butler statement

Q. On the last day of May 1889, were you employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and if so, in what capacity?
A. I was the engineer of Limited Express east; otherwise Train No. 2.

Q. What time did it leave Pittsburgh?
A. 7.11 (?) that morning.

Q. What time did you get to Johnstown?
A. About 9.23.

Q. Was that your usual time?
A. No, sir, we were two or three minutes late.

Q. When you got to Johnsoown, [sic] I wish you would state whether the flood was over the town, and if so, to what extent up on the houses?
A. Well, when we arrived at Johnstown, I noticed the water was very high where that school house is on Cinder Street. I noticed the water was from three to four feet deep in that school house yard; it was nearly in the windows. That's all I could tell about how the water was over the town. I judge the whole town was covered with water; the nearer the bridge, the deeper the water.

Q. Had you ever seen a flood like that in that river?
A. Once; a good many years ago.

Q. How many years ago?
A. Well, I was very young then; it must have been about '46 or 47.

Q. Was the water as high then as it was the day you were at Johnstown?
A. I judge it was; but I couldn't be positive about that.

Q. This flood was an extraordinary one?
A. I don not think there ever was a greater one before.

Q. How long did you stay at Johnstown with your train?
A. Not over three minutes; we just stopped for orders.

Q. What were your orders?
A. The orders were to follow No. 12 to Conemaugh under green.

Q. Did you do that?
A. Yes, sir, and we passed No. 12 at Conemaugh.

Q. How long did you stop at Conemaugh?
A. We didn't stop at Conemaugh at all; we just slacked up to take on our helper.

Q. What time of day was it that you left Conemaugh?
A. We left Conemaugh, I judge, within a minute or two of about 9.30.

Q. Did you observe the water at Conemaugh as you passed; whether it was over the tracks or not?
A. No, sir, it wasn't over the tracks. I didn't see any danger there at all, and didn't think there was any danger of any destruction to the railroad.

Q. After you left Conemaugh, how far did you go?
A. Then we went to South Fork.

Q. What time did you get there?
A. As near as I can tell; about 9.47. There we were stopped by red signal from the signal tower.

Q. How long did you stop there?
A. I think we were there nearly three hours.

Q. Why were you detained there?
A. As soon as we stopped, I went up into the office and inquired of the operator if there were any orders, and she said she ha had [sic] orders to hold us there on account of a slip between Wilmore and Summerhill, which came down and blocked both tracks, and that we were to be hold there for orders.

Q. Was it raining?
A. Yes, sir, it was raining all the time, and the river was still rising.

Q. Was it raining hard?
A. Raining hard, yes sir.

Q. How much did the water rise while you lay there that three hours?
A. I judge it rose anywheres from eight to twelve inches. After they told us we had to lay there for orders, I went back to the engine, and damped the fire down, and made arrangements to lay there.

Q. Did you hear anything said at that time about the danger of the South Fork dam breaking?
A. No, sir, not just at that time.

Q. Did you at any time while you were there?
A. After we laid there some time; I don't know just what time it was, I went back to the office, and inquired again if there was any orders, and they said not: and the way the South Fork was, I felt uneasy about the dam, and I went skirmishing around to see if I could find out anything. I didn't hear anything definite until after noon, some time about one o'clock, the brakeman came on the engine, and he says, "Do you know we can't get any orders any more?" and I says "No, why?" and he says, "The wires are down;" and I says "If that's the case, I'm not going to stay here any longer".We [sic] must get out of this, and get across the bridge". I wanted to go to the other side, and I asked where the conductor was, and he said he didn't know; he says "He may be up there about South Fork or up at the bridge." I started and went up to the bridge, and found the conductor at the bridge, and half a dozen passengers around him standing on the bridge; and I called him to one side, so as not to alarm the passengers, and I told him we would have to take our train out of that; that the wires were down now, and we were there on our own responsibility, and possibly the dam might break, and I felt uneasy about it. "Well" he says, "I don't like to cross the bridge now; there are a couple of cracks in the pier, and I don't know whether it's safe or not."

