The summer of 2007 was an unusual one for our part of Oklahoma. Due to the generosity of the August 18-19 appearance of Tropical Depression Erin, record rainfall amounts brought with them record flooding. The aftermath of these floods put most Oklahomans in the same mood towards Erin as Gilda Radner displayed to Jane Curtin back in the seventies on Saturday Night Live – when she said, simply, “Bitch”.
In some parts of the state, Erin’s spirit of giving provided up to eleven inches of rain, all in one fell swoop. As the event unfolded, the National Weather Service (NWS) offered the following alert the morning of August 19th:
“AN EXTRAORDINARY WEATHER EVENT CONTINUES OVER CENTRAL OKLAHOMA THIS MORNING AS THE REMNANTS OF TROPICAL STORM ERIN HAVE INTENSIFIED… RESULTING IN WHAT AMOUNTS TO AN INLAND TROPICAL STORM.”
At 3:15 that same morning, the NWS released the following:
“HOUSE AND TWO VEHICLES REPORTED WASHED AWAY BY RISE IN STINKING CREEK… ALTHOUGH OFFICIALS COULD NOT GET TO THE LOCATION DUE TO THE CONTINUED FLOODING. FLOOD WATER IS 5 FEET DEEP AND STILL RISING /AT 415 AM/ NEAR LOCATION OF THE HOUSE.”
And at 3:20 a.m., NWS updated this posting with:
“WATER RESCUES OCCURRING APPROXIMATELY 1 MILE S OF HWY 9 ON COUNTY RD 2420. A 0.5 SECTION OF HWY 9 STILL CLOSED. STINKING CREEK OUT OF ITS BANKS.”
With Stinking Creek officially out of its banks and raising hell, The Daily Oklahoman had this story to tell:
“Stinking Creek, which feeds into the Washita River near the Caddo and Grady county line, is out of its banks and is blocking State Highway 58. Dustin Kays, a state Transportation Department worker, said he’s been keeping traffic away since a little after 12:30 a.m. He’s seen cows and calves floating by.”
Though Stinking Creek was certainly not the only waterway that said, “The heck with you!” to its banks, it was the one that played a significant role in producing the materials that provided the subject of this blog. For it was the flooding of Stinking Creek on August 19th, 2007 that sent a 40-foot long, 20-foot wide, single-lane, wooden bridge a mile and one quarter downstream to rest on the creek’s bank where it passed through a cotton field owned by Ronnie, a co-worker of mine.
Over the next few years, Ronnie tried in vain to get the county, or anyone, to remove the washed-up bridge from the creek bank at the edge of his cotton field. The presence of the bridge, perched cock-eyed on the west bank of Stinking Creek, was beginning to create a washout. With every ensuing rain, soil from the cotton field was flushed down the depression created when the bridge slammed against the bank. The county was not willing to spend the money it would take to dismantle, load, and haul away the old bridge, and simply offered that it was Ronnie’s to do with as he pleased, saying, “burn it if you want”.
At one point, a few years ago, Ronnie thought he had the bridge given away to another co-worker. Alan was going to use it to bridge a narrow section of the river that ran through his property. Alan always had to take the long way around to get to the far side of the river where it ran through his bottom-land, and the bridge on Ronnie’s place would provide the material to alleviate this problem. However, dismantling, relocating, and then re-building a 40-foot long bridge over a river is a goal that is easier imagined than accomplished. As it turned out, Alan’s imagination only provided visions of more time and labor than he was willing to put forth to tear down and relocate the bridge. And so it remained, stuck in the sand on the west bank of Stinking Creek, a mile and a quarter downstream of its original home.
Then, in early January of 2012, my and Ronnie’s boss mentioned a desire to have some large, reclaimed wooden beams to accentuate the interior of the new home he and his wife were building. Thinking of the heavy, eight by sixteen inch by 40-foot-long beams that supported the three by twelve inch, 20-foot planks of the Stinking Creek bridge he could not seem to get rid of, Ronnie offered them to our boss, saying, “I’ll bring you a picture of the beams tomorrow.” Hearing about this for the first time myself, and being a lover of wood, especially of the rustic nature, my ears perked up. With a hopeful tone, Ronnie continued to address our boss, “I think they are going to be just what you are looking for.” Secretly, I hoped they were not.
The next day, Ronnie showed our boss three pictures he had taken of the bridge using his iPhone (featured above and below) and, to my delight, they did not produce the exuberance Ronnie had hoped for. Trying a bit of salesmanship, Ronnie attempted to convince our boss that the beams would clean up and look great in his new home, but finally gave up as the conversation changed course. It looked like Ronnie would have to take the county’s suggestion and put a match to Stinking Creek bridge if he was ever going to stop the erosion on his property.
Later that morning, I approached Ronnie privately with the idea that, since no one else seemed interested, I might be willing to take the old bridge off his hands. At the moment, I was not sure what I would do with it, but surely I could find a use for the lumber on our ten-acre ranch. Seeing my sincerity, Ronnie expressed that he should check with Alan one last time to be sure he had definitely changed his mind about using the bridge for his river crossing. He would let me know as soon as he confirmed Alan was no longer interested.
By the time confirmation came that, indeed, Alan no longer wanted the bridge and I could have it, I was already tossing around a few ideas of what to do with the lumber. Maybe I would build a decorative walking bridge from our back porch over to a point that protruded to the northwest, where we had a sitting bench overlooking the woodland below. Hmm, now that would look pretty cool, but it would be a lot of work, and the point already had erosion issues. Oh well, I could always cut the beams to eight-foot lengths and use them for corner posts. The fence around the ten-acre ranch could stand to be replaced anyway. But the bridge would provide way more lumber than the fence repair project would require. Why, there was probably enough lumber in that bridge to build a small cabin. Cutting the beams for fence posts would just be a waste of a lot of good lumber.
Just then, my prior thought sunk in. A cabin! That is exactly what I would use the bridge lumber for! I recalled how, countless times, my hunting partner, Hoot, and I would dream aloud of one day building a structure that would serve as our camp kitchen. Then, we could prepare meals in comfort and not have to put up and cram our gear into our little cook tent each year. Hey, possibly we could make it big enough to provide room for a couple of sleeping cots as well! Let’s see, what would materials for that size of structure cost? Ooh, that much? Well, maybe someday…
Excited about now having an opportunity to eliminate the larger portion of the expenses associated with building our dream cabin, I emailed Hoot the following message:
Subject: Did you say Hunting Cabin?
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012
We are officially the proud “owners” of a wooden bridge (photos attached). I thought this would provide excellent structural lumber (and I think plenty of it) for the hunting/cook cabin we have always talked about building. The bridge is located on the private property of a coworker of mine who is selling it to us at the cost of our own sweat and blood necessary to dismantle and remove it from his creek bank. He is even willing to help with the loading and such.
I thought we could stack the lumber at camp. Let me know when you want to go take a look and make a plan to tackle this chore.
I was not sure of the response I would get from Hoot, but I guessed he would share my excitement, at least to some extent. And, surely, he would be game for what lay ahead…
© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days