Agent Stewart Statement

Q. Where were you employed on the last of May last?
A. At Conemaugh.

Q. In what capacity?
A. As Agent and Shop Clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Q. How long had you been there?
A. I had been there since the 30th day of May, 1862.

Q. During the time you have been there, and up until the time of this flood, had you seen freshets or floods in the Conemaugh?
A. Oh yes, but never so high as this time.

Q. How many freshets have you seen?
A. I wouldn't like to say the exact number; possibly three or four at least.

Q. Could you give us an idea of how much higher the water was this last flood than any previous one you saw?
A. Well, I would suppose that this water was at least thirty feet high after the dam broke.

Q. Before that, I want it.
A. I suppose 16 to 18 feet.

Q. How do you estimate that?
A. Well, by the height of the bridge reaching from Conemaugh or rather East Conemaugh borough, over into Frnaklin [sic]. From the river to this bridge, it was very high, I suppose at least 14 feet.

Q. Before the water came from the dam when it broke, how high was the water, as near as you can tell, up on the houses in the lower portion of Johnstown?
A. I wouldn't speak for Johnstown because I wasn't there. At Conemaugh, the water in our Master Mechanic's house, Mr. Zane, and the houses of two or three of our division foremen, was four feet high anyhow. We took the household goods of one of our division froeman [sic] out of his home, and placed them in one side of my home on the opposite side of the road, and the water was all around his home four feet deep at least.

Q. Had there ever been anything like that before?
A. No, sir, never before since I have been there.

Q. Were you there when he [sic] Mail Train an d [sic] the two Day Expresses arrived at Conemaugh?
A. I was; those trains were square in front of my office door; the first Day Express was right in front of the office door.

Q. Were the positions of those trains changed after they arrived there?
A. I think if I remember rightly that the Mail Train was shifted down to the lower end of the yard, and I'm not positive, but I think it was brought back again.

Q. At any time before thedam [sic] broke, was the flood out over the ( ? ) at Conemaugh where those trains were?
A. (?) never, never.

Q. Had it a very high bank on this side ( ? words went off the page )
A. There was at least four to six feet for it to come up over until it could get on the tracks.

Q. Except for the water that came from the dam breaking, state whether from your knowledge of the railroad, those trains were in a safe place.
A. They were without a doubt. They wouldn't have been injured in the least. They couldn't have been for the single reason that they were on the very outside track as far away as they could get them, and they could have laid there for months without anything interfering with them at all if it hadn't been for the dam breaking.

Q. What, if anything, did you hear during the morning of Friday in relation to the condition of South Fork dam, as to its safety?
A. Well, there was various rumors; nothing of any consquence [sic] during the forenoon, except if I remember rightly, there was a message received some time on or about 11 or 12 o'clock in the forenoon. The reservoir was spoken of by a great many people in the place, but it was just the same at that time as it has been ever since I was at Conemaugh, they were inclined to laugh; they didn't put any stock in it at all. They thought it was only a rumor.

Q. Did you, from your observation, learn that there was anybody at Conemaugh that had any serious apprehension of the damage from the dam bursting?
A. Not a soul. Before the reservoir bursted when we took out the household foods of this old gentleman, Masterson, one of our Division Foreman, I , in connection with several others there, more out of curiosity than anything else, asked some of the oldest residents of the place, how long they thought, in case the dam was to break, it would take that body of water to get to Conemaugh. Some of them estimated two hours, and there wasn't a man that said less than an hour/ [sic] and a quarter.

Q. Did you discuss with them, or say anything as to what it might or might not do in case the dam did break?
A. Yes, it was spo(k)en of, in going back and forth among different parties, but with the exception of some four or five persons, no person felt any serious apprehension. I mysef [sic] felt almost perfectly safe in my office, and if it hadn't been for my wife, I wouldn't have left there at all. I never thought for an instant that the buildings would do.

Q. Did she com(e) after you?
A. No, she had (been) in the office about twenty minutes before. I (had) come down to the east end of the yard on one of the s( ) engines, Hess was the engineer, and Mr. Walkinshaw had (gone) to the west end of the yard with an engine to see a(bout) some cars that they were afraid would go into the river, and Hess and his conductor came while I was up there, and asked me if I thought it would be safe for them to drop their train over to the siding, or rather down the main track one car at a time. They had been ordered to South fork but they couldn't get any further than Mineral Point. I told them "yes", andwhen [sic] I left them there, one car had been started. I walked back and the shifting conductor met me and we walked back to the yard master's office, and he showed me this message from Wilson, the Superintendent of the Argyle Coal Company, which stated that the water was now flowing over the top o f [sic] the reservoir and they thought it unsafe. Well, that didn't worry me any; I walked down the track a short distance and just a minute or two before I got there, this bridge (h)eading over into Franklin branch was washed out. I then returned to the office leisurely, and sat down at the desk, and was doing some work on the check rolls; I suppose I was there twenty minutes, possibly half-an hour, when this whistle blew. My freight man, Davis, ran out of the office, and I ran to the door and asked the engineer of the Day Express whether that was the warning for the reservoir, and he said he thought it was. I locked the office door and started to run, and by this time, the passenger off of the Day Expresses were running just as hard as they could, I with the majority of them, going over into the town.

