, 26, 1914 covers epic flooding.

Monday – January 26, 1914

No Trains In or Out of San Luis Since Saturday Afternoon and Traffic at Standstill for Several Days

Rain had been falling for 36 hours though gale force winds subsided. The Southern Pacific was now shut down, a work train sent to Templeton to repair damage "turned turtle", engine and cars flipped off the tracks and were now resting on their backs. Between San Miguel and Bradley the Nacimento River bridge was shredded for 150 feet by raging water. There was no Nacimento or San Antonio Dams at the time. Combined rainfall for the previous two days stood at 7.63 inches in San Luis Obispo, 7.07 in Arroyo Grande. Sidewalks were strewn with umbrella skeletons, ripped inside out by the wind. Theaters and churches were deserted. Two millionaires were marooned in town. Andrew Weir, a major investor in Union Oil, was said to own more steam boats than any other individual in the world but could not find transportation out of San Luis Obispo. Nathan Dohrmann, a San Francisco glassware magnate was also stranded.
Plans were made to entertain marooned passengers at the Elks lodge.
Arroyo Grande lost use of the $8,000 steel bridge when the creek scoured 8 feet deeper and undercut banks on both sides.
Walter Perozzi came upon a "grewsome" find, discovering a human skull that washed out of an improvised grave at an Orcutt Road ranch. The coroner estimated the death to be relatively recent, some tissue was still present on the bone, but there was no indication of foul play.

Daily Telegram, January 27, 1914

Tuesday – January, 27, 1914

Rain was tapering off as Southern Pacific chartered the steamer Santa Clara take 150 ticket holders south. Another story in the same edition contradicts the front page story and says that the craft had tried to land on Sunday and was beaten back by the storm. The second story also said the ship was said to be withdrawn for refitting. The SP had no estimate for rail repairs to be completed to the south. Trains could move north a short distance but were blocked at Templeton. Northbound traffic was expected to resume in a week.
The opponents to incorporation of Arroyo Grande seized on the disaster to lobby for disincorporation. Quitters.

Arroyo Grande Disheartened

ARROYO GRANDE, Jan. 27. — Disheartened at the losses caused by the heavy rain storms of the past few days, a movement has been launched to disincorporate the city at once and petitions are being prepared for signatures.
The municipality does not feel that it will be able to cope with the situation when the waters subside as the damage is very extensive. The Arroyo Grande is still cutting across Branch street, the principal business street in the city. Last night the bank caved in twenty four feet further.
As law only calls for fifty percent of the total vote at last general election to disincorporate, it is thought the movement will carry.

In the end the quitters failed to carry the day and Arroyo Grande will celebrate 100 years as a city this July.

The party at the Elks Lodge was a success. Movies, dancing and a clambake were the evening's highlights. The paper took note of one incident.

An amusing incident is told of a young lady from New York State who wandered into the basement with the sight-seers and came upon the chef opening clams. As she watched she is said to have exclaimed:
"Well; is that what you call clams? I thought they had little legs."

Wednesday – January 28, 1914

As the rain let up the damage was tallied, twelve were killed in California including three from San Luis Obispo County. Damage was estimated statewide at $ 5 million. Locally two died near San Miguel at the Stone Canyon Coal Co. Tom Connelly a miner and a peddler only known as Servian. An elderly man in Lopez Canyon died when his cabin tumbled down a steep hillside down to the Soto Ranch. His name was Pedro Quinteras and his family found him suffering from exposure and injuries from the fall. He died shortly after family members found him.

The Southern Pacific announced that southbound service would resume the next day. Power was still out in Paso Robles but water service had been restored. It had been an epic storm.

Compare the view from Crown Hill down Branch street from 1914 to 2011. ©David Middlecamp/The Tribune

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