Assistant Supt., Pittsburgh Division, Penna. R. R.
Q. Now, Mr. Trump, please state why you left Pittsburgh in the latter part of May, where you went, what you did, etc.
A. I got up on Friday morning, May 31st, at home in Pittsburgh; the Train Despatchers [sic] called me up on the telephone, and advised me that we were having considerable trouble at Lilly on account of the tracks being washed out. I came to the office, and after arrival there, found there was great danger of our telegraph line being washed out, and our communication cut off. I then began to hunt up Mr. Wierman, whom I found at home, sick. I gave him the situation, and I then sent for our Master Carpenter, Mr. Webb, and about 11 o'clock, and we left with engine 266 (?) and one coach, and Mr. Wierman, Mr. Webb, Mr. Sheaffer, and a telegraph operator, and a gang of telegraph repairmen, with the intention of going as far as Lilly and repairing any damage that might be done to the telegraph line. On arrival at Wilkensburg, we picked up John Stewart, Train Despatcher [sic], and took him along. We had no further reports of the situation until we arrived at Johnstown; [sic]
Q. What time?
A. The train sheet shows that we arrived at Johnstown at 2.27, after which there is no record of the run of this train. On arrival at Johnstown, we found the town flooded:-
Q. To what extent do you judge the water was up on the houses?
A. Well, the water, as far as I could see from the track, was up about to the second floor, almost within a foot of the second floor, and the people were all in the second stories of their houses, including our Agent's family at the station, and right at the station, the water was up at the top of the fence there, which was about four feet high, and that portion of the town is considerably higher than the balance of the town, so that I judge the water in the main part of the town must have been eight or nine feet deep. We stopped at the bridge, and found Mr. Hays' work train at that point, and we got out, made an examination of the abutments--
Q. You are speaking now of the stone bridge below Johnstown?
A. Yes, sir;-- and we found there was a considerable amount of timber, such as logs, etc., coming down from the Johnstown Lumber Company's boom, and lodging against the bridge. The boom which had already broken, was hanging through the piers at that time. We then arranged for the work train gang to go down, and see what they could do to keep the drift passing through the piers. We then pushed on to the telegraph tower.
Q. Where is that located?
A. Right at the station at Johnstown; and we ran across Mr. Deckert, the Agent, who informed us that he had a report the dam was liable to break at any minute, and he said the people of Johnstown did not seem to realize the thing, didn't believe it, and paid no attention to it; that they had heard it so often that they placed no confidence in the report. I then advised him to get his family out of the house, and try to persuade everybody else to get out that he could. We then asked for orders to go on up to Conemaugh, as that was the end of the telegraphic communication at that time, and we were informed that we could not get up on either No. 1, 2, or 3 tracks on account of tracks being washed out at Conemaugh. So we crossed over and flagged ourselves up to Conemaugh on No. 4, which is the westbound freight track, and the one closest to the hill. When we got to Conemaugh, we were flagged, and told that they didn't consider No. 4 track safe for us, so they put us in on No. 1 siding in the yard, and we went up to the telegraph office by that track. On arrival at the telegraph office at Conemaugh, we received a further report from the Yard Master that the condition of South Fork dam was getting serious, and the dam was liable to break at any minute. I looked over the ground with Mr. Walkinshaw, and found that he had already placed the passenger trains, first and second No. 8's, on the back tracks in the yard, and in the safest position in which they could be put. We then received a repor t [sic] that the tracks were washed out at the water works dam east of bridge 6, and we concluded the best thing we could do was to push on and see what the trouble was there especially the telegraph line east of Conemaugh was down, and we hadn't the men there to repair it.
Q. What tracks were washed out at Conemaugh?
A. There was a hole washed out in tracks 1, 2, & 3, and the ties and rails were hanging through this gap; the water had been deflected from the creek channel right into our backing, cut a hole out,and [sic] undermined in under these three tracks.
