Conductor Vance Statement

Q. Were you the conductor of the Limited east on Friday, the day of the flood?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did you leave Pittsburgh on time?
A. About two minutes late.

Q. Did you get to Johnstown near on time?
A. I didn't notice what time we passed Johnstown; we passed Conemaugh 7 1/2 minutes late.

Q. When you passed Johnstown, how far was the water up in the houses, as near as you can tell?
A. Over there at the Company store, it looked to be about four feet deep around the store, and extended over the lower portions of Johnstown.

Q. Where did the people seem to be?
A. They were on the hills around there, and in the houses looking out. Along on Iron Street, there, they were up in the houses, and looking out of the windows.

Q. Couldn't they get out?
A. They didn't seem to be making any effort to get out.

Q. You ran up to Conemaugh, did you, and stopped there?
A. No, sir, we didn't stop there; we slackped [sic] up to take on an extra engine for a helper.

Q. When were [sic] did you go?
A. To South Fork.

Q. Now, go/on [sic] in your own way, and tell me what took/ [sic] place at South Fork, and what was done.
A. Well, we laid thereuntil [sic] about 1 o'clock; the engineer and myself were out on the bridge looking at the water. We were out every 15 or 20 minutes to notice whether the water was rising or falling, and about 1 o'clock, the engineer and I were there at the bridge looking at the thing, and he says to me, "Don't you think we had better go on the other side?" I says "That's just what I've been thinking of myself". He says "From the reports that are coming down from the reservoir, I think we had better go on the other side", and I says, "Communications are cut off now, and we can't get any orders, and I think it best for us to use our own judgment in regard to making the train safe." So we walked across the bridge, and examined it, and saw some cracks in one of the piers of the bridge, but we didn't know whether they were new cracks or not, and the engineer and I walked clear to the other side, and walked up to the foreman's house this side of the station to see what he said about it. I went up to the foreman's house, and his boy was standing there, and I asked him where his father was, and he said he was in the house, and I asked him to tell him to come out; that I wanted to see him. So he went in and told him to co me [sic] out. When he came out, I said "I want you to look at that bridge down there, and if it is safe enough, we want to come on this side I says, "There's one thing I don't like very much about that bridge, and that's the cracks in the pier". He walked down and lookad [sic] at them, and says "Those are old cracks; that bridge is all right; its perfectly safe." I says "I'll go and cut by helper off and run it across the bridge, and test it". So I walked back and cut the helper off and told the engineer to go across the bridge, and I says "Don't go too fast, as I want to watch, and see how the bridge will stand it". He started and pulled right over.

Q. Who ran the helper over the bridge?
A. I don't know the engineer's name.
As soon as he got the helper over, I gave Butler a signal to bring the train over, and he hauled the train over, and went up above to the station. I went back into the tower and stopped in the tower, I don't just know how long, but for some time, and I told the operator in case they got the line open----that [sic] I wanted to go to my dinner----that [sic] in case they got the line open, they should pull the whistle on one of those engines there, and I would be down; and I went up into the dining car of the Pullman, and ate my dinner, and came back, and just got to the station when the people commenced running. I heard the noise and roar of the water coming and I looked around and saw it coming, 40 or 50 feet high, with nothing but trees and houses in front of it, and when it was coming, the local freight was laying on the siding there right opposite a store room. He whistled off brakes and tried to pull out to get up behind our train. I gave our fellows a signal to go ahead, and let those fellows up; and just them Harvey Bennett came across the bridge, and I swung on him to save him from running into local freight that was trying to get out off of the siding there, and I just got him stopped; and this store room, the water had caught it, and it was in a kind of a swirl there, and it just struck the caboose and f etched it right up along the. [sic] track with it. After I gathered up the people around there that had come down to see it, I started to Wilmore to make our way up the mountain. There was an A Extra ahead of us; I think they were struck behind a slide. We took water with both engines and I cut the helper off and started to hunt this freight train, and I found it west of Wilmore. They had about got the slide removed, and I stopped there until they got away. I sent my helper back then, and brought the train up the main south track to Wilmore, and we laid there from five o'clock Friday to five o'clock Saturday evening.

Q. Now, if the Limited had been allow ed to remain west of the bridge when the flood came down, what would have been the consequences?
A. It would have been swept away. There wouldn't have been anything could have saved it.

Q. How high did the water get over the track that the Limited was on before it crossed the bridge, when the flood came?
A. That is a hard matter for me to tell you; I couldn't say exactly; it looked to me to be eight or ten feet anyhow. I just saw the flood of water strike for the tower and this freight train and engine, and it just seemed to give one swirl, and that was the last I could see of anything.

Q. So you saved your train oby [sic] getting over the bridge out of harm's way?
A. Yes, sir. I said to the operator about 11 or half-past 11, when we first lost communication,I [sic] said "I think they ought to provide some way for us to use our won [sic] judgment in case communication is cut off

Q. About what time was it that telegraphic communication west was interrupted?
A. I couldn't say exactly; it was 12.15 when a message was sent by the Agent there that the dam was dangerous, and liable to break at any time, and urged Miss Ehrenfeld to get that message off, and she couldn't get any further w est than the next tower "MP".

Q. How far was that away?
A. A little over three miles. And the operator answered back that he couldn't get the next tower below but he would send a man with the message over to "AO" tower. That occurred while I was in the office there.

Q. Were you there when the messenger Mr. Wilson sent up to the dam to ascertain about it, returned and made his report?
A. I don't know that I was. I didn't see any one, only that there was a man came down there about half-full; I don't know who he was, and made a report. He came down and walked across the bridge, and said the dam was going.

Q. There was another man came afterwards, was there not?
A. I believe there was; they appeared to have a man on horseback there to ride up and down every once in a while. Wehn [sic] they came and said the water was running over the breast of the dam, I made up my mind we ought to be out of that.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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