Fullerton Flooding


Lu and Kenny Rieken sat at the café counter recalling the abundant damages they witnessed in the kitchen a month prior.  Kerry Hoffschneider photo.

 

By Kerry Hoffschneider

 

Not far beneath a photo of the late Fritz and Janet Engel hanging at the Fullerton Livestock Market, is a faint line that starts four-and-a-half-foot high and runs along the wall around the perimeter of the front office.  The line is a reminder of the water that rose to that level during March historic flooding in Nebraska and other areas of the Midwest.

Lu Rieken, Fritz and Janet’s daughter, recalled flooding from 1966 but the 2019 floods were worse.

 

The photo of Fritz and Janet Engel that hangs in the Fullerton Livestock Market.  Kerry Hoffschneider photo.

“I remember standing at the top of the hill on Highway 14, looking down at the sale barn, because the road was out, and we could not get down there.  We saw all the hay stacks and one gentleman got trapped on a telephone pole trying to load cattle trucks.  I remember dad saying the water sounded just like a freight train when it was coming. The water hit the back of the flaps of his straight truck, just as he was heading up the boulevard,” she said.

 

This time, the flood waters rose even higher around Fullerton, Nebraska.  Luckily it did not reach the residential district of the community of approximately 1,200 people that sits in the fork where the Loup and Cedar Rivers merge.

“You always think that it’s not going to really happen in situations like these.  We had about 45 minutes to get things moved around,” Lu said.  “My friend Cathy Sullivan called me from up town and asked, ‘Is there anything you need me to do?  I can help you.’  She met me down at the sale barn and disconnected computers.  We took the files out of the file cabinet, all but the top drawer, thinking it would never reach that high.”

The water did brush the bottom of the top drawers of the file cabinets.  It also reached the café countertops where Lu had feverishly moved all the canned goods from the shelves below.

When the Reiken family returned to Fullerton Livestock Market after the flood to assess the damages, they found standing water that had wreaked havoc in the café. Courtesy photo.

“I called the gal that runs the café at the sale barn who lives at St. Libory and asked her if she happened to be in town.  I said, ‘the water is coming.’  I moved all those cans and the water washed them all away even after I moved them. Coming back and seeing the mess was overwhelming and devastating.”

Lu’s husband, Kenny, a man of few words but a lot of work ethic, recalled the events of the day too.

“I called Lu and told her, ‘you better get in before the water backs up.’  The water was already here when I came up to the door. It was a disaster after that,” Kenny said.

Lu shared a simple, but ominous photo of that door she quickly took with her phone from the inside of the sale barn.  It shows water from the outside seeping underneath and soaking into a large spot on a brown rug.

“I was afraid at that point, afraid to open the door,” Lu said.

There was no time, not even for fear.  Outside, the water was up to Kenny’s knees as he got into the truck to leave.  All they could do at that point was drive away from the sale barn, the business that had been operated by the family since the Engels bought it in 1964.  In the 1980’s, Fritz had asked Lu and Kenny if they wanted to come work at the barn because they needed Kenny’s talent for welding and building.

“In the 1980’s, we moved here to Fullerton from Kearney, Nebraska where I was working for Rockwell International and Kenny was working for a construction company.  I went to work for the co-op in town as a grain accountant and later took the post office test and eventually became postmaster here,” Lu explained.

In 2003, Fritz fell ill with a brain tumor and was bound and determined to make a plan so everything would carry on after he died, Lu said.

“He was very good at that, talking and planning.  He didn’t want my mom to have to deal with everything.  He woke up every day loving life.  His saying was, ‘work is joy and joy is work’.”

As the flood waters continued to rise and Reikens left the auction yards for the last time before the flood, water was nearly up to Kenny’s knees.  Courtesy photo.

In 2012, Lu retired from the post office and became more involved with the family sale barn. Today, it is still a family run business.  Lu said they employ her brothers, nephews, great nieces and nephews, and all of their children – K.C., Fran, and Chase.  All the kids were home to help during the flood, too.

“Our daughter, Fran, lives in North Platte and they were going to close Interstate 80.  So, she left to get home because we needed her help.  We worked around the clock.  Thank God we had everyone on board.  We were able to get all the cattle out of the sale barn, but we were calving at our own farm too and had to deal with that as well.  They were pulling them out with sleds and were out there on four wheelers, sometimes getting stuck.  We lost calves in the water and mud.  We were out trying to get them, but we could not get a tractor out there because we were afraid everything was going to get stuck.  The mama cows were so worn out.  It was raining and everyone was cold, soaked, frustrated, and irritable,” Lu said.

Pens were full of debris in the aftermath of the flood.  Courtesy photo.

“I told the kids, ‘I know you have never experienced anything like this before and I hope you never have to again.  But remember, we still have our health, a beautiful family, and we are all together and working together.  We are still very fortunate because there were no lives lost’.”

The flood hit March 13 and there was supposed to be a sale March 15.  By March 29, they were back in business.

“We had a volunteer named Larry Raemakers that my sister, Mary, connected us to.  He had reached out to her and said, ‘I need to be helping someone.  Is there anything I can do?’  Mary called and asked me, ‘Lu, will you let him help?’”

“Larry was such a blessing.  It is amazing all the help we received,” Lu said, with tears in her eyes.  “I think God is telling us, ‘Stop, I can take away from you as fast as I can give . . . The Good Lord says, ‘I can giveth and I can taketh away.’  And that is so true, never take anything for granted.”

