St. Louis Flood Trip Report — July 17, 1993

The following was a rough, stream of conscious report of a two-day trip I took to check out the flooding in St. Louis. I have done very little editing. I apologize for the grammar and spelling. This was probably captured on a Newton.

Okay, I’m beginning my trip to St.Louis at 6am on July, I guess this is the seventeenth, Saturday, 1993. I just set the trip counter to zero (Beep. Beep-beep). And the flat mileage is 70320.1.
4.6 miles, turning onto highway 79.
12.2 miles, turning onto I35.
6:26 21.6 miles — McDonalds drivethrough in Georgetown
6:28 back on the interstate.
6:47 I see the sun above the horizon over there.
10:05am 261.5 miles entering Oklahoma on I-35mile marker 264.8 I stopped at about 10:09 for 5 minutes at a roadside park. This is the Oklahoma entrance park, roadside park and I got a map of the state and a coke and talked to a man whom I had seen who I had passed some miles back. He had a RV with a couple of funny motorcycles on the back — real small wheels, name is Sprite, only weigh 90 pounds. He is retirement age and he said he had no problem lifting
them up and putting them on the rack. He said they only do about 45miles per hour. It looked like an ideal little vehicle to go along with an RV to carry around. He said that they had taken them to Alaska and back. That brought back nice memories.
mile mark 269.5 the Southwestern Bell Mobil Cellular phone area in Oklahoma did one of these automatic calls to my phone announcing themselves.
Oklahoma really is pretty. I am driving through a stretch of land that is rolling hills that is oak trees mixed with prairie or pasture, whatever. Sort of like the look of the field in Jurrasic Park where they first saw the brachiosaurus. Tough these trees are not quite as tall as the one the brachiosaurus was chewing on.
There are little ponds everywhere. Every time you go over a hill there is another pond in the distance. Some of them are real blue.
11:57 308.2 miles Oklahoma City city limits.
12:04 I missed my turn. I think… If I recall, I missed this turn before. Sort of an intersection, a big cloverleaf, I keep
expecting to stay on I35, but I35 is a turnoff. I’ll get back on it.
12:20 I’m off on Interstate 44, which is a turnpike. And I hope I find a gas station before I run out. The next time I do this kind of trip, remind me to take that pocket database thing that has all the gas stations and such along interstate highways.
Well at 12:41 I got off the I44 because I’m trying to find gas, and there is a McDonalds around here somewhere. The only problem is–at this point there is no on-ramp back onto the interstate, the turnpike from this location, so I’m going to have to take some side roads to join back up. But at least there is a Phillips 66 station here. 422.4 miles.
I’m getting gas at a town called Wellston. I put in 20.7 gallons. $21.25
Well I’m now on Route 66, although now it is Oklahoma 66, paralleling the turnpike. What’s interesting is that there was a McDonalds there at Wellston but it was on the turnpike property and the only way get to the McDonalds was to enter the turnpike entrance to go back to Oklahoma City. In other words it was a westbound turnpike McDonalds only. And since I’m eastbound, there was no way to get to it. I’m just wondering if the people that live in Wellstom, if they’re able to use the McDonalds that’s in their town.
Well, we’re in Chandler, and turned off on 18 because it says “to 44” this way, so maybe I’ll be able to get back into high speed.
Route 66 is nice. Two lane blacktop, 55 mph. And if I could drive 55 mph it would sure be pleasant. Unfortunately, it is definitely rural. Lots of people driving on it at 35mph or less and in town you get lots of stopsigns, red lights … Well, I guess back to the turnpike.
Okay, 1:08 and tripmile 435.3 I’m back onto the interstate, and I just passed a gas station, accessible to the turnpike. So this little turn off was pretty much a wasted stop, other that being able to drive on Route 66 for a little bit.
Okay 1:19. Another couple of miles and another McDonalds, this time a plaza on the interstate.
