Rusher statement

Q. Where were you employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at the time of the Johnstown flood?
A. I was at what they call "AO" tower.

Q. In what capacity?
A. Division Foreman.

Q. What were your duties as Division Foreman and what was the length of your division? Where did it extend from and to?
A. From East Conemaugh station to just west of "MP. tower.

Q. What is the length of your division?
A. About 2 1/2 miles.

Q. What were your duties?
A. I had full charge of keeping the road in repair from one end to the other, and looking out for land slides, and removing obstruction of all kinds.

Q. How long had you been there?
A. Going on nine years.

Q. Now, sir, do you recollect the rain-fall that preceded this flood, and continued up until the time the dam broke?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was it a very heavy rain?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was it a continuous rain?
A. It slacked sometimes a little, and sometimes it was very heavy

Q. During all the time you had been there, did you ever see such a flood as that in the Conemaugh?
A. No, sir, never to my knowledge.

Q. How much higher was the last one than any one you know of?
A. I believe we had pretty near again as much water in the river channel as we ever had before previous to that time. I wouldn't say altogether, but not far out of the was.

Q. Where were you on Friday morning on the day the dam broke?
A. Well, I was first called to a land slide at Buttermilk Falls on No. 4 track. When I arrived there, I noticed quite a land slide and No. 4 track all blocked. We have our tracks there all numbered; No. 4 was the track nearest to the hillside. While I was there, I learned there was a land slide just east of "AO" tower, and when I proceeded from the first land slide to the second.

Q. What time in the morning?
A. I was called about six o'clock; 6.30 is our usual time to go to work, but I was called before the usual time on account of this slide on No. 4 track. I went at once to "AO" tower, and while I was there, one of my men got struck by an eastbound freight train, and then we proceeded with the cabin of that train to Mineral Point. It was 6.55 when he got struck. We went to Mineral Point tower, and remained there until we had arranged to bring the man to his place of residence. This was about 9.30 in the morning. At that time the water was pretty high. We got the man down to his residence, and I then went to Conemaugh after the man that was authorized to come to look after him and attend to his injuries. On our way going up, No. 1 track was already then washed out that it wasn't safe to pass over with an engine, and the Doctor didn't wish to come up on that track. That was somewhere about ten o'clock. After I arrived about a mile east of Conemaugh, the man I had in charge of the deep cut, he came down and informed me that there was a land slide east of "AO" tower again; so I proceeded up there, and when I arrived up east of the deep cut, I found about 400 feet of the north track hanging in the river, and the road had entirely washed away over to the south track. The South track was almost impassible at that time.

Q. Where sis that water come from?
A. It was the main stream of the Conemaugh; the water from the Conemaugh river that washed those tracks out.

Q. How far was that east of Conemaugh?
A. Well, it was about 2 1/4 miles east.

Q. What time was it you discovered the track was washed out there
A. At about 11 o'clock, or somewheres along there.

Q. The road was practically then obstructed, and not safe for trains from Conemaugh east from 9 o'clock on?
A. The slide was on No.4 track; the eastbound track was all right yet.

Q. Wasn't the road blocked for the Day Expresses?
A. This land slide was on No. 4 track, a freight track, and the westbound and eastbound tracks were all right yet for trains to pass over.

Q. Was the Conemaugh when you got to where this washout was, still breaking in?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And didn't that render all the tracks there rather unsafe for the passage of trains?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Now, suppose the day Expresses arrived at Conemaugh about their usual time, was the road in any condition for those two trains to have proceeded with safety, do you think?
A. At about 9.30 was the last time I passed west where this bad washout was on the north track, and when I passed up there, the roadbed was in shape to go over, but when I was called there afterwards, the north track was somewhere about 400 fee [sic] in the river, and that was somewhere near 11 o'clock.

Q. Exercising sound discretion, ought the man who had control of the trains at Conemaugh, to have undertaken to have started those trains on?
A. I hardly think he should.

Q. In your own opinion as Division Foreman, would you have thought it advisable to have ordered those two passenger trains to proceed?
A. No, sir, the river was still rising fast and was still washing in, and it was raining and there was danger of slides. In the meanwhile, there was a construction train got orders to do something to the washout, and they were west of the washout, and I was coming from Mineral Point, and I said to them "You'd better move your train out of this; this place isn't safe for you where you are", and they took my advise.