 

 

 

Bonnie Christensen sat in her office explaining the damages that many Nebraskans are still dealing with.  Kerry Hoffschneider photo.

Same Town, Different Story…

Just down the road from Fullerton, on the other side of the Loup River, is Christensen Cattle Company, Inc. at the Sandy Ridge location.  The Christensen family purchased the feedlot in the late 1980’s.  Located right on the Merrick / Nance County line, Bonnie Christensen said they were spared from the severe floods, but still faced adverse effects from the historic weather event.

The operation was cut off from Fullerton, which is only five miles away.  Many feedlot employees live in Fullerton and had to take an alternative route to work, driving nearly 70 miles per day.  All of the roads going over the Loup River were closed or impassable, Christensen said.  At the same time, frost was melting out of the rural roads making those impassable as well.

“This whole winter has been devastating because we’ve had so much moisture,” Christensen explained. “This has negatively impacted pen conditions.  The pens themselves have been very, very wet.  Our guys have been working hard in the pens, trying to clean and dry them. This ends up being very costly, but necessary to keep the pens in shape and the cattle comfortable.  The gain has gone down; therefore, the cost of gain has gone up.”

“We also had trouble getting our distiller’s grain during this time because the ethanol plant had to shut down.  The railroads had stopped because of the line being damaged therefore plants couldn’t get their ethanol out.  It was somewhat like an assembly line.  We had to go elsewhere, further away, to get the feed and that cost much more and affected the cost of gain too,” Bonnie said.

DBL Inc., the Christensen’s cow-calf operation, was supposed to have their annual bull sale on March 21.  However, they ended up postponing until April 18.  At the annual sale, the family sold a heifer that raised $5,400 to be donated to the Nance County Foundation – an organization that will help families in need after the floods.

“We have friends and customers all over the state of Nebraska that have stories that just make us sick. We want to help,” she said.

“The center of the country has been devastated to a degree that I do not think our national government understands,” Bonnie said, looking out the window.  “How could they without living it?  They can fly over, but until you are on the ground, taking notes and dealing with it first-hand, you can’t get it.  I think the rest of the U.S. has kind of forgotten about us already, but the issues for many Nebraskans are not going away anytime soon.”

 

 

Here’s How You Can Help

 

SUPPLY DONATIONS:

 

There are still drop-off locations open for donations of fencing supplies and hay.  Fencing supplies including barbed wire, wooden post, and T-posts are still in high demand.

 

Ag Park | 822 15thStreet | Columbus, NE 68601

Contact: Brian Palmer, (402) 270-4455

Hours:  9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. | Call in advance | Open until June 1.

* Only accepting large round and large square bales of alfalfa and grass hay.

 

Chance Ridge | 506 Skyline Road | Elkhorn, NE 68022

Contact: Autumn Rock, (402) 320-4398 or Nick Goldapp, (402) 639-7769

Hours:  Monday – Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. | Friday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. | Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. | For drop-off after hours, call in advance | Open until May 24.

* Accepting fencing supplies, grain, large round hay bales, small square bales, and cattle cake.

* Also seeking volunteers for fencing and cleanup crews.  Contact Autumn for more info.

 

Tractor Supply Co. | 1319 East 23rdStreet | Columbus, NE 68601

Contact:  Jessica Thompson, (402) 936-4834

 

Christensen Field | Christensen Field Road | Fremont, NE 68025

Contact:  Stephanie Callahan, (402) 459-0260

Hours: Must call in advance to schedule drop-off or pick-up.

* Not accepting large round bales.

 

Dawes County Fairgrounds | 2009 E Gordon Ave. | Chadron, NE 69337

Contact:  Jack Arterburn, (308) 249-3717 or Dawes County Extension Office, (308) 432-3373

Hours:  Must call in advance to schedule drop-off or pick-up.

 

Nebraska State Fair / Fonner Park | 700 East Stolley Park Road | Grand Island, NE 68801

Contact:  Lori Cox, (406) 570-6807

* Only accepting fencing supplies.

 

UNL Research Center at Mead | 1071 Rd. G | Ithaca, NE 68033

Contact: Doug Zalesky, (970) 759-8626 or (402) 624-8000

Hours:  Must call in advance to schedule drop-off.

* Only accepting fencing supplies.

 

MONETARY DONATIONS: 

 

Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund

Donations can be made by the following:

Phone:  (402) 475-2333

Online:  https://nebraskacattlemen.org/disaster-relief-fund/

Mail check made out to “Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund” to:  Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund | 4611 Cattle Drive | Lincoln, NE 68521

* Donations accepted until May 31, 2019.

 

Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund

Donations can be made by the following:

Phone:  Lona Thompson, (402) 421-4780

Online:  https://www.nefb.org/get-involved/disaster-assistance

Mail check made out to “Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation” to:  Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation | Attn:  Disaster Relief Fund | P.O. Box 80299 | Lincoln, NE 68501-0299

 

Nebraska Farmers Union Foundation

Donations can be made by the following:

Phone:  (402) 476-8815

Online:  http://nebraskafarmersunion.org

Mail check made out to “Nebraska Farmers Union Foundation” to:  Nebraska Farmers Union Foundation | 1305 Plum Street | Lincoln, NE 68502

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