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David McComb Big Thompson Flood Collection

Identifier: WBTF

Scope and Contents

The David McComb Big Thompson Flood Collection consists of documents dated from 1975 to 1985, with the bulk being from 1976 to 1978. The collection primarily consists of the tapes and transcripts created by Dr. McComb for his oral history project, along with other audio recordings, slides, photographs, newspaper clippings, and printed research material about the damage done during the flood, the rescue and clean-up operations, and reconstruction of the canyon and towns damaged by the flood. The collection also contains a narrated slide presentation on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.


  • Creation: 1975-1985
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1976-1978


Restrictions on Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Restrictions on Use

Not all of the material in the collection is in the public domain. Researchers are responsible for addressing copyright issues.


Dr. David McComb (born 1934) chronicled the aftermath of the Big Thompson flood which claimed 143 lives during the summer of 1976. McComb holds an M.A. from Rice University, an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. The author of over 100 articles and nine books, McComb became a professor at Colorado State University in 1968 and is currently an emeritus professor in the history department.

The Big Thompson flood has been called the worst natural disaster in Colorado history. On July 31, 1976, a violent rainstorm sent rushing water through the Big Thompson Canyon just west of Loveland. The flood demolished homes and businesses and claimed the lives of visitors and residents alike. Highway 34, a scenic road winding its way up Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park, became a muddy wasteland after the flood.

Shortly after the natural disaster occurred, McComb toured the area and recorded the damage done to the Big Thompson Canyon with photographs and slides. He spent many hours recording formal oral histories of victims' experiences during the flood and also interviewed government officials about the clean-up operation and plans for reconstruction of the canyon. He published his research as the book Big Thompson: Profile of a Natural Disaster.


6 linear feet (6 document boxes, 1 record carton, 1 flat box)

Language of Materials



On July 31, 1976, the Big Thompson Canyon, just west of Loveland, Colorado, was the scene of a flash flood which claimed 144 lives. The collection consists of oral history tapes and transcripts along with photographs, slides, audiotapes, newspaper clippings, and other material Colorado State University history professor Dr. David McComb compiled when researching for his book Big Thompson: Profile of a Natural Disaster. A portion of the collection is digitized and online.


The collection consists of 6 series in 8 boxes:

Series 1: Oral histories, 1976-1978

Series 2: Presentation: "Diversion: The Colorado-Big Thompson Water Project," 1984-1985

Series 3: KIIX broadcasts, 1976-1977

Series 4: Other audio and visual materials, 1975-1978 and undated

Subseries 4.1: Audio reels, 1976-1977 and undated

Subseries 4.2: Photographs and negatives, 1976

Subseries 4.3: Slides, 1975-1978 and undated

Series 5: Newspaper clippings, 1976-1978

Series 6: Miscellaneous documents, 1976


The Big Thompson Flood Collection was given to the Colorado Agricultural Archives by Dr. McComb. The collection was transferred to the Water Resources Archive in February 2004. Dr. McComb donated about 70 additional slides in June 2014.

Online Materials

Some materials have been scanned and are available through the Colorado State University Libraries website. In the electronic version of this document, direct links appear in context. Note that not all links are to the exact documents in this collection, but scans from other sources.

Related Collections

Related collections in the Water Resources Archive include those of Wright Water Engineers, Maurice L. Albertson, and Daryl B. Simons. Each contains images, information, and/or reports on the Big Thompson flood. History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society) has a set of the tapes and transcripts from McComb's flood interviews, cataloged as "Oral History Collection of the Big Thompson Canyon Disaster."


Processing was completed in March 2006 and included removal of all metal binders, paperclips, and staples. All slides and photographs were placed in protective sleeves, and negatives were placed in acid-free paper envelopes. Cassette tapes were placed in protective cases while the reel-to-reel tapes remain in their original boxes. When Social Security Numbers or other sensitive information was found on the back of rough drafts of the oral history transcripts, the front of the page was photocopied and the original pages were destroyed. The documents were stored in acid-free folder and boxes. Newspaper clippings were photocopied while whole newspapers or sections were preserved in their original state. Books on the flood were removed from the collection and added to library holdings. Processing of the 2014 addition was completed in June 2014 and consisted of sleeving the slides and adding them at the end of Box 7. Some duplicates and unrelated slides were discarded.

Inventory Note

Note: Estimated pagination is preceded by an "e."

Guide to the David McComb Big Thompson Flood Collection
Edited Full Draft
Prepared by Gayle Sharp; revised by Patricia J. Rettig
Copyright 2016
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the CSU Libraries Archives & Special Collections Repository

Fort Collins Colorado 80523-1019 USA