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Farmers' Hopes Sink in Waters of Mississippi

July 10, 1993|TRACY SHRYER and RICHARD E. MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS. Shryer reported from Nichols and Meyer from Los Angeles

Even after that, they will not be able to use their tractors. The soil is saturated. "The more you drive on it," Mike Walker said, "the squishier it gets. You can see your ground moving. It's like quicksand."

Both men, father and son, like to think positively. Maybe they can salvage a 30% harvest. There might, however, be an early frost. On the other hand, higher prices at the Chicago Board of Trade could mean making more per bushel. But then there will be far fewer bushels. In any case, there will not be enough money to support the two of them.

Mike will have to find a job in town. He is single and has no children, so he might be able to scrape by. Maybe, he says, he can get work as a trucker or a machinist. If he does, he will continue to help his father farm, as well.

Eugene Walker still gets up at 5:30 a.m. every day for coffee at Casey's General Store in Nichols. In any other year, he and the other farmers would be boasting about their crops. "It's a good feeling," he said, "to have a beautiful harvest." Not these days. They talk instead about how much rain has fallen.

Normally, they would expect about 32 inches. But this year, they have gotten 50 inches to date--27 of them since March.

But it is a hard subject, so there is not as much talk as usual. "Some people are taking it pretty hard," Walker said. The same is true at Nichols Agri-Service, where the farmers buy their fertilizer and herbicides. "Nobody's in really a good mood," explained the assistant manager. "But there's nothing you can really do about it.

"Nobody's ever seen anything like this."

Eugene Walker has not slept well for at least a couple of nights, according to his wife, Ione. "But if it's bothering him a lot, he's not telling me about it. It's just beyond our control."

Still, Eugene Walker will continue to live off the land.

"I grew up on a farm," he said, climbing out of his truck. "It's a way of life for us. All I've ever wanted to do, all I know how to do, is farm.

"No one will hire me now.

"I intend to farm until I'm 65 and turn it over to Mike."

There was, the Walkers agree, one good thing that came from the flood.

They found it during their tour of the fields. It was a snapping turtle, one of several that have come out of Wapsie Creek and crossed the wet acreage looking in vain for a place to dry out and bask in the sun.

This one weighed 18 pounds.

Mike Walker picked it up by the tail. It snapped viciously. He pitched it into the bed of the pickup.

The Walkers and other farmers in the Midwest like to butcher snapping turtles, pan fry them and eat them. Parts, they say, taste like chicken; other parts taste more like a good steak.

Eugene and Mike Walker took this one to Agri-Service to have it weighed. They dropped it into a tub to soak it clean.

On their way home, they picked up some letters from their mailbox alongside the road. They spent some time working on their tractors, and they got to the house in time to hear Ione Walker talking to a visitor about her faith.

Worrying about something like the flood, she said, "doesn't help anything."

"I say there is a reason for everything," she said. "There's always some good out of it."

"Yeah," her husband said, wryly. "Some good turtle meat."

High-Water Marks

Water levels at various points of the Mississippi River as of Friday morning. Because of continuing storms, some areas are facing a series of crests. All figures are in feet.

Since June, rainfall has been twice as high as normal in this area.

St. Paul, Minn. River level: 16.7 Flood stage: 14 Crest expected near 17 on Monday *

Davenport, Iowa River level: 23 Flood stage: 15 Crested Friday at 23 *

St. Louis River level: 41 Flood stage: 30 Crest expected near 45 on Wednesday *

Caruthersville, Mo.* River level: 28 Flood stage: 32 Crest expected at 33 on July 17 * Southernmost point that the weather service is predicting flooding *

Memphis, Tenn. River level: 22 Flood stage: 34 Crest expected at 28 on July 19 *

New Orleans River level: 8.8 Flood stage: 17 Crest expected at 12 on July 28 Source: National Weather Service

One of History's Worst

The 10 worst floods on the Mississippi, as measured by water depth and flow at St. Louis, and ranked by the Army Corps of Engineers:

River height Gallons Year (feet) per second 1. 1973 43.31 6,372,960 2. 1844 41.32 9,724,000 3. 1951 40.28 5,849,360 4. 1947 40.26 5,856,840 5. 1983 39.27 5,295,840 6. 1944 39.14 6,313,120 7. 1986 39.13 5,445,440 8. 1943 38.94 4,039,200 9. 1903 38.00 7,622,120 10. 1982 37.98 5,527,720 Current flooding 41.20 5,647,400

Source: Army Corps of Engineers

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