Brakeman Miller Statement

Q. What train were you on the last day of May last? [sic]
A. I was front brakeman on the first section of Day Express.

Q. Who was your conductor?
A. The conductor was Samuel E. Bell.

Q. What time did you get to Johnstown?
A. We got to Johnstown at 10.20 a. m.

Q. What was the condition of things when you reached Johnstown?
Where was the water?

A. When we reached Johnstown, the water had backed up, and was at least four feet high over the streets directly beyond the station.

Q. Where did the people seem to be?
A. A great many of them were on the railroad track and quite a number were in the upper story of the houses at the time.

Q. Over what extent of Johnstown did that flood prevail?
A. Well, I don't know. I couldn't see very much of the houses from the railroad, but it seemed to be over at least two squares from the railroad, or two squares from the river.

Q. Well, now, after leaving Johnstown, where did you go to?
A. We went to Conemaugh.

Q. And where was your train put?
A. Our train was backed in partly on the siding alongside of the river, ahead of the Mail Train which was laying on the siding at that time, but we were taken off and out on the third siding north main track, and west of the road crossing at Conemaugh; it was about the third siding, I think.

Q. How far would that place the train from the river?
A. That would place the train from the river at least 90 feet.

Q. How many cars had you in your train?
A. We had 7 cars.

Q. Does that include or exclude the baggage car?
A. That includes the baggage car.

Q. How many of them were Pullman cars?
A. We had one Pullman car.

Q. Were you down about the tower while you were there?
A. I was around the tower, yes, sir.

Q. Now, tell us what you heard about the South Fork dam; what the operator said, if anything, as near as you can.. [sic]
A. Well, I didn't hear anything from the operator; I heard it rumored by a couple parties, one I think, was Yard Master Walkinshaw, that they had received messages from South Fork saying that the dam was liable to break.

Q. Now, what time of day was it that you heard that?
A. Well, I heard it before going to dinner; some time before half past twelve, I couldn't say exactly, but it was before half-past 12 some time.

Q. Did you hear it more than once?
A. Yes, sir, I heard it a couple times.

Q. "Sweep the valley"; was that that [sic] was in the message, or Walkinshaw's opinion.
A. That was Walkinshaw's personal opinion.

Q. The messages, you understood, were to the effect that there was danger of the dam going out, and then Walkinshaw said, if it did, it would sweep the valley?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Now, what time of day did you say that was?
A. I can't recollect what time it was.

Q. Well, taking the coming of the flood; how long was it before the flood came that you heard that?
A. Well, it was about two hours and a half previous to that, at least. I personally paid very little attention to it. I didn't think much of it.

Q. Well, now, how high did the water get in the Conemaugh: Was it out of its banks or not, for any an hour, before the big wave came down?
A. No, sir, it wasn't out of its banks previous to the big wave, but it was undermining the railroad.

Q. Washing the tracks out?
A. Yes, sir; washing under the tracks.

Q. Had the river been rising all that morning, or had it come to a stand still?
A. Well, it had been rising all morning, and then it came to a stand still. At least, before the flood came, I didn't notice it rising any after it took the County bridge away at Conemaugh?

Q. Where were you when the big wave came?
A. I was partly up on the hill.

Q. What were you doing up there?
A. Well, I was told that it was coming, and I got up on the hill for my own safety. I had gone to the Agent at Conemaugh, he was in the office at Conemaugh station---

Q. Who is he?
A. E. R. Stewart;-- and I borrowed the key from him for the water closet at the station, and I went in the water closet, and I think I was reading a Commercial Gazette at the time when I heard the big whistle, and not knowing of any freight moving, I first thought probably it might be a freight engine that was to assist first Day Express up the mountain; I thought maybe they were alarming the passengers to get on the train, and wondered why it wasn't a passenger engine whistle. The next thought that came to me was that South Fork dam had broken. I made a hasty exit, and when I got outside, a young fellow came along and said that was what was wrong. He seemed to be in a great hurry, and I asked him if South Fork dam had broken, and he replied "Yes, so people say", and it seems to me, I told him to run, and I ran too.

Q. You broke for the hill?
A. Yes, sir, I broke for the hill.

Q. You didn't go to your train?
A. No, sir; I got up on the hill probably 110 yards from the station, and looked back, and could see that the water had come. I could see that the water was between the houses at that time. I concluded I wasn't high enough, and I went up onto still higher ground.

