Statement of A.G. Mitchell

I am Supervisor on the Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Altoona to Conemaugh. I have been on that division since the fifteenth of last December. Previous to that time, I was on the Monongahela Division. I was at Gallitzin at the time of the flood. The rain there commenced to fall very heavily on Thursday night about ten o'clock. Then it came in torrents until about five minutes after 12 o' clock on Friday morning, the first, when I was called, and told that Gallitzin was flooded with water, and the culverts there would not carry the water. I sent to the foreman for help to get his force out, and I didn't get out myself until about six o'clock in the morning. When I got up about six o'clock the water was over the tracks at Gallitzin, and the report had come that the north track was out of service at Lilly or a little west of Lilly, and about 7 o'clock, the report came that the south track was also dangerous. I got on the ground at Lilly about 8 o'clock. The water then was over the tracks in the town, and down at the coke ovens, the water was pouring over one track and partly over the other at a depth of about three feet over the track. The entire has(?)in or low ground on the south side probably covering an area of five to eight acres was filled with water. The water was running over the track at Smith's Crossing. It must have been forty feet deep in places. The north track was badly washed out by the water sweeping through the banks, and damaged the south track so that they had to be thrown out of service, and remained out of service for several days. We staid[sic.] there until Saturday. All day Friday, we couldn't do anything as the water was continually rising. We could do nothing at all until Saturday morning about 6 o'clock, when the water fell so that we could dam the water up. Then we built a crib to support the tracks which had been washed away, & about half-past one on Saturday afternoon, we threw the south track into service. No. 20 was laying at Sonman & No. 2 at South Fork. They both passed east, and we came west to S.Fork, just about 10 1/2 miles from where this washout was. We got to South Fork about 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, and them immediately we returned to Summerhill.

Q. What was the condition of things at South Fork?
A. The bridge was gone. A locomotive standing at the station was on the siding having been washed south. A locomotive standing just west of the station was partially off the track. The bridge at South Fork station was gone. The entire floor system of the bridge was lying up the north branch about half a mile.

Q. What was the depth of the water there, do you judge, when you saw it?
A. Oh, the water was down when we got there. I don't suppose it was over two feet above the ordinary pitch, at three o'clock on Saturday afternoon. It might have been three feet but not over that. We then cleared the Summerhill branch, and got it completed to the coal tipple west of South Fork on Sunday night. At this point, there was a freight train wrecked, the cars all being swept over on the north side against the bank of the woods along the old Portage Railroad, with the car trucks etc. lying on the track. A short piece of track was left and scattered along there. This was the only piece of track left between the South Fork bridge and the viaduct. We then pushed on to the viaduct, reaching there with track laying by Wednesday morning.

Q. Now, I understand you were at Gallitzin when the rain commenced, and that was Thursday night?
A. Yes, sir; it commenced raining there somewhere between 8 and 10 o'clock. It had been cloudy weather, and there had been kind of a heavy mist all evening before the rain commenced to come down. It commenced to rain in Torrents about 10 o'clock. I staid [sic] at Gallitzin all Thursday night, and was up until about a quarter past eleven. The rain was coming so hard that I expected to be called. It was the heaviest rain that any of the people over [sic] saw there. Mr. Fitzharris, an old citizen there spoke of it as being the heaviest rain he ever saw there; and Mr. Spires, the division foreman, says it was the heaviest rain he ever saw. It continued to rain, so far as I know, all night. The next morning at six o'clock, when I got up, it was still raining, only not so hard. It rained all day Friday, excepting very short spells of clear weather. We staid [sic] at Lilly all day Friday expecting to be able to commence operations, but about 4 o'clock, the water began to raise again, and rosr [sic] at the rate of a couple inches an hour, and we abandoned the work until Saturday morning.

Q. What stream was it that did the damage at Lilly?
A. It was the north branch of the Conemaugh that washed over the tracks. There is a stream which flows south of the town, which did not do any damage at all. It was just up over the rail in one place. On the Lilly Branch, it washed two bridges out, but it did no damage to the main line.

