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Colfax Sesquicentennial 2014: 100-year floods 1965 & 1967

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — In honor of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration July 17-20, 2014, the history installment for this edition of the Colfax Messenger is Part 2 of the story about two 100-year floods on the Red Cedar River in 1965 and again in 1967. The floods caused NSP to permanently shut down the power plant on the Red Cedar River in what is now Felland Park. The floods also caused problems with the Colfax wastewater treatment plant on state Highway 170 just west of the bridge, eventually leading to the village installing the existing lagoon system.

Part 13: More Water Damage

The headline on the front page of the April 6, 1967, Colfax Messenger reads: Rivers Bend Again Ravaged by Rampaging Red Cedar.

Along with the story, two pictures were published showing water streaming over state Highway 170 and water almost as high as the dam on Eighteen Mile Creek. The caption for the photo of the dam reads. “Looking just below the large tree trunk one can see the upper portion of the dam on Eighteen Mile Creek. Not too long before the picture was taken there was just a ripple of water to show where the dam was located.”

Here is story that was published in the Messenger:

Realizing that there was plenty of snow to cause severe flooding, everyone in the area was under the impression that with the way the snow was slowly melting for a number of days that the practically frost-free ground would absorb the water as it occurred.

Then things weatherwise changed: one day (78 degrees) was sufficient to simply cause the snow covering to disappear, and with that a severe run-off.

Immediately, the up-to-that-time docile Red Cedar River, which had remained within its banks, became a wild and furious body of water.

About midnight Thursday night, the siren was sounded to summon volunteers to assist with the evacuating of fourteen families from the Rivers Bend area, together with what furniture that could be hurriedly loaded. What couldn’t be moved was placed on upper floors to escape water should it enter homes.

Highway 170 was closed; 22-Mile ford was impassable, and the bridge on 64 was cut off plus other numerous roads made impassable by high waters. Anyone wishing to enter Colfax from the west had to cross Lambs Creek Falls or the bridge near Picnic Point.

Flood stage of the river this year was some 18 inches to two feet higher than that two years ago, and its highest point there was just a ripple showing where the Mirror Lake dam was. Had it gone higher, a back-up of water would have taken place in the lake.

Road damage through Rivers Bend was rather extensive along the side of the road, but only one spot required fill to make it useable again.

Homes of Ausman Fjelstad, Mrs. Gullickson, and Ed Schanen had waters come into the first floor with a large wash-out being made under a portion of the Fjelstad home.

Water became so high at the NSP power plant that it was seeping through the floor. An effort was made to remove a small portion of the dirt dike just above the power house, and when the ice in the flume was loosened it struck the dike so hard that a portion was completely washed away and the plant was closed. Late Sunday afternoon a large retaining wall at the power house toppled into the flume because the waters having undermined it to a considerable degree. Much work will be necessary before the plant can be put in operation again.

Two years ago extensive damage was sustained at the village sewage disposal plant, but protective measures were installed there and even though the river reached a higher stage, the plant was practically unharmed. Fences surrounding the grounds were washed away and, naturally, stones were scattered all about the plant.

By Sunday noon, waters had receded to a point where the hole in 170 was filled and traffic was again possible through that section.

Test wells

Another article on the front page of the April 6, 1967, Colfax Messenger urged residents in the Rivers Bend area to test their water wells for contamination. The recommendation came from Dr. G. Neumann, one of the dentists in Colfax, who also was the village’s health officer.

“According to Dr. G Neumann, residents of Rivers Bend should have water from their wells tested to be assured it is free of contamination from the flood waters.

“It’s a rather simple process to have it tested. Operate the well for a time and then with a torch shoot the flame around the spout where the water comes out; run the pump again, and then fill a jar which can be secured from the Commercial Dairy Lab., and they will do the testing.

“Should waters be determined unfit for use, contact Dr. Neumann, village health officer, for information as to purifying the well.”


The next week, in the April 13, 1967, edition of the Messenger, Northern States Power announced that it would be closing the power plant on the Red Cedar River permanently.

Here is the article as it appeared in the Messenger:

Tuesday afternoon, J.H. Schrier, of Amery, NSP representative, met with village president, Harry Hill, and clerk, Noel Hilson; and Colfax township chairman, Lloyd Kragness, to explain the closing of the NSP power plant in Colfax.

Schrier gave a short history of the plant and explained that all such small operations as Colfax were doomed to pass out of existence since overhead in these modern times was greater than revenue received. He mentioned numerous other such instances where like situations now exist.

Had it not been for the recent flood and the damage to the dike and cement walls at the power plant, closing of the same perhaps would not have occurred for five years.

He stated that personnel employed as operators, Arnold Sumstad, Juel Melgaard, and Jerry Larson would be given opportunity to continue work with the company and that two of them, Sumstad and Melgaard, would be placed in the Cedar Falls plant, one on Friday, the other on Monday, if they desired, and they would, therefore, be able to continue their residence in Colfax. Larson will also be afforded an opportunity of continuing with the company but possibly in a different capacity than plant work. Sam Popple, the fourth operator, who has been afflicted with a heart ailment for some time, will also be given consideration of further duty if and when his health permits.

NSP will place its request before the Public Service Commission to close the plant within the next few weeks and the decision of the commission as to what must be done as concerns the dam and powerhouse will be learned following a hearing which will be held at the commission’s discretion.

Hearing adjourned

The June 8, 1967, Colfax Messenger published an article with the headline, “Hearing on Dam Abandonment Adjourned for 120 Days.”

The hearing about abandoning the NSP power plant on the Red Cedar River was held at the courthouse in Menomonie on June 2 and was adjourned for 120 days.

The head electrical engineer for NSP related “economical facts to show that continuance of the power plant was feasible due to changing times.”

The article goes on to say, “Statements from residents of the village and the Town of Colfax were not heard at the hearing, for Attorney Danielson, representing the village and town, requested that a 120-day adjournment be granted so that engineers from the Corps of Engineers might study the situation, especially as concerns flooding of certain areas, and when their views are obtained, all interested parties will be notified and the hearing continued.”