Statement of Conductor S.E. Bell

Q. You were conductor on what train?
A. First No. 8; first Day Express.

Q. That was on Friday?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What day of the month, do you recollect?
A. The 31st of May.

Q. Did you leave Pittsburgh on time?
A. Yes, sir, we left on time.

Q. Where was the first stop you made?
A. East Liberty was the first place we stopped.

Q. What time did you reach Johnstown, Mr. Bell?
A. On time at 10.13.

Q. What was the condition of the river when you got there?
A. Well, the river was high, and Johnstown was flooded to some extent.

Q. Do you know how high the water had gotten up in the houses a [sic] at that time?
A. Well, I think it was up in the first floor at that time.

Q. You mean the first or second floor?
A. The first floor, I would call it.

Q. Did you ever see such a flood as that in the Conemaugh before?
A. Well, I think it was as high as it was at that time (10 o'clock when we got there) two years ago.

Q. Now, you left Johnstown on time---
A. No, we arrived there on time, and laid there twelve or fifteen minutes.

Q. Did you get orders there?
A. We got orders to follow Mail carefully under green signal to Conemaugh.

Q. Which you did?
A. Which I did, yes, sir.

Q. Well, now, Mr. Bell, go on in your own way, without my asking any questions, and tell the whole story.
A. Well, we reached Conemaugh; we made the run up there in ten minutes. When we got there, they were going to back us on the river siding, next along the river, but the track had been washed out some there, and finally the dispatcher ordered us over on the other side of the main tracks, on the north side of the main tracks, and we backed in there, and laid until I suppose half-past one or two o'clock. That was west of the tower on the north side of the main tracks: then as ordered us to pull up above that, in next to the station. O r [sic] train was then standing on the second track from the station with the engine right in front of the station house door. The second section pulled up on the track next to the station, right alongside of our train, on the north side of our train. Well there were some freight cars right in front of us, in front of our helper; (we had coupled a helping engine on there to take us up the mountain). We had to cut this helping engine loose, and run it up to clear this station house crossing, or the platform to walk out to the main track; and right in front of it were some freight cars on the south side loaded with limestone, on the next track south of us;

Q. Now, after you got your train on siding, what did you do?
A. Why we staid [sic] around within call of the telegraph office, watching the flood.

Q. Were you in the rear car of the Mail Train at any time that morning?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What were you doing there?
A. Well, I went in there to get out of the rain. It was raining and we went in there and intended to build a fire, but had only been in there three or four minutes when the alarm whistle sounded.

Q. What alarm whistle?
A. A work train engine that had been up the road doing work.

Q. It came down whistling an alarm, did it?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Well, what did you do?
A. I jumped out of the car, and saw the flood coming--

Q. Now describe it.
A. It looked to me like a wall about thirty feet high; I don't suppose it was that high, but it looked like that to me, and I thought the only salvation was to get to the hill.

Q. How many passengers had you on you train?
A. As near as I can tell, we had about 92 pay passengers and 12 or 15 dead-heads--free.

Q. How long was it from the time you was at your train until you saw the flood coming, or heard the alarm?
A. Oh I had been at the train a short time before that. They were in the train then out of the rain.

Q. Was there any talk about the dam giving way?
A. There were rumors about there to that effect.

Q. Did you hear them at the time?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did you communicate them to the passengers?
A. No, sir, it was only rumors going through the crowd.

Q. As far as you knew, was there any reason for apprehension of a flood that would strike these trains?
A. No, sir; I had no apprehension. I thought the train was in a safe position. It was on the highest ground we could get at Conemaugh.

Q. Well, when you were in the Mail Car; I mean in the rear car of the Mail train; how near was the water up to the top of the bank?
A. Oh the water at that time was all in the channel.

Q. And then in a very few minutes, when you heard the alarm,along [sic] came this tremendous wave or volume of water?
A. Yes,sir. [sic]

Q. How many of your passengers do you know escaped?
A. Well, that I couldn't tell: they had a list of them which was taken by the Agent at Conemaugh, but I never saw it or received a copy of it.

Q. How was it you got away and didn't get caught yourself?
A. I made a good run for it. I ran to notify my people, and crossed over the front of the smoking car, and the smoking car at that time was empty.

