In 1947 I was working with my Dad on a farm which was 6 feet above sea level. I was fifteen years old and my father, Phil Roberts, was farming two and a half sections of muck at the Twenty Mile Bend in The Everglades. The farm was halfway between the Canal Point and West Palm Beach.
We were on the South side of the Palm Beach Highway. It was hurricane season and we hadn`t planted much winter crops yet. We had a warning from the Miami Hurricane Center that a storm was crossing the Bahamas and heading our way. This was before the hurricane spotters and we had very little warning. At this time, my job was running the pumps that kept the fields dry. My Dad had given me this job in the summer the year before. Now he told me a storm was coming and to keep one pump running at an idle to hold the ditches down to a trickle.
This was the main pump house and we had three UD-14 International Harvester diesel engines that pumped 36,000 gallons of water a minute each.
Along about seven o`clock that evening the storm hit. The first shower dumped seven and one half inches in an hour and forty five minutes. The rain was falling so fast, there was a foot of water in the shop yard beside the pump house. I had started the other two pumps and all three was running wide open, one hundred and eight thousand gallons of water was being pumped per minute and the water was gaining on them!
By four o`clock in the morning, the water from the Palm Beach canal which I was pumping into, was running two feet deep back through the pump house and back into the field. Dad and the farm crew had been getting the tractors and as much farm equipment as they could, out to the highway. He had the help loaded in the farm bus ready to head to high ground, which was twenty miles away on the ridge of Lake Okeechobee. Dad came by the pump house and told me to "Shut the pumper down, and let`s get outta here!" He said the big rain gauge said twenty two inches, and it was still raining!
We had to pick our way along the highway, there was trees down that we had to have the crew move, and washouts through the road we had to cross. When we got the help back in their quarters and we got home, it was way up in the morning. And when my Dad told my Mother that the farming was over, she panicked and was worried how we were going to eat and pay bills. There wasn`t any welfare or food stamps back then. My brother and I had faith in our Dad and knew it might be catfish and swamp cabbage, but we wouldn`t starve.
Phil Roberts, Father to Bill Roberts
The year before, when Dad had gotten his yearly bonus, he had bought a nice little inboard boat. As luck would have it, he was hired by the Corps of Engineers to patrol the Palm Beach canal from Canal Point to Twenty Mile Bend and report washouts. It was a government job and paid a whopping seventy two dollars every 24 hours. Seventy two dollars a day was better than welfare.
My Dad got my Uncle Bob to help him to run the boat around the clock. At that time, there were farmers who wanted the runoff to go through where the road was, so from time to time, they dynamited the road to help the situation.
Dad had the patrol boat to report these "washouts." And if anybody asked me if I`d ever seen it rain, I told them I had,..."ONCE!"