Previously, the Flood of 1913 was highlighted — let’s continue celebrating the rainy season with a postman’s account from 80 years ago. From 1927 to 1962, Jim McLean worked at the Aberdeen Post Office and the following is a first-hand account of his experiences during the Aberdeen Flood of 1933 which crested 10 feet above flood stage. Here is McLean’s account:
Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 1933, did not portend to be a bad day, considering that driving home from the post office the night before rain had hit the windshield at what was clocked as ninety-mile per hour gales. Each day for a week the streets were filled with water at high tide and sewer covers were lifted from their placement by the force of the sewer backup on each high tide.
The year of 1933 was the lowest working volume of the depression years and being as extra or sub, as we were called, and not yet appointed a regular route, meant work could be from 6 a.m. until after 11 p.m., if the evening train was late. All special delivery letters were delivered to hotels, businesses and homes immediately upon arrival in Aberdeen.
This date marked the beginning of another year, making it six years since starting my first day of work at the post office and still a sub. It was reported there was a slide on the railroad tracks in the upper part of the country and the train, with the mail, could not get through. Checking for local specials and finding none, this Sunday promised to be the first day of rest for some time. Resting all morning and making the collection of mail boxes around noon left no more work until evening. It did not turn out that way.
The papers had details of the flooded condition of the country and the radio was suggesting people stay home as water was stalling cars and one of the highest tides of the year was due. Looking out the windows showed the water coming higher in the yard and yet two hours until high tide, which was also normal time for the mail collection.
I had been hoping not to wear hip-boots on this day as that had been standard foot wear for over a week. After lunch the water was still rising. Phoning the office to see what they thought, the only clerk working agreed that it might be a good idea to start the collections early, not even going to the office to ring the time clock.
I used my own car, a 1924 Essex, two-door five-passenger sedan for collections and by removing the back seat it made a good conveyance for such use, and it was high off the ground, which turned out to be a good thing. The government did not own trucks at that time but reimbursed who ever used their own transportation.
Water by now was across all the downtown streets but not all sidewalks. Approaching town on Wishkah Street and going east I noticed trouble at Wishkah and K so I turned on L Street to Heron and then on east to check the outside mailbox in front of Broadway Drug which at that time was the heaviest used substation. Water was going in the Morck Hotel door when I passed. The water was still about six inches from the bottom of the collection box so the mail was dry. Continuing on down the street I was going to stop at the Owl Drug, Heron and H Street, another substation, when I noticed I was the only car traveling. Cars were stopped in the water every place.
I steered to the middle of the street, where the streetcar tracks were still intact but had not been used for little over a year and the tracks were some inches higher than the rest of Heron. Going on up the street to G Street, water started coming in through the car floorboards. I saw the wake of the water in front of the wheels was much lower, caused by the motion of the car and also that the Heron Street Bridge had been opened but nothing was on the approach and it looked like high ground - and about this time the car began to sputter.
Hitting the brakes, of course they did not work, luckily there was no thrill about going up and off the open span, at that time the approach was very long and quite uphill. Water was still getting higher and then in a few minutes it seemed to settle at a level and stay there. There was no way of knowing if the dike had given out or if the tide was still coming in or had turned.
Leaving the automobile on the approach and taking what mail had been collected the next objective was to reach the office (then located on North G Street in what is now the Aberdeen School Administration building). The water was then only a few inches from the top of the hip-boots but in less than a block the boots were full and when crossing the streets the water came above the waist.
Stanton Gillespie, check in charge, could not understand where I had fallen into water. The telephone was out by now and water had been around the building for days but not hip-boot high. He suggested before helping him with the mail to go down in the basement and empty them. Looking down the stairs, water was then about a foot deep. The basement had never had water in it before and the construction around the building was like a dam.
The basement was empty except for the furnace and the piles of soot, a small janitor room and the civil service room in the corner. The sink in the other corner, used for maintenance by the janitor, was ejecting water from the drainpipe. Later a turnoff was added to the drain so water could flow either way according to the tide and this is probably the only federal building that had a dual turnoff at the sink drain.
Without phone service Mr. Gillespie suggested my walking over and trying to get the janitor, who lived quite close. In the meantime a canvas mail sack was crammed down the sink drain with the aid of a broom handle and that stopped most of the water flow.
It was then suggested I go downtown and check the Owl Drug substation for conditions, as it was still my duty to make the afternoon collection and all drug stores kept open on Sundays at that time. The only change of clothing was from boots to shoes and as the water had gone down only a few inches walking was still an effort.
Checking my car first, which stayed on the bridge support all that night, a few boxes of mail were collected and the substation checked out. The place was in a mess but all the mail and records were high and dry. Needless to say business was suspended for the rest of the day. Returning with mail and records to the office, I found a pump had been placed in the basement and the water reduced by half and the sink plugged.
All mail was being held as the trains were not moving that night. It was about time by now to get some dry clothes on and forget the mail until morning.
Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and is honored to have known Jim McLean, who gave him a copy of this account many years ago.