Back on interstate 44 1:27 trip counter 446.7. That was a big McDonalds! Oh-oh. Turn pike gate…
Mile marker 490.7 2:08pm. I’m stopping in Tulsa to see if I can get a battery for the camera.
Well, Radio Shack had the battery, Mays Drug next door had the film. So that worked out pretty good. Tulsa 2:16 pm on an asphalt parking lot is HOT.
2:22 tripcounter 491.4 back on the interstate.
I just crossed, I think it was the Arkansas river. Anyway it was broad. Driving past the Camelot, where we had the science-fiction con. Oh, I remember these places. I remember the places were Thomas and I went for a walk to hit different food places. About 5 or 6 blocks from the Camelot. Yes, this brings back some memories.
556.2 There is a McDonalds built as an arch across the lanes of the interstate. So you look in the distance and you see this Bigggg yellow arch. Not like the monument. It’s a building, sort of like the bridge across Lake Austin. Not that big, but thats the design, except it’s a yellow arch.
597 miles 3:57 I’m in Missouri. Just crossed the state line.
Okay its 4:05 598.9 miles. I stopped at the Missouri travel information bureau and picked up a map and a Diet Pepsi, they didn’t have any Diet Coke. Well, it looks like all I have to do is drive across Missouri and I’ll be there, right? It’s all interstate. So off I go. Almost 600 miles here. Well next question. Is it turnpike or free?
Do you know what gets me about this trip? I’m already in Missouri and I realize it is still a few hundred miles to get to the river but, it’s a hot sunny day. I mean, in this part of the state, it’s not like the place is cloudy and dreary. The skies are partly cloudy, little white fluffy cumulus’s here and there. Back in Oklahoma, skies were clear. I’m getting more cloudiness as I get further east, but I had expected the weather to get worse sooner. But I think that’s just an illusion. I think it could very well be sunny and hot when I get to St.Louis. At least I hope it’s sunny when I get to St. Louis! I’d hate to look at the river in the dark.
The Missouri county roads or state highways aren’t numbered, they are letters. They are like K and PP.
678.6 miles. It’s about 5:15. Off in the distance. The clouds are no longer little pretty fluffy things. Looks like a stream… a chain of growing thundercloud type stuff. It’s strange. It’s like it’s in a string along the horizon. Like way off in the distance. About every two degrees there is another one. There may be weather up there after all.
Well, looks like the cloud band evaporated. Wasn’t as big as I thought it was.
Well it looks like it’s down to the wire. My best estimate of when I will arrive in St. Louis is that I will arrive at sunset, or even after sunset, I don’t know. My problem is that I don’t know what the sunset time in St. Louis is. It’s east of Austin, so that would make it earlier. But it’s also north of Austin which would make it later. So I’m not sure when the sunset is. The sun is pretty low on the horizon already. I’ve still got 70 miles to go. The sun angle.. I estimate about an hour left of sunlight. It’s pretty close.
I’m following a small convoy of National Guard. I don’t know why they are heading towards St. Louis. Be curious to ask them.
mile 840.9 7:37pm I’m approaching St. Louis. I’m in the country, still not in the suburbs yet. The grass is kinda brown. The local creeks are not up at all. It is interesting that I am going to see a flood in a few minutes and there is no sign of rain. Like it hasn’t rained here recently.
Well I think I’ve got sunset… well maybe. I can see reflections of the sun on buildings, but I can’t see it myself. 8:01pm I don’t see the river yet.
I’m starting to see flooding. The tributary rivers are backing up. No flowing, they are just overflowing their banks just sitting there. Overflowing some of the roads. And I’m still 10 or 15 miles from official St. Louis. Probably still that far to the arch at least. 8:03 870.4
Oh there’s still some sun over there.
Official city limit of St. Louis 8:10pm 877.4 miles 1 gallon of gas.
I see the arch. 8:12 pm 879.6
I didn’t really remember how old the architecture of St. Louis was. Brownstone everywhere. Brown brick houses. Acres and acres of them. Mostly two story. High peaked roofs. They all look the same, except for the windows painted differently. They are all brown brick.
