Engineer Wierman Statement

Assistant Engineer, Pittsburgh Division, Penna. R. R.



Q. Be good enough to state, Mr. Wiermen, what knowledge you have of the flood at Johnstown, when you reached there, what points you went to etc.
A. I left Pittsburgh [sic[ on Friday morning at 11 o'clock, being called by telephone out to Brushton, where I reside, by Mr. Trump, about half-past nine in the morning. I was sick at the time. He said that we were having considerable trouble on the mountain at Lilly, and would like me to come right in. We had a party of twelve or fourteen, with engine 266 and one coach, and the idea was to start to open telegraphic communication on the mountain. We saw when we arrive at the Pack Saddle, east of Blairsville Intersection, a great amount of logs etc., floating down the river, which was very high. That was the first view we had of the river.

Q. Did you make any stops after leaving Pittsburgh?
A. Yes, sir, we made one or two stops; I think one at New Florence, and one at Sang Hollow tower, where the water was very high. We stopped there some little while, as there were some freight trains at that point, and we had to get orders to run around them. We arrived at Johnstown bridge between 2 & 3 o'clock; I think about half-past two, and most of us go off the train at the west end of the bridge and walked over. We noticed that the Cambria Iron Company's bridge five or six hundred feet below had been washed away, and the * [sic] whole town of Johnstown, as far as we could,see, [sic] was under water.

Q. What depth?
A. Well, I was at Johnstown about two years ago when they had the highest flood they had ever had at that time, and this flood was two or three feet higher than that. The water was, then, I should judge, within six feet of the crown of the arch of the stone bridge.

Q. What is the size of those openings in that stone bridge, as near as you can tell, Mr. Wierman?
A. I think they are 52 feet; I am not certain. There are seven spans, and they are all the same except the eastern span, which is 45 feet.

Q. What is the height of them?
A. Well, they are 27 or 30 feet above low water. I know it is 45 feet from the rock to the base of the rail.

Q. And the water was vi thin [sic] about six feet of the crown of the arch?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And it is about how many feat from the crown of the arch to the base of the rail?
A. Oh about four feet. [sic] Some of the logs from the boom of the Johnstown Lumber Company were lodged on the pier at the west end, and we requested Mr. Hays, the Supervisor, to endeavor to keep the drift off if possible.

Q. Where was the Johnstown Lumber Company's boom?
A. Some place on Stony Creek.

Q. That is a tributary of the Conemaugh, is it?
A. Yes, sir. We want from there to the tower at Johnstown, and it was there that we got the first intimation that there was ----------------------------- [sic] danger of the South Fork dam breaking. That was a little before 3 o'clock.

Q. What was the purport of that information?
A. I didn't see the message. Mr. Trump had the message. It merely said that there was danger of the South Fork dam breaking. After waiting some little while, we got orders to go to Conemaugh by flagging ourselves on the westbound track, No. 4 track. We reached the first bluff east of Johnstown, some three quarters of a mile east of the point, and we got all our men off tying some telegraph poles up, and endeavored to clear some poles from the track. We then moved on up to Conemaugh, reaching there, I should judge, about three o'clock. There were a great many passengers of the Day Express as on the tracks, and quite a number of them got on our train. We got out of the car when we were probably a quarter of a mile from the station or tower, and walked up the tracks looking at the river, and looking at the damaged tracks, and talked with a number of the passengers.

Q. Do you remember who any of them were?
A. I remember having met Dr. Robinson of Allegheny, who was a passenger of the Day Express, and he seemed to be a good deal alarmed about the situation, and wanted very much to go along with us on the train I was on. I told him we only had but one coach, and would not go but a very few miles up the river, and I wouldn't advise him to come with us, but he could if wanted to. He asked about the South Fork dam, and I said the reports were it wouldn't last much longer, but I guess neither he nor I realized what the breaking of the dam meant. I told him that I thought he was safer where he was than with us, and the only thing to do was to wait with his train, and see what turned up. After remaining at Conemaugh some ten or more minutes, we went east on No. 3 track.

Q. Was there on the part of the employes of the Company, including yourself and Mr. Trump, or on the part of the passengers there, any apprehension of a serious disaster even from the breaking of the dam?
A. I know there wasn't on my part. I presumed the breaking of the dam would mean considerably more water, but I didn't apprehend any serious disaster.