Q. Can you give me an idea as to the amount of water in that stream?
A. No, I could not. Where I was, it was confined to its limits. Where I was, it was about fifty feet across, and the culvert would not carry it. It backed it up over the tracks just below the station on the south side west of Lilly.

Q. Where was it you saw the water about four feet deep?
A. That was slack water; a large pond of an area of about five acres, east of Smith's crossing on the south side of the track (.) It poured out of the north branch of the Conemaugh, and it cut a channel right over the main tracks. The water was about three feet deep over the main tracks. Part of the water took the new channel, and part the old.

Q. At the point on the main line, where the water cut through, was it an embankment, and how high was that embankment?
A. Oh, at this point, it wasn't over five feet above the water. It was right in the bend of the river.

Q. Was there not a long retaining wall built there?
A. Yes, sir. The force of the current struck the stone wall, and the embankment, and cut it entirely out, and carried the main track away for a distance of a quarter of a mile. The water had no outlet, and in some places was forty feet deep.

Q. How did you ascertain the depth of it?
A. By the top arm of a telegraph pole which was under water on the old Portage grading which was six, eight or ten feet above the bottom of the valley. When the water rose, it poured over the tracks at Smith's crossing towards Bens Creek, and ran into the Bens Creek below there.

Q. How deep was the water against the embankment at Bens Creek?
A. I should say fifteen feet. It made a large lake in there.

Q. Do you know how many streams empty into the North Fork of the Conemaugh before it joins the South Fork?
A. I only know of two; one at Lilly and one at Bens Creek that empty in.

Q. Did you ever see a rain equal to this one before?
A. No, sir, in all my experience, I never saw a rain like that one before.

Q. Had you any flood since the time you came on that division in December, by which you could judge of this flood?
A. No, sir, we had none at all.

Q. How long was you on the Monongahela Division?
A. Fifteen months.

Q. Did you ever see any rain like this one there?
A. No, sir, and I was there during these two large floods last summer. I think one was in July and the other in August; but the water didn't compare with this.

Q. How much of the town of Lilly was under water?
A. Very little of it. Only those lower houses at the lower end of the town, and the water then was only in thebasements [sic]. The flood there kept to the channel pretty much. All the bottom lands were under water, and one house west of Lilly. The house is still standing there, but it was under. We sent help there to get them out.

Q. Do you know the names of the people living in this house?
A. No, sir, I couldn't say.

Q. How deep was the water in the house when you took them out?
A. I think they were in the second story at the time.

Q. How far did that house stand from the stream?
A. I think it stood - - - I couldn't say exactly: several hundred feet probably. It was on wide low ground.

Q. How much of a valley is there back of the house?
A. I judge the valley t that point is five hundred feet wide. My work train came past there, and these people wanted assistance, and they furnished them ropes to get out with.

Q. At the point where you state the track was washed out for a quarter of a mile, was it a strong embankment?
A. Yes, sir, it must have been built from stone, for the reason that the slack water backed there was pouring through in places along for a thousand feet.

Q. Now, there was another dam above Johnstown belonging to the Cambria Iron Company. How far was that from Johnstown?
A. Four miles and three tenths.

Q. How high was the breast of the dam?
A. It was about six feet high.

Q. Did this dam break before of after the South Fork dam?
A. I don't know. One of my foreman, L. B?. Rusher, was just below there when it broke. I think it broke after the South Fork dam broke.

Q. Were the tracks below that dam washed out?
A. The north track was for some little distance out of service. Foreman Rusher stated to me yesterday, (June 14) that about four hundred feet of the track east of the big cut, below the Johnstown dam was washed out entirely, and the north track out of service.

Q. Have you an opinion yourself as to how high the water was over the tracks at that dam?
A. The tracks there must be twelve or fifteen feet high. I don't think the water was over the tracks.

Last updated: February 14, 2017

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