Q. As near as you can judge, Mr. Trump, what was the height of the water in the stream at that time, when you arrived there at Conemaugh?
A. I judge the water was eight or nine feet high.
Q. Was it over its banks or not?
A. No, sir, it was up to the lower chord or our bridge at Conemaugh over the Portage road. Mr. Wierman and I looked over the matter with a view of putting down a temporary track to run some cars out to hold that bridge; -- we thought maybe it would be well to do that, but we decided afterwards it would hardly be necessary.
Q. How far were these two trains, first and second Day Expresses, away from the stream or from the bank of the river?
A. Well, I should think about 300 feet.
Q. And how far was the Mail Train away?
A. About 250 feet.
Q. Was there any water on the tracks where these three trains were standing?
A. No, sir.
Q. Had the stream gotten over its banks?
A. No, sir.
Q. How much did it lack of being over its banks?
A. I suppose about three feet.
Q. Well, now, at this point, let me ask you whether there was any safer place for these trains than where they were, and if not, what is your reason for that?
A. I don't exactly understand your question?
Q. I mean what is the reason there was no safer place? in other words, could you have run them towards Johnstown, or up the road east, and found any safer place for them?
A. No, sir, if I had known at the time that the dam was broken, I wouldn't have known what to have done with them. I would have left them where they were.
Q. Well now, why?
A. Because in my judgement at that time that was the safest place they could be. The road was being washed out east of that point, and the road below that is on lower ground. Independent of that, the curve at Conemaugh would direct the water on to the opposite side of the creek, so that where the trains were, they were on the inside of the curve, and the water flowing away from them instead of towards them.
Q. Well, couldn't you have run them on east to a safer place?
A. No, sir, because if we had attempted to run them east, we would have gotten them to Buttermilk Falls where the creek was directed against the road.
Q. You wouldn't have known any other place to run them to under those circumstances?
A. No, sir.
Q. Except for the breaking of the dam, and this tremendous volume of water coming down, wouldn't coming down, wouldn't the trains have been in a place of perfect safety?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. In other words, do you think the water would have gotten over the banks of the creek at where the trains were except for the breaking of the dam?
A. No, not from the flood itself.
Q. What knowledge have you of any dispatch being sent to Conemaugh from any point east as to the condition of the South Fork dam?
A. I saw a dispatch that the Yard Master had, stating that the dam was liabl e [sic] to break at any minute.
Q. Where did it come from?
A. I am not sure as to where that came from; my impression at the time was that it came from the operator at South Fork.
Q. Was there telegraphic communication between South Fork station and the dam?
A. No, sir, there was a telephone down from South Fork to Johnstown that furnished the information that I got at Johnstown.
Q. There is no telegraph line then from South Fork, or from any point on the railroad, over to the South Fork dam?
A. No, sir.
Q. The information then that was given was by the telephone from the dam down to what point?
A. Down to Johnstown, and the information that people brought down the valley from the South Fork dam.
Q. The information that was brought down the valley by these people is perhaps what furnished the operator at South Fork with the knowledge he had on the subject, that he telegraphed down, and that you saw; that is right, is it?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What is the distance from South Fork up to the dam?
A. Two miles.
Q. Is there any railroad there?
A. No, sir.
Q. Any person then coming down from the dam would have to walk those two miles, would he?
A. Yes, sir, or ride otherwise than by rail.
Q. Who was the Company's telegraph operator at Conemaugh at the time that message came there?
A. Well, now, I don't know.
Q. Do you know the name of the operator up at South Fork?
A. Miss Ehrenfeld.
Q. Where is she?
A. She is still working at South Fork.
Q. Can you fix about the time that you saw that message at Conemaugh?
A. My impression is it was about half-past three.
Q. Where were you when the flood of water came, the big surge?
A. We were just coming to what we call "AO" tower. It is about a quarter of a mile this side of bridge 6.
Q. How far from Conemaugh?
A. About a mile.
Q. So that from the time you got the information from the dispatch about the condition of the dam, until you saw the flood coming, you had run a mile?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Now, what time do you suppose it was after you got the dispatch?
