Railroad Museum exhibit commemorates 1973 Enid flood

Retha Joslin (left) and Edna Campbell work on a display for the history wall at Railroad Museum of Oklahoma on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. The display features photos from the 1973 flood in Enid. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

Saturday is the 47th anniversary of the 1973 flood that claimed nine lives and dozens of homes in Enid, and Railroad Museum of Oklahoma is asking the public to share their photos and stories from the flood for an exhibit on display through October.

Retha Joslin, secretary of the museum, said she has vivid memories of the night of Oct. 10-11, 1973, when 15 inches of rain fell in nine hours.

"I remember that night all so well, though I was only 10 years old at the time," Joslin said. "I remember walking up and down Grand Street where we lived, between Ash and Cedar, in the pouring rain. The flood waters rose so quickly that many had no time to get away."

Joslin said her father, Joseph “Pete” Peterman, knew about operating a small boat in rushing waters, from many family ski trips to the Chikaskia River. The night of the flood, Peterman was one of the local men called on by the fire department to help rescue people stranded by the flood waters.

"He had a simple Starcraft aluminum boat, maybe 17 feet, with a 50-horse — yes, only 50-horse — Evinrude shrimping boat motor," Joslin said. "That boat and motor would pull five of us kids and adults as we skied on the Chikaskia River. We grew up enjoying weekends on the river, so Daddy knew the power of swift running water."

Joslin said her father made several trips that night, filling his aluminum boat with stranded residents and bringing them to dry ground.

"He saved many people from rooftops and out of trees as they clung to life waiting for help," Joslin said. "Some of them he said he literally threw them over the side to keep them from being swept away in the current as he held tightly to the steering wheel."

Joslin said her father "was a small man, but strong and determined." And, she said, those he helped that night remembered his actions for years afterward.

"I particularly recall an elderly man and woman Daddy found as they screamed for help on top the refrigerator in their home, and pulled them through the house to this boat," Joslin said. "That couple, for many years, until their natural death, visited Daddy, gave him Christmas gifts, and was so very thankful of Daddy’s heroic efforts that night."

Each year around Oct. 10, Joslin said she remembers not just the heroics of her father and so many other volunteers, but also the tragedy of those who didn't survive the flood.

"I sadly remember that some of the daddies did not make it home that night," Joslin said. "A close friend of Mom’s lost her husband in the flood. The children of that family were very close friends of all of our family, near the ages of my siblings. It saddens me to know that they didn’t get to share the joys of growing up with their daddy.

"Each year I say a little prayer for that family," Joslin said, "and for all the other families who lost loved ones in the October 1973 flood."

Joslin encouraged others who have photos or memories of the flood to share them with the museum by email at railroad_museum@att.net, or by bringing them to the museum, at 702 N. Washington.

The exhibit will run through Oct. 31, during normal museum hours, 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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