Statement of Dispatcher Culp

Q. Mr. Culp, where were you employed, and in what capacity in May last?
A. At Pittsburgh as Chief Train Despatcher.

Q. What was the first intimation you had of the flood in the neighborhood of Johnstown, and above?
A. The first intimation of water troubles commenced at Lilly. When I came to the office in the morning, I learned the tracks were obstructed by high waters, and the tracks were impassible.

Q. How far is Lilly from South Fork?
A. About 12 miles.

Q. Now, what did you understand was the trouble at Lilly?
A. The trouble was from the water, caused by heavy rains, and flooding the tracks.

Q. Who did you get your report from?
A. I suppose from the operator at Lilly; very likely.

Q. Well, what was the character of the trouble there? A washout or what?
A. The tracks were flooded with water, and I suppose debris on the tracks, so that our trains couldn't cross.

Q. At what point?
A. West of Lilly about a quarter of a mile.

Q. Would that be between Lilly and the embankment at Bens Creek?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. There is a stream of water passes under the railroad between these two points, is there not?
A. Yes, sir, there is a bridge between Lilly and Bens Creek; a very small bridge.

Q. Isn't that Bear Run?
A. I couldn't say.

Q. Well, now, what did you do when you got this information?
A. We held all trains west at Cresson, and all trains east at Sonman tower.

Q. How far is Sonman from Johnstown?
A. 15 miles.

Q. Had you any reports as to the water from the South Fork?
A. No, sir, we didn't have any report of any water trouble between Lilly and Johnstown. We held all passenger trains west at Cresson, and all east at Sonman. That obstructed No. 3 at Cresson---

Q. What was No. 3?
A. Pacific Express, west.

Q. Due in Pittsburgh when?
A. 12.45 p. m. ----and [sic] No. 20 and No.14. east, at Sonman.

Q. What trains are they?
A. No. 20 is Atlantic Express, and No. 14 is Sea Shore Express.

Q. What time do they leave Pittsburgh?
A. No. 20 leaves Pittsburgh at 3.20 and No. 14 is a train which starts from Johnstown. They were held there. Then, after that, we received notice that on account of the rains, there was a slide in the deep cut west of Wilmore which obstructed both tracks.

Q. How far is Wilmore from South Fork?
A. About three miles. On account of both tracks being obstructed at Wilmore, we held the Limited Express at South Fork. In the meantime, there was a freight train eastbound laying up at the slide between South Fork and Wilmore. When we heard of the slide at Wilmore, we held the Limited at South Fork; and we got the New Florence work train, with a view of sending it to this slide west of Wilmore to clear the tracks, and to get them ahead of the Day Expresses, which we knew couldn't pass this slide, we held the Day Expresses at Conemaugh, and No. 12, or Mail. By that time, the water had risen so high between Johnstown and Conemaugh that the south track was considered unsafe to run over;

Q. How did you find that out?
A. By message?

Q. From whom?
A. I don't know. Then, we had to run our Florence work train on the north track, which is the westbound track, to get them around the Day Expresses. we started them east, and they discovered the tracks flooded east of Conemaugh at Buttermilk Falls.

Q. How far is that from Conemaugh?
A. About half a mile. They returned to Conemaugh, and reported that the t racks were obstructed, and that they couldn't get any further. Then our wire troubles commenced, and we lost communication from South Fork west to "AO" tower, and then from Johnstown west, so that our trains were out of our control altogether.

Q. At what time of day was it that the tracks were obstructed east of Conemaugh so as to prevent the two sections of the Day Expresses from going forward?
A. The trouble at Conemaugh was on account of the trouble west of Wilmore. we held the Day Expresses at Conemaugh, and when we found the South track was obstructed between Johnstown and Conemaugh, we ran the work train on the north track to Conemaugh, and ran it around the Day Expresses there. We were holding the Limited Express at South Fork, and we couldn't get Mineral Point tower, which we knew would hold the work train on account of the Limited being at South Fork, and we sent orders to the work train to pass under green signal, and also sent orders to the operator to allow it to pass under green; but the work train only got as far as I said before on account of the trouble at Buttermilk Falls, and returned to Conemaugh.