A. Well, it was about a quarter of four. The dam had evidently been broken some time when I saw that message. That, of course I don't know anything about.
Q. What is your own opinion as to the time occupies by the water of the dam coming down to Conemaugh, from any data you have, or any means of determining the question?
A. Well, it must have been in the neighborhood of 35 or 40 minutes.
Q. Well now, from where you saw this volume of water coming from the dam, just describe it. What did it look like?
A. Just after we decided to leave Conemaugh, and come to the washout above, we ran up No. 4 track, which is the track next to the hill, and which is the westbound track (so we had to go a little cautious as we didn't know what was coming, there being no telegraphic communication), and we ran pretty slow around to Buttermilk Falls. After passing around Buttermilk Falls, and the first curve east of Buttermilk Falls, we noticed a small amount of drift in the river which looked different from anything we had seen, being small stuff, and we remarked right away that that must be the dam. We went on towards "AO" tower, and got on the inside of the curve, told the conductor to stop the train, and we all got out. It was then raining very hard. We then began to realize that the dam was broken, and we ran up to"AO" [sic] tower, which was about 1000 feet east of us with the intention of getting the operator to report to Conemaugh and Johnstown that the dam was going.Before [sic] we reached there however, the telegraph poles along the river comenced [sic] to go, the wires had pulled the tower out of plumb, and the operator got out. We ran up to him, and asked him whether he could get in and send a report. He said he had already reported the matter, and Mr. Wierman and Mr. Webb then ran on up towards bridge 6 and I remained in the vicinity of the tower. The water seemed to rise about a boot at a time for a while. We would pick out a land mark, and look at something else, and when we would look back for the land mark, it was gone; it was just rising that rapidly; jumping up a foot at a time. The thing got so terrific that we began to hunt a hill for ourselves. We got on the track near a hill where we could et up easily. The water commenced to hit the trees and snap them off, the telegraph poles were twisting the wires in every direction. We then moved on up toward bridge 6, and we noticed the water running through the deep cut from 15 to 20 feet high before the bridge went out. Then I heard Mr. Wierman and Mr. Webb call out that the bridge had gone. They got there in time to see it go. After that, there came a wave along that seemed to be six or eight feet high, and then the water kept about the same level; finally another wave came down; this final wave seemed to be about ten to twelve feet high above the other water. Then, after this wave, the water seemed stationary for a while, and finally receded. We then decided to go back towards Conemaugh, and we got on our train, and when we got around Buttermilk Falls, the track was all gone. The water swept around there next to the mountantain, [sic] so that we were entirely cut off. By that time, it was about five o'clock. We were sort of panic stricken ourselves and didn't know exactly what to do, and we held a little [sic] conference, and decided that our best plan was to see if we could get some communication with Ebensburg, and we got hold of our bridge watchman, and found there was a farm house about a mile out the country where we could possibly get a team, and we sent two of our linemen up there to see if they could get a team or horses by which we could send some message to Ebensburg. We then got Mr. Reinhart, one of the line repairmen, and I think the fireman of the train. We fitted out Mr. Reinhart and one of the train crew with what gum boots and gum coats we had, and some lanterns, and sent them over the mountain to Conemaugh to make a report of what we saw, and sent the other two men over into the mountain to see what they could do in the way of getting a team, to hire or buy one or something. Well, Reinhart and his man got back about 9 o'clock that night. They got all the way to Conemaugh and they got lost coming over the mountain. We finally heard them about 9 o'clock hollowing up the mountain, and we blew the whistle of the engien [sic] for them to let them know where we were, and get them down to the train. They brought up with them one of our freight conductors, Eamigh (sp?), and they reported the condition of Conemaugh, and the condition of our express trains, and that there were probably ten or a dozen people lost.