Q. The stopping of those trains at Conemaugh then, was the safest thing that could be done under the circumstances?
A. Yes, sir.
I was at Mineral Point tower near about noon, and it was about that time that I carried that message.

Q. What message do you allude to now? Who gave it to you, and what was in it?
A. It was from South Fork; I can't remember very well who it was from, but it seems to me that it was the Agent that sent it to the operator at Mineral Point tower, stating that the lake was in such a condition that it was liable to break at any moment, something like that, and it was to go to Mr. Pitcairn at Pittsburgh, and to the Yard Master at Conemaugh. I carried that message from "MP" tower to "AO" tower.

Q. What distance was that?
A. That would be probably from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half.

Q. Did you carry it right away?
A. Yes, sir, I at once proceeded to "AO" tower with it, and fairly ran with the message. When I carried that message down, the track was in bad condition, and getting worse every moment.

Q. What did you do with that message?
A. I handed it to Operator R. W Shade. He had charge of the office for the day.

Q. What time of day was that?
A. Somewheres about noon.

Q. Did you hear of any other message?
A. Yes, sir. I had a young man by the nmae [sic] of William Reichard, a hand employed by me; I had him stationed at MP tower to protect this washout. It was outr [sic] duty to protect such things by stationing a man some distance on each side to flag; and h [sic] he remained there until this message was received there. It stated that the South Fork take was running over in the middle and west side.

Q. Who was that from?
A. From the Agent at South Fork again, I think.

Q. To whom was it directed?
A. I believe that was to Johnstown people and Mr. Pitcairn at Pittsburgh.

Q. Who took that message?
A. William Reichard carried that message from Mineral Point to "AO"tower [sic] at about two o'clock, the best I can remember; it was probably a little before two.

Q. Now, was there any other message than those two?
A. They were the only two in regard to high waters and washouts on the division.

Q. Where were you at the time the flood came down from the dam?
A. I was at "AO" tower getting my dinner. In the meanwhile, a man carried the operator's dinner there; and we were very thirsty and I had a man stationed at the bridge, and this man went around to bridge 6 for water. In the meanwhile the man who was watching bridge 6 reported that there were stones breaking out of the center pier; it only had one pier; and I went over the bridge and was on the bridge back and forth there, and I concluded I would go on east to the washout and see the condition of the track and telegraph line. It was about that time that the telegraph wires on the south side, the Western Union line wires, began to shake terrible, and I at once thought the roadbed must be entirely washed out up above and the water was forming its channel where it was once ( ? ) was built and I proceeded to the cut and was going on through the cut, and I saw the water right before me. I though then that was the flood water, and I then saved my life by taking up on the side of the hill, and I wasn't much more than on the hill until a portion of the fo [sic] flood water formed a channel through the deep cut on the track and the remainder went around its usual course; there is a kind of a loop there where the water ran around.

Q. You know that Conemaugh yard pretty well, don't you?
A. Oh yes.

Q. Could those three passenger trains have been placed in any safer position than they were? According to the condition of things before and after the flood, were they in as good a place as they could be placed?
A. Yes sir, they were. There were some parts of the trains stood almost the same after the flood as they were before the flood came. They were in about as good a location as I would know in that yard, for that was the only place that was left in any kind of shape, and the balance of the yard was all destroyed, and you couldn't tell that there ever was a railroad there.

Q. And I understand you to say distinctly that considering the time the Day Expresses arrived at Conemaugh, it wouldn't have been prudent or safe, in your judgment, to have started them east?
A. Yes, sir, I think it was wise to hold them there.
A man by the name of Roberts is the man I had in charge of protecting the deep cut and the iron bridge there, and he is the man that first discovered all this, and informed me of it, when this north track was washed away. At about 9.30, I passed up there with this injured man of ours, westwards, and I was just sitting down at the desk in Mineral Point tower to make a report of the accident, when this man informed me of the condition of things west of deep cut, and I at once dropped everything, and went and found everything in the condition he reported it, and then I went to MP tower, and saw that there was a man back to protect that place.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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