Q. You escaped in that way?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was there any place or point east of Conemaugh where those trains could have been placed that mroning, [sic] under the circumstances, that would have been any safer or more secure for the passengers than where they were?
A. No, sir. We had a man injured about a mile and a quarter east of Conemaugh that mroning, [sic] one of our track men, and we had sent down for our Company physician, Dr. Lowman, of Johnstown. He came up on the Mail. Mail laid there until 9 o'clock anyhow, between 9 & 10, when the Western Union repairman came down, and said that the tracks were undermined; that the eastbound freight track was in the river, and he considered the tr(a)cks unsafe to run over.

Q. At what point was this?
A. That is a short distance east of Conemaugh yard; not more then I presume 150 or 175 yards; along there;

Q. Do you know what the repairman's name was?
A. Hollister. He told me about the track, and I told him he had better got to the Yard Master's office as quick as he could; that I understood they were going to leave Mail go, and to notify them to hold it. I understood afterwards that he had notified them down at the Ya rd [sic] Master's office, and they concluded to hold Mail. There was no point east of there that was as safe as Conemaugh yard with the exception of one spot between the "(B)rown" house and No. 6 bridge, and it was something unusual for them to lay trains out there. They held them at a point like Conemaugh where they could reach them. There was no telegraph office there only at No. 6 bridge, the extreme end of the safe track I speak of.

Q. State whether in your judgment it wou ld [sic] have been prudent or not to have moved the Day Expresses east after they arrived there.
A. No, sir, for the simple reason that the Day Expresses arrived there long after Mail did, and we thought it unsafe to run Mail east, and fo [sic] co(u)rse it was the same for the Day Express

Q. You/ had relieable [sic] reports that the road was insecure?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. You believe as a railroad man, that the Yard Master, Mr. Walkinshaw, acted prudently th(a)t morning and careful, in managing the trains and in keeping them at Conemaugh?
A. Well, that is a matter that rests with the Superintendent's office; he has no authority---

Q. I am asking youropinion [sic] of Mr. Walkinshaw's conduct at that time. Did he do what an ordinarily prudent man would have done under like circumstances?
A. Well, sir, I would have held those trains.

Q. You have spoken about a dispatch as to the condition of the South Fork dam, that was sent by Mr. Wilson; tell me, if you please, what it was that was said in that dispatch. Do you know? Did you read it?
A. Oh yes, I read it; but I can't recollect exactly how it was worded. It was nothing more than that the water was running over the top, and he though it unsafe.

Q. What time of day was it you saw that message?
A. That was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 o'clock.

Q. And how longwas [sic] it before the water from the dam came down?
A. Well, the water came there at almost four o'clock.

Q. In this connection, how far is it from Conemaugh to the South Fork dam by the river?
A. Well, walking the course of the river all around, following it around those two hog-backs, as we call then, at No. 6 and the viaduct, it is ten miles.

Q. What is the general character of the country it traverses? Is it very hilly?
A. It is hilly the whole way up

Q. Are there ( ? ) valleys where the water spreads out?
A. No, sir, no place where the water could get out, but two little trifling flats between two hills, that didn't amount to anything for that body of water.

Q. So that the water was confined to a narrow space the whole way down?
A. Yes, sir

Q. When you saw the flood approaching, how high did it look to you?
A. I don't think it was more than thirty feet high.

Q. And in extent where did it reach?
A. Well, I suppose it was at least 230 yards wide when itwas [sic] coming down through the town.

Q. Did you observe whether or not there was a very powerful current or air in front of it?
A. I did not.

Q. That message from Wilson was the only one you saw, was it?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Or heard of?
A. I heard of another message previous to that one that was received in the Yard Master's office, but I didn't see it.

Q. How many messages were received previous to this one, do you know?
A. One, and possibly two. I am not positive, but I think there was three messages in all,received [sic] there.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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South Fork, PA 15956

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