Q. What I mean is, was there any feeling of apprehension on the part of anybody there that it would sweep everything befor [sic]
A. I do not think there was; I know there wasn't on my part. I didn't think the dam would break. I guess I was the only one of our party that had ever seen it, but I didn't understand the water was running over the top. Just before we left Conemaugh, Mr. Sheaffer, our Division Operator, who was with the party I was with, said that he had gotten a message from the operator at Mineral Point, it was then probaly [sic] 3.30, that the water was rising very fast at the tower, and he would have to leave the tower.

Q. Where was this tower?
A. This tower was about four miles east of us.

Q. And how near to South Fork station?
A. A out [sic] three miles this side? [sic]

Q. Who was the operator there?
A. The operator's name is Pickerell.

Q. Who received the message?
A. I don't know who received the message. Charlie Sheaffer, the Division Operator, went into the tower, and said that was what the operator sent. Just before we left Conemaugh, I should judge it was 3.25 or 3.30 or thereabouts, this report came over the wire from Mineral Point, that the water was rising very rapidly at Mineral Point , [sic] and the operator would have to leave his [ blank space ] then started east on either No. 3 or No. 4 track, an [sic] [ blank space ]was to go to bridge 6. Upon getting around [ blank space ] Buttermilk Falls, about a mile from Conemaugh, we [ blank space ] igh [sic] the trees between us and the river, a large accum [blank] [sic] of drift which we had not noticed before, in the river, and every one remarked that that [sic] the dam must have broken. We told the engineer to hurry ahead on to higher ground, and in the mean time, we noticed that the water was coming up on the bank very rapidly, close to where wer [sic] were. We ran east about a half a mile, and stopped nearly at "AO" tower. We all got out, and in running ahead, we met the operator from this "AO" office who said that the dam had surely broken. He had the clock of the tower taken out, which had stopped at 3.40, the time the water of the dam reached this point. Two or three of us requested that he endeavor to get a report to Conemaugh, but he could not, the office being turned over. After reaching "AO" tower, Mr. Webb and two or three more of/us [sic] ran up to bridge 6, and noticed the water coming through the cut east of this point probably fifteen or twenty feet high. The water then was running in the stream about level with the rail in the middle of the bridge. We had hardly been there more than two or three minutes when the bridge went out; the abutments the pier, and the whole structure.

Q. Was this an iron bridge?
A. Yes, sir.
This didn't make much difference in the height of the stream, probably three or four feet.

Q. That was before or after the dam broke?
A. Oh this was after the dam broke. The water, I judge, was at this point about fifty feet above low water mark, the stream being there three hundred feet wide. So far as my observation is concerned, the stream didn't vary perceptibly [sic] in ------- [sic] height from the time we first saw the maximum height of it after the drift had passed, until it commenced to fall some half an hour later. We remained at this bridge probably half an hour, and then went down and joined Mr. Trump, who came back with us to bridge 6. After remaining there 15 or 20 minutes, we took the car and engine and moved on to the track nearest the hill, that is No. 4 track, and pushed the car west as far as the track would permit of it, when two or three of us go out and walked down on the tracks as far as Buttermilk Falls, and upon noticing some parties upon the opposite side of the river, we endeavored to hail them, to ascertain what condition things were in below. After considerable endeavor, we found out from those parties that everything at Johnstown was washed away. After hailing this party, I went back to the car, and reported to Mr. Trump what we had heard. We shared our meal together then, and then we detailed two different parties, one to go to Johnstown, and one to go to the mountain to see if they could get a team. In the morning, our party parted, four going with me east, and the reamining [sic] nine going with Mr. Trump west. My party was composed of Mr. Webb, and Foreman Carpenter Blair, and two carpenters of his force. We succeeded in following the stream around the loop, arriving at the west end of bridge 6 at 6 a. m. Saturday, and we reached the west end of the cut about ten o'clock. From there, we followed the stream to Mineral Point, and thence to South Fork across the hills, returning via the roadbed. The tracks were washed out between South Fork and the Viaduct, which latter point we reached about three o'clock in the afternoon. Upon getting full information in regard to the damage done, we walked from there to Summerhill via the Summerhill Branch, which is on the north side of the Conemaugh river, reaching that point about 5 p.m. After taking supper at this point, I went to Gallitzin on an engine, first sending my report to the General Superintendent at Altoona from Wilmore tower, giving the extent of the damage from Conemaugh east, which we had noticed in coming over, and also hear-say as to the damage west of Conemaugh, which we believed to be the fact.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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