Engineer Hess Statement

Q. Mr. Hess, where were you employed on the last of May last, and in what capacity?
A. Engineer on the Penna. Railroad.

Q. What train were you running?
A. The bellest (?) train; known as work train No. 2.

Q. Where was it stationed?
A. Conemaugh.

Q. Now, what was the extent of the division that you worked over with your train?
A. Well, up to that time, we hadn't worked east of Conemaugh nor west of Sang Hollow.

Q. Well, now, I wish you would state where you were on Thursday when the great rain commenced.
A. It didn't rain much on Thursday; it began raining on Thursday night.

Q. Where were you on Thursday night?
A. I was at home in bed when it began raining so hard.

Q. At Conemaugh?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was itt [sic] raining on Friday morning?
A. Yes, sir, it was raining in the morning when I (g)ot up.

Q. Was the river risen?
A. Yes, sir, it was up pretty well.

Q. How long had you lived in Conemaugh?
A. I moved there in April or May 1883.

Q. Had you seen floods or high water in the Conemaugh?
A. I had seen high water in the Conemaugh before, yes, sir.

Q. How did those floods compare with this last one?
A. Oh, they didn't compare at all. I had seen the river before this bank full, but I never saw it as high up as it was at noon on Friday.

Q. Now, just commence and tell us what you did on Friday with your train, where you were, and what you saw.
A. well, in the morning we started; I went as usual to take my engine, and the conductor was there, and coming down out of the telegraph office, he says "We will go to Cambria; there's a small slide down there, and we'll go down and take it up. I had my engine ready and all, and we coupled on and started down to Cambria % [sic] We worked there until somewhere between 10 and 11 o'clock, when we got an order to leave there, and go to one mile west of Wilmore to a land slide, and as soon as we could get out of there, which was very soon; as soon as the men could get on the train, we started and went up the main south track to Johnstown. No. 8's were laying at Conemaugh, and we couldn't pass Johnstown as the block was red, as it always is on an occasion like that. We laid there some 15 to 20 minutes, and finally we got an order to go ahead under green, and I had a hand-full of other messages and orders, that it took me from Johnstown almost to Conemaugh to get them all read. There was some five or six different ones. We went to Conemaugh and No. 8 was laying on the main track, and of course we couldn't pass. We laid there some 20 or 25 minutes more, and we got more orders there, and among the orders we got at Conemaugh was one to go on to the trouble one mile west of Wilmore, and to report from each telegraph office we came to the condition of the track we passed; how it was, you know. We started from there then, and we didn't get out of Conemaugh more than 500 yards untilw [sic] we found one track in the river, the track next to the river. We found it in the river, I suppose nearly 100 feet.

Q. What time was that?
A. This was nearly 1 o'clock; between 12 and 1 somewheres. We went on to "AO". My conductor w as [sic] new up there, and he says to me when we left Conemaugh, he says, "You will have to hunt the road; I don't know it." He was off of his division at that time. He belonged on Hays' Division. He says to me "You'll have to tell me when we come to" such and such a place; so I says to him, "Here's "AO"!" Have you anything to report?" and he says "No, we'll not report anything from here; we'll go on." We started on again, and didn't reach more than 200 yards more until there was a flagman: I stopped to let him on, and he says "You can't go any further", and I asked him why, and he says, "The north track is in the river and I don't believe the one you're on is safe", and I says "Whereabouts?" [sic] and he says "Right through the big cut". We went through the cut to where the washout was, and seen it was badly washed, and I says to the conductor "I guess we'll have to take it afoott [sic] from here, and see where it is safe." The conductor is an old experienced man, and he looked at the track we were on, and he says "It isn't safe; I won't run you over that." It was washed up to the endso [sic] of the ties and underneath the track, and undermined it; the ballast was still sticking to the ties; the ties seemed to be holding it up. He says "That isn't safe at all", and we walked on up to Mineral Point, the next tower, and were going to report there, but the operator told us he had no communication except with South Fork, so we knew it was no use to stay there, and we went b ack [sic] to "AO" tower. We could get communication there by some wire, and my conductor reported the condition of the track that he had seen. This was after one o'clock, and we had no dinner yet; we hadn't had time to eat dinner, and while he was waiting on an answer what to do, we ate our dinners, and I suppose by the time we got our dinners eaten, it was two o'clock. By that time, there was an answer there telling him to come to the trouble east of Conemaugh, to that slide about four or five hundred yards east of Conemaugh. We came down there and found the track that we had went up on--the [sic] conductor thought at first it was unsafe, and we walked down over it and left the engine above it, and he suggested to cut a couple cars of---we [sic] had 7 empty flats and the cabin ahead of our engine, and he suggested to cut off a couple cars and run them over to see whether it was safe, and probably we could bring the rest over. So we sent a man with two cars down over this dangerous place, and the bank didn't appear to slip down much, and I brought the engine and rest of the train over. That left us on the Conemaugh side of this washout. I went down and the brakeman coupled up those cars that they had sent down ahead, and the conductor took the men with their shovels and went back to the slide about one hundred yards back of where we were laying. There had been a small slide come down over the bank, and he was taking it off, and I don't suppose we had laid their more than 20 minutes until we heard the flood coming. We didn't see it but we heard the noise of it coming.