Q. Can you tell now what time the Limited got up to South Fork?
A. I was talking to the operator about it since, and she says it got up there at 9.46, and about ten o'clock, some person came to the office with a message saying that there was a probability of bridge No. 5 being swept away---

Q. Where is that bridge?
A. Right between South Fork tower and the station. The engineer and the conductor of the Limited were in the office at the time, and they went to the Division Foreman's house, I understand, and got him to come down and look at the bridge, as there were some cracks in the pier, and the division foreman said the cracks were old and not dangerous. The Limited had a helper that day, two engines, and they cut the first engine off and ran it across the bridge to se if it was safe. They found the bridge was all right, and then they had the train follow over afterwards, and the train laid at South Fork station east of the bridge, so that if the dam did break, the train wouldn't be swept away, as it would have been on the other side of the bridge. Then, they laid there, and the engineer came back to the tower, leaving the fireman in charge of the engine with instructions that if he heard any alarm, to pull the train up a little further east. The engineer remained in the office with the operator until the flood ca me [sic] He then went out and gave the fireman a signal to run on up to Summerhill with the train, and he ( the engineer) crossed the track with the operator, and went up on the opposite side of the track up on the bank, and staid [sic] there until after the flood passed. He then walked up to Summerhill to his train.

Q. Now, what was the trouble in the way of getting the Day Express trains away from Conemaugh,and [sic] up to where the Limited was?
A. You see the tracks were obstructed at Buttermilk Falls; and we wanted to get the Florence work train ahead of the two Day Expresses---

Q. Then you couldn't do it?
A. No, sir, it was impossible. Of course, we could have run the Day Expresses further east, and passed the work train around the Day Expresses at some other point, but we considered Conemaugh as good a place as anywhere to pass them around.

Q. Did you consider that lying at Conemaugh was as safe as anyplace you could put them?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What information, if any, did you receive in relation to the dam at South Fork?
A. Well, now, I am under the impression that we received two messages. I think there was one received about 12 o'clock;

Q. To whom?
A. I think it was directed to the Superintendent.

Q. Mr. Pitcairn?
A. Yes, sir. I am not sure that there were two messages, but I think there were two received.

Q. At the Union Depot?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What is your recollection as to the contents of those messages?
A. I don't remember the contents, othern [sic] than it referred to the probability of the South Fork dam bursting.

Q. What time of day was this?
A. I think that was about 12 o'clock, or shortly after.

Q. You don't know who sent that message?
A. No, sir.

Q. What makes you think there were two messages sent?
A. From the fact that I took the first message over, and laid it on Mr. Pitcairn's table in front of him, and I think we received another message after two o'clock after Mr. Pitcairn had gone, to inform the people at Johnstown that there was a probability of the dam bursting. That message was sent to Mr. Pitcairn on his special car. I wouldn't be positive about it, but I think there were two messages received.

Q. Had Mr. Trump gone out the road?
A. Yes, sir, he left at 11 o'clock on his train, and Mr. Pitcairn went in his special car on the rear end of a regular train.

Q. You weren't up there yourself at Conemaugh?
A. No, sir.

Q. Well, now, as despatcher, did you do all you could under the circumstances, and with the information you had, to protect those two trains at Conemaugh?
A. When the wires got down, the trains were out of our power entirely.

Q. What time did the telegraphic communication from Pittsburgh office to Johnstown and Conemaugh cease, do you su ppose? [sic]
A. Well, now, I can't state that; Mr. Sheaffer, the Division Operator, keeps the record.

Q. Was it before or after, Mr. Pitcairn left?
A. It was after he left. However, we had not use of the wires after Mr. Trump arrived at Conemaugh on his special. We had no wire east of Conemaugh then, because I sent him an order that he would have to use the north track from Johnstown, and as we had no wire to arrange this movement for him, he would have to flag himself down, or protect himself, which he did;

Q. As despatcher, it was you r [sic] duty, was it, to control the movement of trains that day?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And you made the disposition of them you state up until the telegraphic communication was gone?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. You don't remember who that second message was from, do you?
A. It strikes me it was addressed to J. C. Walkinshaw at Conemaugh, and to R. P. at Pittsburgh, and that that message was signed operator Mineral Point. One of them was, I know.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

733 Lake Road
South Fork, PA 15956


(814) 886-6170

Contact Us