Hmm. There are some alternate bridge route signs. I don’t know what that means.
I’m down town here. The traffic is really backing up here. I don’t see any sign that the bridges are closed or anything. I’m going to go straight to the arch and see what I can see. Well there is a parking lot. I’m going to get out and take some pictures. That’s going to kill all my daylight. But I think it is worth it. If I can get to the parking lot. I’m close enough to the arch that I can’t even see the top of it. The traffic is really backed up. I can’t see how to get over to this parking lot. I’m not sure I can. Some roads are closed off. Police are posted. barricades. Yes. This parking lot is the cathedral parking lot, not for tourists. No idea where it park. I still can’t see the river.
I have no idea what to do here. Boy. Back to back jam.
I’m at the arch. This is just after I called you. Oops, I forgot to do the star-18. Hang on.
North of here underneath the arch, is a thunderstorm. I can see the flash of lightning. I tried to take a picture of the arch and try to catch a flash of lightning in the background. Who knows if that worked. Here I am without a tripod and the light level is just so low. What I am trying to do is take pictures with silhouettes. People on the shore looking at all the stuff in the river and using the lights on the boats and stuff to catch the pictures with the silouttes of the people. Hopefully that will be nice. I ought to get something.
I’ve talked to some local people and the Casino Queen which is across the river and spewing out large numbers of spotlights is apparently a new boat on the river. Maybe the one next to it. You see the casinos can’t go up an down the river anymore, because they are too high. They won’t let them underneath the bridges, but they are still operating.
Well I got hit up by a panhandler. Gave him three bucks. I’m always a soft touch I’m afraid. Of course the second panhandler didn’t get nothing. Have to reward the guy who gets there first.
I am rolling with sweat. I have to figure out how to get out of this maze. You see I’m down here at this place that’s sort of like Sixth street, you know its a place where you park your car and walk around all the cute little shops and probably bars and underneath everything.
I’m taking 70 west, away from the waterfront. I’m going to have to stop here in a little bit to see where this goes. But my first order of business is to get some gas. My gas gauge says “E” and DTE says 17 miles. And so I’m going to have to get gas real soon now.
Well I’m heading upriver a little bit–assuming I know how to get around these roads. I sure wish I could have showed up thirty minutes earlier. I took a look at the pictures I took with the Polaroid and the light was so low that the shutter speed was real slow which means that I got a lot of jitter and they are useless. Even then they didn’t get bright enough to see anything. I’m afraid the 35mm is going to be the same way.
I’m now crossing over the Missouri river. Big bridge. That’s good.
Okay 916 miles turning on highway 79 north which should parallel the river. It’s 10:38 at night.
There is a lot of flooding along 79. There is a lot of people that used to have homes along 79 and they are parking their cars up on the side of the road because some of the property is in the water. Not everybody is flooded out but the water is not all that far from the road.
Highway 79 is closed. They have a road block here to let local people in for now. I think I am going back and see if I can take highway 61 north.
Well, it looks like I’m stymied in both directions. I tried to take 61 south. I found out it was blocked as well. This was about 12:40 12:35 Road closed marked with barricades. and about a dozen people sleeping in their pickup. Pickups piled high with all their household goods. Looks like nowhere else to go. Just waiting at the edge of the area they are blocked out of until the water subsides.
There is a lot of contrast around here. St. Louis, for the most part looks like nothing has happened. It looks just totally
unaffected by this flood. Until you drive through the streets of St. Louis and you turn a corner and you’ve got refugees. Waiting by the water. I don’t know. I’m having trouble absorbing it all.
I think my picture of a flood has changed. This isn’t a flash flood. This isn’t a torrent that’s rushing down a creek. It’s quiet. It’s just relentless. It just keeps coming up higher and higher and higher. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
You can fight a fire. But if your property is below the water level of the river… The river doesn’t fight you. It just ignores everything you do. The river is going to rise.
