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The Slough of ’62

It is with great interest that I read on your editorial page of April 8 about “Big Slough’s Surprise.” However, I beg to differ with you on the effect of Big Slough this time around compared to what many old-timers know of the “Big Rain Storm in the Fall of 1962.”

R.A. Cheney Griffin was mayor, H.D. “Oakie” Reinhardt was the Civil Defense chief and J.L. Pilcher from Meigs, Ga., was our representative in Washington, D.C. All played a part in the big storm, and its aftermath.

That fall in 1962, a tropical storm named Hortence marched up the entire Peninsula of Florida, stalled and dropped 18 inches of rain in a four-day period, over much of deep Southwest Georgia.

Joe Hill and myself were acting as weathermen for the radio station WAZA, located on Broughton Street on the square, and owned by the late Joe Grollman. The road to Cairo was closed by high water for about 30 days. The detour sign was located at the corner of Shotwell and Sims, at a grocery, The Eastside Grocery.

A mobile home park, near where Bainbridge College is located today, was completely under water.

The slough outlet nearby had undermined the rail trestle to the point it needed to be built up with earth also. There was no “Slough Loop” housing in those days at all, but large areas off Open Pond Road and Black Jack suffered from the slough backup and runoff. On the east bank of the slough, people like Clyde Howell, 1962 owner of the Economy Auto Store on East Water Street, had flooding. Old Thomasville Road was flooded for a long time in several places.

Earnest Vandiver was governor, and no help came from his office at all. For about a month it was detours, and then a ray of hope came from “Oakie” Reinhardt.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was in full swing in October 1962, and the Bainbridge to Cairo to Thomasville U.S. 84 (two lane) was a major evacuation route in case of war. Cheney, H.D., John A. (Toby) Dowdy and others got together and called J.L. Pilcher, and told him the situation.

The results were startling. Rep. Pilcher had called the White House and talked to President John F. Kennedy.

Within a span of a little over 24 hours, a train loaded with heavy equipment arrived; front-end loaders, scrapers, dozers, paving equipment, power shovels, etc. In less than two weeks, 10 days to be exact, the trestle was strengthened and packed with an earth buildup, as it is today.

The highway was raised to its present level and paved, and U.S. 84 was open. It also seems that the Defense headquarters for the southern United States was also located at the time in a huge atomic bomb-proof shelter complex in Thomasville at the sight where the present Southwestern State Hospital in today. We didn’t know it at the time, but H.D. “Oakie” Reinhardt did. He’d been trained there.

All in all, Bainbridge came out a winner in the situation, although Hortence did her worst, and 18 inches of rain did more flooding than this recent 14 inches of rain and the runoff which, incidentally, some people don’t know, come from the rains in, around and above Camilla, Ga., where the main part of the slough starts.

The slough, part of which nature made, has also been augmented by the Corps of Engineers over the years since 1948 with runoff side channels, etc. The slough ran in 1962, and didn’t in the Great Flood of 1994, and ran again this month. And I bet it will rise again for awhile with this 4-new inches of rain we got Monday. I live on the Vada Road, six miles out, but on top of a hill, thank goodness; but I go over the Slough Bridge, also known as The Four Mile Bridge, every day.

Yours TrulyRay Read Jr.