Ohio River Flood of 1937

P/C Frank H. Foster, III – June, 1989

The club was recently given some pictures of this event and I was given some further reflections by Commodore Chris Lambrecht who was there (that’s not surprising since Chris has been almost everywhere.)  Let me begin the story with the description of BLYC’s greatest historian, Commodore Kyle Armstrong.

Under leadership of Commodores Marshall and Wolfe in January of ’37, Buckeye Lake yachtsmen extended welcome, helping hands to suffering humanity in the record breaking Ohio River flood.

On the 25th, in cooperation with the Ohio State Journal and the Columbus Dispatch, 11 of BLYC’s fleet of motorboats were rushed to the river on a chartered special train of flat cars and two baggage cars. The latter were fitted out to serve as galley, mess and bunking quarters for the rescue party, and carried large quantities of food and pure water to aid in meeting requirements of workers and needy sufferers in the Portsmouth area.

Approaching the inundated district, the train was stopped on the Norfolk & Western main track within five miles of such city, where it remained as the party’s headquarters for nearly a week.

Immediately upon their arrival, the boats were unloaded from the flat cars and hauled to the water’s edge. There they were launched on their mission of rescue and distribution of food, water and medical assistance urgently needed by persons and families left stranded in the flooded cities and other adjacent areas on both sides of the river.

Navigation of the swift moving, surging, swirling, debris laded flood, in some places blocked by trolley and utility wires, was a hazardous task requiring skilled seamanship. This was provided by Buckeye Lake’s hardys, often under further handicapping conditions of heavy fog, sleet, rain, snow and penetrating cold.

Temporary, centralized operational dockages were improvised on the N. & W. depot train – shed roofs, during the first three days while the river was at its highest, then shifted to the end of a viaduct across the railroad near the depot.

When the boats were docked for nights near the rescue train, thief tired crews found piping-hot meals awaiting them in the baggage-car mess. These were prepared and served by five colored stewards, brought along for that purpose. In addition, they worked through the days to satisfy the cravings of many other relief workers operating in the area.

Although the crews from the Lake had many harrowing experiences, only one of their boats met with serious mishap. It was damaged in loading for the homeward journey.

In the hallway leading to the Commodores’ Lounge are several new pictures which have been donated to the club.  THe picture of the flood came from Bill Marshall who grew up sailing at the Club and was the cone of Commodore Red Marshall.  Chris said that this picture once hung in the Club.  Chris says that some state authorities came to Buckeye Lake and commandeered boats to assist in rescue for the flood.  The boat owners wanted to go along, partly to help and partly to protect their boats.  In my view if probably sounded like a fun adventure.  He said they went by train, sleeping in the front car which was a baggage car.  The middle car was a diner, and the back car was a flat car on which the boats were supported.  Perhaps I heard incorrectly and there was more than one flat car.  He said that Kyle Armstrong’s observation that they ate hot meals was correct, but he added that they had chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Chris also offered some observations about the pictures.

If you will carry this article to the picture and look up you will see three horizontal rows, each with four pictures.  In the top row, left most picture, Chris couldn’t remember whether that was Cincinnati with 7 feet of water or perhaps Portsmouth with 3 feet of water on the street.  In the second row, the second picture from the left, Chris says that is the Court House in Portsmouth.  The boat owner was Chuck Hunter, who owned a 15 1/2 foot Chris Craft and who raced hydroplanes in Florida.  Just to the right of that picture shows George Doyle on the left, Red Marshall on the right, and a gentleman named Atchison, who lived at Harbor Hills and now lives in Portsmouth, according to Chris.  In the lower horizontal row, on the left, shows the baggage car in which bunks were built.  The right most picture in the lower row, Chris says shows the cooks, all of whom came from Columbus restaurants or hotels.  He said the one on the left was the chef.

Chris may have told me more and some of this may not be precisely accurate.  Unfortunately, I had enjoyed a couple of beers when Chris told me these things and I wrote them down.  Since I am now entirely sober as I dictate this, I am unable to read my writing.  Perhaps I will have couple beers again this summer and whill then be able to more accurately decipher my notes.


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