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Million Dollar Corner

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There's no sign, near or far, but every last soul in the region knows the intersection of the major two-lane-ers in the county--highways 75 and 10--is, was, and has been for as long as anyone can remember, the "Million Dollar Corner." It lays out there on a low plain all by its lonesome, closest burg is a little town named Maurice, three miles south.

It's a surprisingly busy northwest Iowa intersection. A gas station tried to make a go of it on the southeast corner, but successive floods likely dampened enthusiasm, no matter that Million Dollar Corner handles as much traffic as any corner in the county.

The nickname, if you listen closely, has a sneer to it, as if some local wag despised government spending and assessed the whole corner to be a lousy "boondoggle," even though that long quarter-mile bridge, north and south, was paid for by the Great Northern, not danged Washington big spenders.

Years ago, a long-time newspaper man here told me the corner was called that because of a tragedy, death by drowning that could never be forgotten—a father and son swept away in a flood right there, where the only water is a creek that barely whispers most of the year, the West Branch of the Floyd.

On Saturday, September 27, 1926, M. J. Van Wyk reported the official rainfall at Hull to be 14 inches from an unrelenting storm. Supervisor Kamminga, from Boyden, claimed an empty barrel of his held two feet of water when the rains ceased.

Not far away, a harried one-room schoolteacher kept her kids inside while around the building water rose into a roiling horror. All night she held out, while the kids' folks kept everything lit at a nearby farm place where the whole lot of them waited prayerfully for their childrens' deliverance. A boy of DeVries was lost, his wagon swept away when he tried a rescue. Like the teacher, "little Miss Mouw," the boy of DeVries was eighteen-years-old.

What happened at the corner claimed a father and son, a Mr. Terpstra, from Hospers, on his way to Sioux Center. Hospers is a straight shot east from where he was going, but Terpstra had to angle out of the way to avoid flood waters that eventually took them anyway.

He was a jeweler, a businessman, on his way to pick up his wife from all day church doings. He'd turned north from Million Dollar Corner, when his tires stuck in a washout. He and his boy, just seven-years-old, climbed out of the car, even got to the roof, which made the tragedy public. People on the banks of the raging West Branch saw it all. The bodies showed up a couple days later, mud-laden, downstream.

Newspaper accounts back then locate the sadness at "Million Dollar Corner," which means that intersection had its nickname already in 1926, almost a century ago, before the drowning.

Then why am I retelling that whole sad story? Why not just let those tears evaporate into a foggy ancient past? Maybe because I'd like to think that a million dollars worth of bridge-building and heavy-duty dirt work was no boondoggle, wasn't wasted taxes at all.

There's a huge crane over the north end of that long railroad bridge today. Some repair is going on to keep the BNSF freights from messy derailments.

Besides, I shouldn't have to tell the descendants of all those Dutch folks in the neighborhood that cleanliness is next to Godliness, order is better than chaos, that being ready for something torrential is better than letting it happen again.

The suggestion that the place is named after construction after that deadly flood isn’t wrong, even though historically it's not true. Mark Twain got it right long ago: "The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."

Every time I come over the hill just east of Million Dollar Corner, I honestly don't mind being reminded that once upon a time. . .well, now you know the story.

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa.
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