Q. To whom did they make that report?
A. To me. I found that the passengers had all been taken care of, and distributed around through the town of Conemaugh, and taken charge of by our people. About this time, the two men we sent over the mountain, came back, and said that they could get a team there, and I wrote some messages to H. P. and the General Superintendent, to be sent to Ebensburg. Mr. Eamigh (sp?) then told me that his brother was going over in the morning to Ebensburg with some messages, and I gave my messages to him to deliver, and we decided not to take the other team. We then concluded that as everybody was taken care of as well as they could be, and as it would hardly be safe for us to undertake to go over the mountain that time of night, it being very dark, and we concluded the best thing to do was to remain there until morning; so we staid [sic] in the car until half-past four that morning, when we got out and went up to bridge 6, and we concluded that Mr. Wierman and Mr. Webb had better go on east from that point, and make a report of the damage to be found, and the rest of us started over the mountain to Conemaugh, taking our line repairmen with us, the idea being at the time to fix up our telegraph line as we went back so that we could get communication with Pittsburgh. We arrived at Conemaugh about 7 o'clock; I got hold of Yard Master Walkinshaw and the train conductors, and found that a list had been made of all the passengers saved by our Agent, E. R. Stewart. The passengers were all taken care of as best they could be, and this list had been forwarded to Ebensburg with instructions oo [sic] report by w ay of Altoona to our people at Philadelphia or to the General Superintendent at Altoona, and we found that the Agent had also arrange d [sic] for a team to go over to Ebensburg to take the people to Ebensburg. Of course, at that time, we didn't know anything about the obstruction on the Middle division, and thought that the best way to get the people east. I then looked around, and found in the offices there three or four bodies, but didn't know whether they were our passengers or not; and what passengers I saw there, E. H. McCullough and his family, and a number of others, I left two of our train crew with, in uniform, so that the passengers could catch on to them readily, with instructions that they go over to Ebensburg with the first load that were started, and stay there until all the people were gotten away from Conemaugh, and had the conductors turn over their tickets to them, marking them off at Conemaugh so that they could be used on east. We then went down along the north bank of the creek down into Johnstown, taking with us all of our passenger men who were at Conemaugh. On arrival at Johnstown, I sent to our Agent, Deckert, with a view of finding out whether the people were making any organized effort for relief, and found that they were then organizing, but nothing had been affected. I left word with him to find out what they were going to do, and telegraph me as soon as the line was open. We had no communication at that time west at all, and we didn't know where our first office was. Our plan then was to get across the river and work our way along the railroad until we struck the first tower, and repair the line down, but we couldn't get across the river. There was only one skiff in the town, and that was in use taking people out of houses, and we didn't like to call on it for that purpose; so we decided to walk to Sang Hollow on the north side of the river.
Q. Where is Sang Hollow? I cannot locate it with reference to Conemaugh.
A. Sang Hollow is three and six-tenths miles west of Johnstown.
On arrival at Sang Hollow, we found a passenger train standing there, and we hollowed across the river to them ,to [sic] send a boat over, but we couldn't make people understand what was wanted. We finally got Conductor Hawkins, who was at that time eating his dinner out on the river bank, and we let him know who we were, and told him to send over a boat that was lying there on the bank; but he wouldn't send it over because it was leaking. Finally, he discovered another boat there which was all right, but we couldn't get anybody to come over after us. The river was running very rapidly, and nobody would come across. Finally we decided to hollow over the names of everybody in our party, which he took down, and reported to Pittsb'g [sic] that we were all right.We [sic] had heard it was reported that we were all drowned, and we wanted to contradict the thing. So we finally concluded to walk on down to Nineveh. When we got down as far as "SQ" tower about two miles further west, we found a freight engine and crew lying at that point, and we sent them down to Conemaugh Furnace to get a boat which was at that point, belonging to the foreman.
