Interview: Bob and Marilyn Miller, 1955 Flood (and more)

On Jan. 11, 2013 I interviewed Bob and Marilyn Miller in their home. They shared their memories of a daring flood rescue and much more! Read on and enjoy. (2 photos)

Dec. 23, 1955, Felton Fire Hall Christmas Party:

Bob is a Felton Fireman. He and Marilyn own Miller’s Refrigeration and Appliance Service on Highway 9 in Felton (across from the high school where Heidi’s Closet is now). Marilyn’s second baby is due that very day. It’s been raining hard. By around 7:00 p.m. water is coming in under the door at the Firehouse. Bob and his dad, Holly (who was the radio man) stayed at the Firehouse. Marilyn and 19 month old daughter, Martha went home with family.

An emergency call came in. Felton Grove was flooding. Bob recalls that he, Nick and Roy Pagnini, Red Sinnott, Bill Wright and George Hutchcroft met up at Felton Grove. Park Ave. and Circle Dr. were flooded right up to the Dance Hall.

A dramatic rescue involved an older woman who was trapped in flood water “up to the chin” at 182 Sylvan Way. (note from Vicki: When I showed Bob a map of the Felton Grove and asked him where this rescue took place, he scanned the map and pointed with certainty to the property at the corner of Sylvan Way and Circle Dr.)

As Bob held the battery operated lantern, Nick and Red swam to rescue the woman. Bob recalls Nick diving under the flood water and coming out with the lady on his shoulders.

At one point during this cold, exhausting night, Bob, who is 6’2″ put Roy up into a tree in front of 172 Circle Dr. (again using the map) so that Roy could take a quick break. They were all soaked.

They needed a boat so they commandeered a row boat, but it had no oars. Bob said that George used a shovel and someone else used a piece of wood to paddle. Bill Wright was also in the rescue boat.

Safe at home but ready to go into labor any minute, Bob’s wife, Marilyn told me how she stood at the rear window of her home that night and watched whole trees, logs and all kinds of debris float down the raging and rising San Lorenzo River. Their baby, Michael, was born at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. He was known as the “Flood Baby”.

Capt. Ed Note: Bob told me he serviced Capt. Ed’s refrigeration system in 1953/54. At that time there was a pre-WW2 steel corrugated structure at Capt. Ed’s that was used as a dining hall at the Felton Grove boy’s camp. It was about the size of a double garage. All was washed away in the 1955 flood.

During this delightful interview, Bob and Marilyn offered a few additional tidbits about Felton history that I couldn’t resist including here:

Tidbit #1 – Home Plate: Home plate from one of the old Felton ball fields was donated to the Felton Fire Dept. by Bill Wright and is now one of the cornerstones at the concrete apron at the corner of the current Firehouse building that fronts on Hihn St.

Tidbit #2 – Miller’s sold appliances to the man who owned several cabins on Covered Bridge Rd. in the 1950’s/60’s. This man was in the fireworks business in San Francisco. He would pay Bob and Marilyn what he owed in cash each year right after 4th of July.

Tidbit #3 – TV: Miller’s was the first to sell TV’s in the valley. With the help of a tree climber, Bob and his friend Al Hiley, would install antenna’s in tall redwood trees so customers could receive a signal from the new KSBW station (1953/54).  Bob, having the first TV reception in town, had several friends come over to watch the World Series.

Tidbit #4 – Felton Woodpeckers Baseball Team: There was another ball field which was at the entrance to Henry Cowell Park. Bob and Marilyn described how folks would watch the games from their cars and when someone scored a home run, everyone would honk their horns. To help support the team, someone would go around with a donation can, tapping on the car windows. You’d donate whatever you could afford.

About the Millers: Bob and Marilyn moved to Felton in 1953 and opened Miller’s Refrigeration and Appliance Service in Felton (where Heidi’s Closet is now). The store was in the front of the building and their small, 1 bedroom home was in the rear. As their family grew, they added on to the back of the house.

Final Note: (This is my favorite part and the reason I included the photo of Bob’s truck and store in this post.)  Bob and Marilyn had a 1951 Chevrolet they traded in for the 1949 Chevy truck plus $500 which they used to start their Felton business in 1953. (See photos)

Miller's Refrigeration and Appliance Service, 1950's Courtesy Miller Family.

Miller’s Refrigeration and Appliance Service, 1950’s Courtesy Miller Family.

Bob and Marilyn Miller 60th Wedding Anniversary Courtesy Miller Family

Bob and Marilyn Miller 60th Wedding Anniversary Courtesy Miller Family

This entry was posted in 1955 Flood, Baseball, Capt. Ed's Boyland, Dance Hall, Felton Grove History, Interviews, San Lorenzo River and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Interview: Bob and Marilyn Miller, 1955 Flood (and more)

  1. vickiwees says:

    These stories and the 2 photos are wonderful!

  2. Lawrence says:

    So I suppose most of the houses in the floodway were built after the 1955 flood?
    How was this ever allowed? I know the grove is a beautiful place, but it would have been better to leave it a campground. I think most of the bacteria in the San Lorenzo river (and Santa Cruz’s water supply) originates from the grove…

    It was a truly gorgeous campground!

  3. vickiwees says:

    Hi Lawrence, The Environmental Health Dept. has said that the San Lorenzo River is in large part polluted by septic systems (some faulty) along the river, creeks, streams and seasonal drainage/run-off paths that all feed into the river from Boulder Creek to Santa Cruz. The U.S. has many ocean, lake and riverfront developments in flood plains. Felton Grove has been restricted from further development for many years. Fortunately, improved septic systems are now being installed locally in our sensitive areas.
    The 1955 flood was the worst on record. I’ve heard it was called a “100 year flood”. The smaller floods were easier to recover from and some homes were built a few feet above ground level so flood problems were not as severe.
    You’re right. It was a truly gorgeous campground.

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