Q. Was the water up to the chords of the bridge?
A. Well, it was, I judge, anywhere from six to eight inches of it. He says "The Division Foreman lives on the other side of the bridge there, and we'll ask him", and I says "Go on then, whatever you're going to do, do it right away." We went to the other side, and met the Division Foreman right at his house,and [sic] I asked him about the bridge, and he said it was all right. He says "I sent a man up to South Fork dam to see the condition of things up there, and I'm expecting him back every minute;" he says, "Here he comes now!"

Q. What is the name of the Division Foreman?
A. Lytle.
"He says, "Here he comes now!" We stopped then; it didn't take but a few minutes, and asked him about it.

Q. Do you know the name of the man?
A. No, sir. And there was one of the parties of the Fishing Club there; I didn't know it at that time, until he spoke, and he got to quizzing this man about it, and he hooted the idea of the water running over the dam. The man reported that the water was running over the dam, and he hooted the [sic] at the idea. He said when he left in the morning, it wanted five feet of being full. However, I took the man's report, and says "We must get of this as soon as possible; that dam is going to come out." We went down, and Lytle went along with us, and we had him explain about some cracks in the peir and there was a big pile of drift on the upper side; and Lytle told me that that crack had been there for some time. We went back to the train then, and I told the conductor to cut the helper off, and we would run it over the bridge, and if the bridge would carry the helper all right, it would carry the train. The engineer of the helper took his engine across, and I followed over and took our train above the station, and then I stopped there. We were in a position then that if the flood did come, we could get away from it without endangering anybody's life. After we were over thee [sic] a little spell---

Q. About how long?
A. I don't know exactly; about ten minutes; the train laid at that point until the flood came. I was going to say that there was a train of freight laid on this side, or on the South Fork side; they had six or eight cars, and they wanted room to get out of the hollow; they wanted to come up on the main line off of Stineman's siding. He stopped be and wanted me to pull up. I went back to see the conductor and tell him what we wanted to do, but I couldn't find him; and I walked back to my engine, and told the fireman that I was going back to the office, and I says "You stay here, and if you hear any alarm back there, pull up, and give them other parties a chance to get out of there onto the main track." I started and walked back to the telegraph office, about half a mile, and on my way down, I noticed the South Fork had fallen about four or five inches. Then I began to have a little hope that the dam wouldn't go out. I went over the bridge, and asked the operator if she had any orders, and she said not. At the bridge, I picked up one of the brakemen of our train, and he went along to the office. After the operator told me she had no orders, I went down stairs, and put a poker across the top of the coal box and sat down and lit a toby. We had been there for about half an hour or more, and were talking about the delay, and he was talking about going back and relieving the flagman so he could come up and get some dinner, and he siad [sic] "I don't like to go back there, and get wetter than I am for maybe he's struck a good place and had his dinner". About that time, the operator came down stairs to the stove, and I says "Are you cold?" and she says "No, I'm too warm" and I says, " I was in hopes you were too cold so you would fire up a little, as it's getting chilly." She shut the stove door and went up stairs. Shortly after that, I heard somebody hollowing at her; I didn't inquire what was coming; I just ran to the stair door and hollowed up the stairs for the operator to drop everything and come down; then I ran out on tho [sic] road to look and see how close it was; I had a little time to spare because we only had a few steps to go until we were in safety. I still kept shouting to the operator to hurry down, and I thought she was an awful long time coming; still I am satisfied how she came as quick as she could for she was bare-headed and had no wraps with her at all. The Supt. of the coal works was along; he came down stairs with her; his name is Wilson. When they came down, I walked alongside of them across the track to the foot of the stairs that goes up to the coal scaffold, and when they started up there, I started up along the bank up towards the upper tipple on the Summerhill Branch. I wanted to get in front of the flood. When I got there, I was right in front of the floood, [sic] and I saw it coming down. Just as I got to the tipple, I saw the South Fork bridge was about going down then. It stood two shocks; the first shock bent it about that shape (bending his elbow slightly) and the next shock swept it right up the stream. Then I heard a racket above me, and when I looked around the coal tipple was falling down.I [sic] watched the tipple until it settled down to that nothing would fall on me, and by that time, the water was about a foot deep there, and I got up on the hill a little further, and staid there and watched the flood for about ten minutes or so, and saw how it was floating things around over in South Fork. Most of the houses on the upper side of the bridge were in a big eddy, and were swimming around through the eddy. Then I though about the time I had to get to my train, and I saw there was nothing to be seen there any more, and I started to go to my train. I had to go alongside of the mountain through the brush and trees, and every step I made I got a shower bath from the limbs and bushes. I didn't go more than ten or fifteen steps until I came onto six loaves of bread and a clean roller towel. The bread couldn't have been there more than two or three minutes for it wasn't wet. I called, to see if I could hear anybody, but got no answer. I judged there must be a woman there somewheres. Then, I looked across again at the flood at South Fork, and Lytles' house was still traveling around there. It traveled all the was around four or five times. While I was watching it, a house came up pretty close to where I was. There was a fire inn it, or had been, for the stove pipe was warn yet; when the water would splash on the pipe, steam would raise on it. I think, however, a bout [sic] that bread, that whoever put it there, had gone back into that house before I got there, and-----