Q. What was the noise of it like?
A. It was like a hurricane through a wooded country. It was a roar and a crash and a smash; I can't tell what it was like, but the first thing I heard was a terrible roar in the hollow and the next thing was a crash something like a big building going to pieces, which I think w as [sic] the Company house that stoodd [sic] right up around the curve, and the trees and brush hid it from our sight. I couldn't see it, but there was people told me after wards [sic] that that house crushed together just about the time we left. We saw no flood; we saw a drift of lg [sic] logs in the river, but the river was no higher then it was twenty minutes before that. I pulled the whistle wide open, and went into Conemaugh that way.

Q. How far were you away from Conemaugh?
A. Four or five hundred yards.

Q. Did you keep ahead of the flood?
A. Oh yes, I kept ahead of the flood down as far as I could go. I couldn't go through Conemaugh on account of the tracks below me being washedin [sic] the river; of course I didn't know it att [sic] that time, but I didn't know where No. 8's were, and it occurred to me that they might be pulling No. 8's up on higher track, and I was a little dubious about going down, though we had ourselves protected and had a full right to go down that was because our flagman was down there.

Q. Did you see the position of the two Day Expresses on the tracks there when you went up?
A. I don't think that was the position they were in when the flood came; they had been changed. You s(e)e No. 8 when we came to Conemaugh was laying on our track, and of course they had to back her over, which they done right there while we were laying there, and they hadn't stationed her yet where they put her finally; I think that was the second section; the other section was over on the north side, I don't remember which track, and the Mail was on the south side. Then we started with orders to go to the land slide I spoke about.

Q. Now, from your knowledge of the flood that day before the dam broke, and the crippled condition of the road east of Conemaugh, state whether in your judgment as a railroad man, the Yard Master at Conemaugh, Mr. Walkinshaw , did [sic] the best for the safety of those trains that could be done under the circumstances.
A. That is hard to tell. I couldn't state that unless I knew what he hnow . Of course he knew that the track was washed out behind them because it was right there in hsi [sic] sight, and it would only take five minutes for him to walk up to where this damage was.

Q. Suppose he knew it, what would you say of his action in not allowing those trains to leave there?
A. I wouldn't have left them there if I could have gotten them out of that. I think it would have been best to have go them on higher ground. I suppose he had an order to hold them and the wires getting down, no orders could (b)e received; and Mr. Walkinshaw is a man who adheres very strictly to the orders.

Q. In the absence of orders, suppose you had been placed there, and knowing all the time about the condition of the road, and the flood, do you think you could have prudently started those trains o(u)t?
A. Oh yes, I would have found a safer place, and any man who has been about there as much as he has knows there is better ground above that company house than there was there; anywhere above the company house to No. 6 ( ? ) the trains would have been safe.

Q. How far would they have to be moved to get on to that ground?
A. The Company House was about 100 yards east of Conemaugh.

Q. This opinion you give though is ( ) ( ) ( ) at that. this ( er) in point of fact did when no ( ) thought or ( - ) would take place? Suppose you know what Mr. Walkinshaw knew, that there was danger of the reservoir bursting, and (k)nowing that the river was as (h)igh as it (was), d id you have any idea the water would do the damage it did?
A. Oh no: what did the damage was the lags and trees it brought with it. I didn't think the water would have over(t)urned one of those (?) locomotives, if it hadn't been for the logs and drift.

Q. Taking that fact into consideration, and not what you have learned since the flood took place, didn't Mr. Walkinshaw put those trains in as safe a place as a man ordinarily would go?
A. Oh, for an ordinary freshet, yes, sir.

Q. It is only on account of the extraordinary character of the flood, that you formed this opinion?
A. Yes, sir, that's all.

Q. Suppose this extraordinary flood that came couldn't have been anticipated by Mr. Walkinshaw, or you, or anybody else, then the trian [sic] would have been in a safe place?
A. Oh yes.

Q. It was only on account of this/extraordinary volume of water that ( ) out of the dam, that they would have been unsafe?
A. But you see, the orders came all morning about the dam; we got word when I was laying at Mineral Point that the dam leaking.

Q. Now, taking all you knew about the information they got at Conemaugh about the water running over the dam, and your knowledge of it, would you have anticipated such a flood as that?
A. No, sir, I would not.

Q. We can all see ^[now] how we might have done better, but the question is, didn't Mr. Walkinshaw do what any prudent, careful man would do under the curcumstanc es? [sic]
A. For a common flood such as he has been used to seeing for the last 20 (?) years since he has been there, he donee as well as anybody would have done, I think.

Q. I suppose there have been times too when the other freshets that were in the river there made the water run over the dam: do you know that to be a fact?
A. No, I don't think it ever ran over the breast of the dam.

Q. That would show that this was an extraordinary flood.
A. Yes, sir, it must have been.

Q. When you heard this terrific roar of the coming flood, the logs, trees, etc., as you describe it, did you do all you could to run your locomotive down there and sound the alarm to the people?
A. I didn't know what else to do; I didn't see what else I could do.

Q. You ran down pretty speedily, did you?
A. I ran down as speedily as I could.

Q. What kind of a whistle did you sound?
A. It as just a\long continuous whistle. I wanted to whistle something peculiar so that people would take some heed to it.

Q. That was your idea when you heard the flood coming; you made
----------------------------- [sic]
up your mind ins tantly [sic] to run to the rescue on your engine and give this peculiar signal of alarm?

A. Yes, sir.

By E. S. Batchelor.

Q. What time did you get the order to go to Wilmore?
A. About 10.36. The order came to Johnstown at 10.30, and I suppose we got it about 10.45, or something like that.The [sic] message boy would have some distance to go from the tower down to where we lay.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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