6:08 am . The sun is up. Just barely. I think I made the right decision to go on an put some miles… It would make a more pleasant drive home not to have to race the whole time. And it was just an almost impossible deal to try to move upstream or downstream along the river. All the roads were blocked. I don’t got time to experiment. It would have been nice to have seen more of it but I just can’t do it this trip.
I ran into roadblocks on 79 going north and 61 going south, and as I was heading out there was an announcement on the radio that there was a big group on highway 21 basically refugees from the storm…the flood, that were desperate for clean water and ice. And if there was anyone who could get them some ice and some water to take it to them.
I think I am going to take a little side jaunt. It is 6:54 in the morning. 1059.3 Cuba Missouri. There is a thing a few miles south of here called … I don’t know what it is called…something “Scenic Waterways”? It will probably take some extra time to see it, but it might be fun. If this is 19? And it won’t get me too much in trouble. I mean the whole trip is kinda silly. I’ll give it a shop.
I mentioned the lettered roads. It looks like the state highways are numbered. I’m on state highway 19 and the sign looks like the outline of the state with a 19 in it. The county roads…I assume county roads, equivalent…are letters. And their roadsigns are in squares.
I’m in Steelville Missouri. There are three things of interest. One, the gasoline here is real cheap, 91 cents. I`ve noticed that is has been relatively cheap all throughout Missouri, but this is the cheapest I have seen it. Two, Steelville advertises itself two ways–one is the “Floating capitol of Missouri”. There are all kinds of float trip tour places around. The other is an advertisement as the “Population center of the United States”. Apparently if you make a weighted map by population of the United States, this would be the center.
Highway 19, which is a two-lane blacktop, has a couple of stretches of one-lane blacktop in it.
I’m off in the middle of nowhere. I am literally in a situation where you can’t see the forest for the trees. I think this is probably beautiful scenery, but there are no viewpoints and the trees are right up next to the road. Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of what looks like a beautiful vista, through the trees, but I can’t see it.
I am entering Ozark National Scenic Riverways. I’m wondering if … Ah! A vista.
I stopped at a river access point at Current River, which is in the Scenic Whatever, basically just to get out an walk around. I took a couple of pictures. I would kinda like to have the roll I took ready to put in for processing. Interesting. The water was kinda swift, not all that deep. It looked like it would be fun to canoe down that thing. There was a lot of mist, fog, fog coming off the water in the morning. I tried to take a couple of pictures of it, but I don’t know if it will show up.
The forest has got some pine in it. For the most part it is deciduous, but I’m going through a part that has some pine in it, mixed.
I actually saw a roadside pulloff viewpoint. Pulled in to it, and it was pretty trashed out. There was a man and his two little girls with trash bags and rakes cleaning up the place. The man said that in the fall it was a really pretty view out here. I can imagine it would. It is mainly deciduous forest, although there is some pine and maybe looks like cedar.
The town of Mountain View has a water tower, like Hutto’s, but it is painted such that the ball and maybe ten feel of the pillar looks like a hot air balloon. At first glance, it looks like there is a hot air balloon floating over this hill, but its really a water tower.
I’m about 30 miles out of Springfield on Highway 60. Two items, a few miles back, I passed the Laura Engels Museum– this is apparently the part of the world where the “Little House” books were written. Item number two, apparently there are Amish or some like around here, because I’ve seen at least two people on the highway in horse and buggy wearing dark clothing. I don’t know, two thus far.
I stopped at McDonalds in Springfield and I am filling up with gas. Buying at 89.9, that’s only because it is close to the interstate. I say 88.9 at a couple of other places.
The disadvantage of running somewhere on the interstate and running back on the same route is that it is kinda boring when you’ve been on the same route the day before. I’m going through Tulsa, and I am going to follow the same route back although I have a strong inclination to take a different route back. Basically because I know that the route I took is the fastest one. But it does get a little boring.
Well, I’m back. Mileage is 1958.2. Time is 12:48 am. Average speed over the whole trip, for the times that the engine was running was 57.1 mph. Gas economy was about 20.5 miles per gallon.