He cut his engine off and ran down to Conemaugh Furnace, and came back and reported that the foreman wouldn't let him have the boat. So we walked on down two miles and a half further and got there about four o'clock in the afternoon. The foreman sent a man over with the boat and took us all across, and as soon as I got over, I wrote a message to Mr. Pitcairn explaining about the damage that I had seen, and put it off at New Florence, and went on into Pittsburgh, and made my final report, but I didn't know anything about the damage east of Conemaugh, except from hear-say. After that, I returned to Johnstown that Saturday night, and have been on duty there pretty much ever since. That's about the story.
Q. Well, now, Mr. Trump, from the time you saw the message at Conemaugh that the water was running over the dam, and it might break, was there not time for warning to be given to the conductors of these passenger trains where the passengers were until the water came along?
A. Well, there was bout 15 minutes, as near as I can place it from the time I saw that message, which was not at all definite; -- it didn't state that the dam had broken; it stated it was liable to break at any minute. It was about fifteen minutes from that time until the freshet (?) first came down.
Q. Where were the conductors of those trains? With the trains themselves?
A. Yes, sir. They were with the trains, and around the telegraph office and station. The passengers all seemed to be out along the river bank wandering around, except a few of the lady passengers who were in the train.
Q. Were the passengers out of the Day Expresses walking around?
A. Yes, sir; the train had bee [sic] laying there so long, that they seemed to be pretty well scattered all around outside.
Q. How do you account for the fact that the passenger in the Mail Train escaped altogether?
A. Well, I think they were so close to the river that they thougt [sic] it was better to get out, and the majority of those people belonged to some theatrical troup, and they all seemed to get out together.
Q. Now, how many cars of the Mail Train were carried away, if any, and where were they moved to by the flood?
A. The engine and baggage car, I believe, went down right where they were standing, and the balance of the cars were cut off and swept over towards the Day Expresses.
Q. How many cars of the Day Expresses were taken away?
A. A baggage car and one coach were washed away.
Q. Well, where were these people that we have reason to believe were drowned? What car were they in?
A. I don't know exactly what cars they were in.
Q. Well, which one of the Express trains were they in? first or second?
A. Well, I think the majority of them were Pullman passengers in second Day Express. Of course, I only have this from hear-say, I don't know personally.
Q. Well, from what you saw of that train when you were first there, where was it when you got there the next rime?
A. The train was standing just where it was when I left except that the force of the water had move it down stream a little: I suppose in the neighborhood of a couple hundred feet.
Q. Was there anything to induce terror upon your part as to the dam breaking away, and creating destruction as it did?
A. No, sir.
Q. Nobody could apprehend the thing?
A. No, sir. Everybody merely supposed that it would just raise the water a couple feet higher.
Q. The dam being about nine miles from there, the supposition was that by the time it would reach there, it would spend its force, was it?
A. Yes, sir.
Now, as a matter of information for you, Mr. Hampton, I would say that I have studied that thing up there pretty carefully, and the conclusion I come to is this: After making an examination of the dam, I concluded that the water commenced to run over the center of the dam. The bank had probably been filled in some years ago, and had settled down towards the center of the dam, possibly down as low as the waste weir [sic] and on the account, the water ran over the top of it. It leaked gradually; didn't come out with a rush, and it must have been three quarters of an hour running over that dam before it leaked all away. Then the water ran down the South Fork until it struck the junction of the North Fork of the Conemaugh river. It then backed the water up the North Fork, and toppled over our house there, the foreman's house, and swept the station off its foundation, which is, I suppose, a thousand feet east of the mouth of the creek. The station lodged against a telegraph pole, and laid there.
Then the water came down and accumulated against the mountain at the viaduct there in the neighborhood of one hundred feet deep. The distance from the track to the river at the viaduct is 85 feet, and it ran through the cut there at the viaduct from 15 to 20 feet high, so that the creek on the east side of the viaduct was not more than 30 to 35 feet below the track while through the cut for a distance of a couple[sic] hundred feet the water was running 15 to 20 feet deep. The creek is 85 feet below the track, and the water dammed up at this viaduct until it finally gave way, and then it all came down in a rush.
