FULLERTON, Neb. – Not far beneath a photo of the late Fritz and Janet Engel hanging up at the Fullerton Livestock Market, is a faint line that starts four-and-a-half-foot high and runs along the wall, clear-around the front office area. 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, remembers 1966, when the waters rose another time, “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 haystacks 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.”
This time, the flood waters rose even higher around Fullerton, but luckily did not reach the residential district of the community of around 1,200 people, that sits in-between where the Loup and Cedar rivers merge, Lu said, “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. 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 though and also reached the café countertops where Lu had feverishly moved all the canned goods from the shelves below, “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.”
Lu has a simple, but ominous photo of that door she quickly took with her phone from the inside of the sale barn that 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.”
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 1980s, 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 2012, I retired and became totally involved down here,” Lu said. “We all work together in some way or another. My brothers work for us, nephews, great nieces, and all our kids help – 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.”
“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,’” Lu said.
The flood hit on March 13 and there was supposed to be a sale March 15. On 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.”