Q. On your train?
A. On my train, yes, sir.
Then I saw that I had to go for my life, and I barely made it.

Q. Had you time to call out to the passengers of the other train?
A. As I ran up along, I called out to make for the hills, all I could within the hearing of the passengers. This freight train was standing between me and my train as I ran up, and the first place I could get over without crossing these cars was the front end of my smoker, right behind the baggage car.

Q. Did Mr. Walkinshaw give you any notice that he received a dispatch about the water running over the dam?
A. He told me that the dam was liable to go, and that we would pull up there and be safe. That was his idea of it.

Q. Did he make the change in the trains after he got that dispatch about the water running over the dam?
A. Yes, sir, that was his reason form moving us off of the other siding. My understanding from him was that they would notify us when it did break.

Q. How long have you been running on the road, Mr. Bell?
A. I have been running as conductor 17 years.

Q. You know the track through that whole country there pretty well then; the track of the Penna. Railroad?
A. Oh yes.

Q. Are there any places that you could have gotten that train, safer than where it was?
A. Well, there are points that are on higher ground.

Q. What I mean is; could they have gotten there? Wasn't the track washed out east and west of you?
A. Well, the track was reported washed out right above Conemaugh;

Q. And you would have had to encounter that difficulty, wouldn't you, if you had started there with the train?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And how far was your train away from the river bank where it stopped the last time?
A. It must have been 150 yards.

Q. So that when this wave that you saw, broke, it struck the bank, and went clear over all that space to where the train was?
A. Yes, sir; the only thing that saved us, I think, was the curve there; it threw the main body of the water against the other hill.

Q. You mean above Conemaugh?
A. Yes, sir.

(Handwritten)

Q. So that you only got the sweep of the side of the cut?
A. Yes, sir.

(Typed)

Q. How many cars had you in your train?
A. 7 cars.

Q. Had you any Pullman cars?
A. We had one Pullman car.

Q. And the others were coaches, were they?
A. Yes, sir. the others were coaches.

Q. Who beside yourself was in the last car of the Mail train, before the flood came?
A. Why, there was conductor Easton, and Warthen, John G. Miller, and myself, and I can't think of any more.

Q. Do you know whether the passengers had gotten out of the train, and were walking about there looking at the flood?
A. Yes, sir, they were before this shower of rain came up: the track was full of people watching the flood; a great many of them my passengers.

Q. State whether or not this wave of water that you saw coming came with great velocity or not?
A. Well, I think it was traveling about 25 miles an hour.

Q. How far could you see it from where you were in the coach?
A. Well, not over 500 yards.

Q. And as you saw it, you sprang up and made as hard as you could for the hills, did you?
A. No, I first went to my train, and then ran. I couldn't stop long at the train;--I [sic] went and looked into the smoking car, and saw the passengers were all out, and yelled for the others to go, and was yelling all the time I was running up along there.

Q. How far was it from where your train was until you reached a place of safety, or higher ground?
A. 50 or 60 yards;--I [sic] guess it must have been further than that. I think there was a street ran right back of the warehouse, that I made for.

Q. Along whhere your train stood, there was an embankment , was [sic] there not? and the street in Conemaugh town was right below A. it, wasn't it? [sic]
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And this wave of water that swept over the tracks went down into the town?
A. Yes, sir, it took one whole street out there between my train, and the hill.

Q. About how many people do you suppose were swept away in the town of Conemaugh?
A. I don't know how many there were.

Q. Well approximately, how many people and houses were swept out by that rush of water?
A. Well, there must have been forty or fifty houses along there, probably more, all taken away.

Q. And a great many people drowned, were there not?
A. Yes, sir, they had to make good speed to get out, and if they couldn't make it, they were lost; it wouldn't have done to run into the houses, for they were all taken away.

Q. Were there any of your cars swept away?
A. The baggage car and one coach.

Q. Was that an ordinary coach or a Pullman?
A. It was an ordinary passenger coach, P. W. & B. 41.

Q. Did your engineer and fireman escape?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And your brakemen?
A. Yes, sir, all escaped.

Q. Do you know where your brakemen were a little while before the flood came?
A. They were there at the train, I believe.

Q. At your own train?
A. Yes, sir.



Following is a list of cars on first Day Express, as given by Conductor Bell(May 31): [sic]

P. R. R. Baggage car #80
P. R. R. Passenger car #384
P. W. & B. Passenger car #41
P. W. & B. Passenger car #153
M. C. Passenger car #60
Pullman Palace Co. Parlor car "Chloris"
P. & B. C. Passenger car #532


Last updated: February 14, 2017

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