Q. At this point, let me ask you, how many arches were there in that viaduct?
Q. What was the sign of it?
A. 80 feet.
Q. Now, what was the cause of that being swept away? Was it the debris that filled up against the whole of it, or was it the pressure of the water on the rocks?
A. I think probably the water falling out on top of it undermined the abutments, and the force of the water in front, and the debris against it, washed it out. When that broke, it was just like a dam going out, and that same action was repeated at bridge 6 below. The water dammed up against the hill, and ran throughout the cut 20 feet deep on to the bridge, and undermined the top of the bridge, and another dam was formed there, so that when that bridge went out, the dam really was transferred to bridge 6, not over a mile and a half from Conemaugh, so that after it was liberated from bridge 6, it went down the valley there in an immense wave, and that was what caused the heavy waves so close to Conemaugh and Johnstown; in other words, it was just as if there were two dams like the South Fork dam, between it and Johnstown.
Q. I suppose if it hadn't been for the damming up at these two points up the mountain, the water would have spent its force in nine miles, wouldn't it?
A. I don't suppose it would have raised the water over three or four feet had it not been for the fact that it broke on them so quickly from bridge 6 down.
Q. Mr. Trump, what is the general character of the width of the valley of the South Fork of the Conemaugh between South Fork dam and Johnstown? Is it wide or narrow?
A. It is wide in some places, and narrower in others. Narrower above, and wider towards Johnstown.
Q. For what distance was the track swept out above Johnstown , [sic] between Johnstown and Conemaugh?
A. Well, they were swept out from Johnstown to the east side of Buttermilk Falls; about three miles.
Q. Now, that embankment was on the north side, or left bank of the Conemaugh river, was it not?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you know whether or not that embankment was built of very solid material originally?
A. It was originally built for two tracks at Buttermilk Falls, [sic] on what is known as a side hill cut, which had about one track on the solid rock and the other track on the rock blasted down from the hillside. When the third track was built around that point, we filled out, and built a stone retaining wall along the creek. For a distance of two thousand feet that was down on the embankment facing the river to protect it from the wash. Well, then when the fourth track was built there, the same operation was repeated. There was an additional stone wall built outside of the original one and that was filled over. It washed out three stone retaining [sic] walls and the bank clean up to the side of the mountain.
Q. How much broken stone was there in the roadbed that the ties rested on?
A. It was all broken stone except some little filling.
Q. Well, the water came with su ch [sic] violence that it cut that right out, did it?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And now, where have you constructed the tracks between the points named? Did you change them to the other side of the river?
A. No, sir, they are laid on the old location.
Q. On trestling on the old location?
A. Yes, sir. the [sic] trestling is on the line now of where our No. 3 and 4 tracks were.
Q. Do you know the difference between the grade of the road at Johnstown, and the grade at Conemaugh?
A. Well, it is practically level from Johnstown to Conemaugh. The grade commences about half a mile west of Conemaugh, and runs up about 26 feet to the mile until Buttermilk Falls.
Q. And how far is Buttermilk Falls from Conemaugh?
A. It is only a quarter of a mile.
Q. Now, Mr. Trump, after you got up there, what was the general character of that rain from the time it started until it quit?
A. Well, when we left Pittsburgh, it seemed to be clearing off; we didn't notice much rain until we arrived at Conemaugh; then it rained from that time in torrents all night Friday night.
Q. Well, from what you had heard of the streams, how were they? How was the north fork of the Conemaugh?
A. I didn't see it; I wasn't far enough east of Conemaugh.
Q. You don't know how the North Fork was affected by the rains?
A. No, sir, except from the general knowledge that the tracks were washed out at Lilly.
Asst Supt Trump Statement
Assistant Supt., Pittsburgh Division, Penna. R. R.
Last updated: February 26, 2015