Q. Now, go on to your train.
A. I walked up along there to the first bridge east of South Fork, and crossed over and came down to my train.

Q. How far was your train standing from the South Fork bridge?
A. the fireman had pulled it up a short distance from where I left it.

Q. Where did you take your train to, then?
A. To Wilmore.

Q. How long did you remain there?
A. Until four o'clock Saturday afternoon.

Q. And then where did you go?
A. To Altoona.

Q. Had you ever been at the South Fork dam?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. When?
A. I was there a couple years ago.

Q. What made you think there was a likelihood of the dam going out, when you were laying there at South Fork?
A. Because all those kind of things generally gives way.

Q. It was just a supposition of yours?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was it from the report that the man made about the water running over the dam, or was it just your general belief that it might give was?
A. It was the mans report that made me believe that the dam was going to come out at this particular time.

Q. Did you mo ve [sic] your train up to South Fork and over the bridge without orders?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Where was the Yard Master at that time?
A. There is no Yard Master there. The man who would give us orders to do that was at Pittsburgh, and the wires were down and he couldn't give us any orders; and I depended upon myself

Q. And that is the reason you took the train over onto the other side?
A. Yes, sir, that was the -- -- sole reason.

Q. What time of day was it that this messenger came down from th [sic] South Fork dam that the Division Foreman had sent up there?
A. As near as I can tell, that was about 1 o'clock.

Q. And what did he report as to the waster/ How much was running over the dam?
A. Why he reported that the water was running over the dam like a creek, and this other gentleman, I think his name is Bidwell, he hooted at him about it.

Q. Mr. Bidwell was one of the men who owned a cottage up there?
A. I believe so.

Q. Did the messenger at the same time report that there were some thirty Italians at work trying to cut a way for the water to get out of the dam?
A. I couldn't say.

Q. You don't recollect that?
A. No, sir. The messenger told Mr. Bidwell, I remember quite well, says he "I wouldn't give you three cents for your dam".

Q. Did the messenger express any belief as to the dam coming out; bursting away?
A. Nothing more than that remark he made. He said he wouldn't give three cents for it; and he must have thought it was going to come out.

Q. What is the name of that lady operator at South Fork?
A. Emma Ehrenfeld.

Q. Do you know whether telegraphic communication was broken between South Fork and Conemaugh?
A. Nothing more than she said.

Q. Well, what did you learn at the time?
A. I don't know that I heard her express herself at all about it. I got it from one of the trainmen that the wires were down, and one thing, we got no orders.

Q. Are you pretty sure it was 1 o'clock when the messenger made that report?
A. That's as near as I can tell. I didn't keep any account of the time particularly after I found we were going to lay there a long while.

Q. What is the distance from South Fork to Conemaugh by rail?
A. T [sic]
A. I couldn't tell you.

Q. Was it five or ten miles?
A. About seven miles.

Q. How long had you been running as engineer on the road?
A. Over five years.

Q. Between Conemaugh and South Fork as you came up, did you observe whether the South Fork was over its banks or not on the railroad?
A. Oh no; nothing of that kind. There didn't seem to be any danger at that time.

Q. When was it you began to feel uneasy about the dam coming out?
A. When we first went to South Fork, I didn't like to stop on that side of the river;

Q. That was just a general apprehension, was it?
A. Yes, sir, and after I got the report from the messenger, then I thought it would go out. It couldn't stand it, you know.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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