Tribute to Bob Brimacomb

I’m home again and the flood waters are receding. They have left a big mess to clean up. It’s still too early to know just how much of a loss it will be.

On a happier note, I missed the Laura Days in Burr Oak, but they went on as scheduled. Bad weather didn’t really hit until mid-afternoon on Sunday, so I don’t think it caused too much trouble.

As many of you may know, the Burr Oak Laura museum lost one of its best friends last summer. Bob Brimacomb was the husband of Ferneva Brimacomb, the former director of the site, who did such an outstanding job. Bob was with her every step of the way. He always helped them with the Days celebration and often lent a hammer or an idea when something was needed around the museum. He traveled with Ferneva to many Laura events, including the big DeSmet event of a couple of years ago where some of you may have met him. He was a Laura fan and a local historian. He was a big loss to the Burr Oak bus trip out to Malone last year and to the community every day since. To honor Bob ,the Burr Oak Laura Days parade this year featured a riderless horse, with backwards boots in the stir-ups, a symbol of a rider lost. A similar tribute was part of the JFK Presidential funeral procession. I’m sure Bob appreciated it. Ferneva shared this photo with me and gave me permission to share it. bob-tribute-0084

Last updated: June 23 2017: I added my current signature block and made the photo larger. Sending Bob good thoughts and respect.

Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, LinkedIn, and Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.


One-Room Conference In Spite of Floods

Originally I was supposed to go to the one-room school conference in Oxford, Ohio this week. Most of the week I thought I wasn’t going to be here, but my friend LeighAnn Randak of the Johnson County Historical Society (which is currently fighting of the flood) wouldn’t be stopped. It look us 13 hours door to door, but we made it, although getting around Iowa City and I-80 were the hardest part of the trip. Illinois was fine, but we had to keep detouring around high water and road damage in Indianna.

We had a single track yesterday with subjects ranging from one-room school lunches (me) to the use of reed organs and Victorolas to the McGuffey Readers. McGuffey taught here and they have a special collection of McGuffey Readers, papers and other writings. Yesterday we saw a special display from that collection and a copy of the world’s largest book which was also currently on display (although it was unrelated). Today in addition to the program we’ll be having a tour of the McGuffey house.

Flood Update 2

The water continues to recede in Cedar Rapids, but it will be a long time before the infrastructure is repaired. There is terrible flooding in Des Moines as well. At present the only way we can get to Cedar Rapids is through Des Moines (added time 4 hours). The downtown is now visible in places and park benches and concrete planters, art work and a few sad sandbags remain on the street.  Good news that the Czech museum got out two full semi loads of materials before the water came. The Johnson County Historical Society in Coralville also got out a lot of their materials which is good because the water is very high there and still rising. 

I’m speaking at a conference tomorrow and things lined up so I decided to go. The hardest part was getting around Iowa City (only 2 bridges still open this morning and 1 due to close soon). Then we had to get out of Iowa without using I-80 (2 feet of water over the road in Cedar County). Illinois was fine, but we had a terrible time getting around the flood again in Indiana, but finally got here! Hope I can get back home!

Flood Update

The water is starting to go down in Cedar Rapids. It’s crested and dropped a little bit leaving a scum line. Iowa  City and Coralville who are on the Iowa River still have a couple of days to crest. They are going to be closing the rest of the Iowa City bridges except I-80’s.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library said that they only moved books to higher shelves. That means that most likely a lot of those books, including a very extensive and somewhat irreplaceable genealogy collection is likely gone. The clipping file which had been cut back, but one I was just getting copies out of a couple of months ago is likely gone and they lost a lot of computers.

Ushers Ferry Historic Village is in water up to the porch of the visitors center. It is likely that there is water damage to all, but 3 of the buildings (they have over 30) and the log cabin is gone. The video footage of May’s Island shows the Grant Wood stain glass window is still there. Czech village is totally under water to the awning. The Coralville strip is under water.

This afternoon we had another severe thunderstorm and hail.

500 Year Flood

UPDATE June 26, 2015 – It doesn’t seem possible that we just passed the 8th year anniversary from this major flood. Reconstruction continues and just this month Cedar Rapids rolled out the final decade long version of a flood control system. The flood did a lot of damage, first from the water and then from the flood recovery “expert” that talked the city into making a lot of decisions that ultimately caused issues and cost more money than it should have. Every time we drive over the 5 in 1 bridge, the one bridge to stay open because it was so very far above the river, my mother keeps saying “I don’t know where the water came from, how it stayed that long, and where it went.” We should also be grateful that it was mainly property that was damaged not people and hopefully next time people will react quickly when word reaches them that a flood is coming.

This was my first report on the flood. Find more at: (June 2008) (June 2008) (July 2008) (Cedar Rapids Public Library – July 2008) (December 2008) (2014)

I add the update paragraph above and links to other flood related posts. I didn’t add those that were mostly web addresses that were no longer valid. I also added headings and current signature block below.

First Report on 500 Year Flood of 2008

Right now we’re in the middle of a 500 year flood. That means there is a 1 in 500 chance that we will have a flood this bad every year. We’ve actually had bad floods in 1851, 1929, 1961, and 1993 in Cedar Rapids. The 1929 flood was the record setter at roughly 21 feet. We’re now pushing 30 feet. 1993 was known as the year without a summer. Flood was high several times. I was working at Ushers Ferry Historic Village at the time and we watched many a day as the log cabin (the lowest point in the building) and then the depot (next in line)  were slowly surrounded, made islands, then water going in.  At the high point the water came just up to the top edge of the village green. We’re 10 feet of flood water above that.

Cedar Rapids Downtown

The entire downtown is underwater up to the top of the first floor. Smulekoff’s furniture store had furniture floating around in it yesterday.  The Czech museum is in water about up to its roof. The first floor of the public library is gone.  Water has reached Mercy Hospital, which is blocks out of the 500 year flood plain, has been reached by water and been evacuated.


Upstream Vinton, home of the state School for the Blind, has been having terrible trouble. Much of the town has been evacuated. Water got into the power substation and they have been without power. Bridges going into and out of Vinton are closed. There is a shelter in the Blind School gym.

Iowa City

Water is 4 feet over the spillway and pouring down. The lowest parts of Iowa City are already under deep water and the water won’t crest there for four days at least.

Our Farm

Our farm is well out of the water because it was one of the things my grandmother insisted on when she picked it out. Several family members have lost power temporarily. A neighbor on a different power company now has a good share of one of our freezers.

Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+,LinkedIn, and She is currently President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.


This week is Tractorcade, over 400 tractors of all makes and models driving through the Iowa countryside. This is their 9th year, but brother went on two of them. It’s quite a sight. A few years ago it went right by our house. 😉

Read about it in the New York Times. Find that link and more information about the ride on their official website.
Old Tractors Don’t Die, They Just Ride in Parades

Tornados, Severe Thunderstorms, and Flooding, OH MY!

I missed Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Burr Oak. Some things just came up, but it turns out it was lucky it didn’t work out.  Two weeks ago an EF5 tornado took out the town of Parkersburg in NE Iowa, a couple of counties away from Burr Oak. The pattern of cold and warm fronts running into each other over Iowa has continued. There was a tornado yesterday near Tama. Nothing that bad in Burr Oak, but severe thunderstorms (heavy rain, lightning, hail, and straight line winds). The build up of rain has also caused flooding, some they are predicting at over 1993 100 year flood levels. Travel is not advised in Winneshiek County and several others I would have had to drive through to get home. I hope their event wasn’t completely ruined and I invite people to visit Burr Oak during the rest of the summer, as I’m sure I will.