Q. You didn't climb a tree?
A. No, sir.

Q. Why didn't you go to your train and help to get your passengers out?
A. Well, for my own safety. From the descriptions I had heard, I concluded I had better be on the hill.

Q. You might have gone to your train if you had tried?
A. I could have, but the question was whether I could then have gone to the hill or not.

Q. You believed your life was in danger, did you?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Where was your conductor at this time?
A. I had left him in a coach of the Mail Train, No. 12. It was the coach that conductor Easton, and brakeman McGuigan were in. That was the last I saw of him.

Q. How far had you gone from the station where you were?until [sic] you stopped in a place of safety on the hillside?
A. Well, from the station house to a place of safety was between 75 and 100 yards until I got outside of the water line.

Q. Now, when you first saw this great wave coming, what did it look like?
A. I was still running when the wave passed, and I didn't see it. All I saw was a broad expanse of muddy water.

Q. Could you tell from any mark there how high the water was up on the hill where you were? How high was the water from the foot of the hill up to where the highest water line was?
A. It was between 75 and 100 yards.

Q. And how deep do you suppose the water was at the foot of the hill?
A. I would suppose the water was 13 or 14 feet deep at the least calculation at the foot of the hill, judging from the height of the railroad, and how high it came up on the cars.

Q. Did the water come with a loud noise?
A. No, sir, I heard no noise at all. It didn't seem to make a noise. It made no noise until it came and was crushing the houses.

Q. Well, now, if the dam had not broken, do you think those trains were in a place of safety?
A. Undoubtedly they were.

Q. So it was the extraordinary force of the water that did the damage?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. It was raining a good part of that day, wasn't it?
A. Yes, sir: the greater part of the day, it was raining hard.

Q. Did you talk to any of the passengers of your train about the South Fork dam?
A. I talked with Mr. Palmer, a passenger on the train.

Q. Who was he?
A. He was a traveling man; Ijust [sic] know him as a traveling man; that's all.

Q. Was he lost or saved?
A. He was saved; I saw him afterwards.

Q. Do you now [sic] where he lives?
A. No, sir, I don't .

Q. What did you say to him about the South Fork dam breaking, or in other words, had the report spread around generally among the passengers there, that there was a likelihood of the dam breaking?
A. The passengers, I believe, were as familiar with the danger as the trainmen.

Q. Were they standing about in groups, and was the matter talked of be all of them?
A. They were standing about in groups talking when the bridge at Conemaugh went away; the rumor about the dam was current all around. Parties were talking about it among themselves, and it couldn't help spreading among the passengers. Just before it come, I went through the whole train, and the passengers seemed to be resting easy.

Q. Did you say anything to them about the dam going?
A. No, sir.

Q. What time was that?
A. I went through the train about 3.35 or 3.40.

Q. That would be about half an hour before the flood came?
A. About 15 or 20 minutes before flood came.

Q. Do you know of any people [were] standing about when Mr Walkinshaw was talking about the dispatches with reference to the South Fork dam breaking?
A. Well, Mr. Walkinshaw made the statement to a party with me and myself, [sic] and we were the only two who were there at the time.

Q. Who was the other party?
A. Conductor Bell, as I said before.

Q. State now, what disposition was made of your train, or what different sidings it was placed on, after you got to Conem'gh. [sic]
A. It was first put on the siding along the river bank, or partly put on siding, and then backed back and put on the third siding north of the north main track, and west of the road crossing, and some time after dinner, it was taken from there, and put on No. 2 siding.

Q. Why was it taken from there, d o you know?
A. It was taken from there on Mr. Walkinshaw's orders; the water was getting under the tracks, you know, and I think that was what induced him to have them taken up, and I think it was also on the suggestion of Mr. Bell. The engines were cut to clear the passenger crossing at Conemaugh station;--

Q. What engines?
A. We had engines 437 and 1051.

Q. The 437 was the helper?
A. Yes, sir; it was cut from the other engine, and moved ahead to clear the crossing.

Q. How far was that train from the river bank when it was moved the last time?
A. The last time, It [sic] was between 60 and 80 yards from the river bank.

Q. That was the rear end?
A. That was the rear end.

Q. How far was the front end from the river bank?
A. The front end was between 80 and 100 yards.

Q. Does the track face toward the hill?
A. No, sir, the river curves over.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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