The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

February 17, 2013

Charting devastation: Drawings depict destruction from ‘great wave’

JOHNSTOWN — They might be the most accurate maps drafted of some of the damage Johnstown’s Great Flood inflicted on the Conemaugh Valley.

And Cambria Somerset Manager Earl Waddell found them buried in a pile of decades-old authority files last month.

Oversized and colorfully written, the engineering drawings depict part of the Pennsylvania Railroad Co.’s Conemaugh Yard, its roundhouse and other long-gone structures.

They also show locations where several dozen railroad cars were tossed by the “great wave,” as the map describes it.

“For someone looking to reconstruct what happened that day, it’s just fascinating,” Johns-town Area Heritage Association Director Richard Burkert said.

It’s well documented that locomotives were carried up to a mile downriver by 1889 floodwaters, “but this is the first time I’ve seen anything with this kind of detail – actually showing where they ended up,” he said.

The blueprints are likely an original carbon copy of a transcription created within a few years of the flood, Burkert said.

A second drawing was found with it, showing what the same property looked like before the flood.

The Pennsylvania Railroad hired a Blairsville firm to draw up both.

“I don’t think anyone documented the flood more than the Pennsylvania Railroad,” Burkert said, noting the corporation was the biggest in the nation at the time.

Burkert noted railroad transcripts of flood survivors were a major source in historian David McCullough’s 1968 book, “The Johns-town Flood.”

The company had good reason to draw up maps like these too, he said, referring to the recently-discovered drawings.

When the South Fork Dam broke in May 1889, the flood followed the railroad’s path for 14 miles. Raging at a flow rate that researchers say matched the Mississippi River’s at one point, the flood tore through much of the railroad’s property along that path. It turned

40-ton engines into scrap.

The engineer’s drawings listed the weight of locomotives hit by the flood and the weight they were hauling. In one case, a 138,000-pound engine was hauling 15,000 pounds of coal when the water came rushing in, it shows.

“They had a lot of liability here in town, so they were heavily involved in the recovery,” Burkert said.

Waddell speculated that the Que’s previous owner, Manufacturer’s Water Co., probably had the documents for decades.

They’ve likely been in the CSA’s hands since the group was formed to oversee Que resources more than a decade ago.

“How Manufacturer’s got a hold of them, I have no idea,” Waddell said, referring to the drawings.

Just the same, CSA Chairman Jim Greco called it a fascinating find.

“These are amazing drawings – and the verbiage is just so impressive,” Greco said.

The CSA turned the maps over to JAHA on Tuesday, noting the group is well-positioned to preserve the documents.

“These were beautifully done. And they add another layer to this amazing story,” said Burkert.

“We’re grateful to the Cambria Somerset Authority for thinking of us.”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • WWI mon28 100th anniversary of World War I

    No American veterans are still alive to provide firsthand accounts of the brutality and heroism displayed during World War I.

    July 27, 2014 4 Photos

  • coal1 Exporting pollution: U.S. energy producers sending dirty coal abroad

    As the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.

    July 27, 2014 3 Photos

  • Rising costs for pensions keep schools struggling

    Gov. Tom Corbett is ratcheting up pressure on the Legislature to reform the state’s pension system by focusing on how often school districts use tax increases to offset costs.

    July 27, 2014

  • camp cadet Recruits put through paces at Camp Cadet

    A row of young teens stood tall and attentive Sunday as their instructor paced past, barking out marching orders.

    July 27, 2014 2 Photos

  • Luksik, Peg Independent hopefuls may widen gubernatorial field

    Just when Pennsylvania voters were getting used to the idea of a gubernatorial election showdown between Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, other hopefuls may soon be joining the fray. Johnstown resident Peg Luksik, who twice ran for governor as the Constitutional Party nominee, knows what it's like.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Storm sparks reports of lightning strikes

    A fast-moving rainstorm generated reports of lightning strikes throughout parts of southern Cambria County early Sunday evening.

    July 27, 2014

  • pow28 Mount Olive church members reach out to those in need

    The members of Mount Olive United Methodist Church mark their faith by using a tape measure.
    The mission team of the Sidman area church uses tools such as tape measures to complete construction and repair projects to improve life for people in need and to help nonprofit organizations.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kernville Reunion will recall days gone by

    The 37th annual Kernville Reunion will start at noon Aug. 9 at Lorain Borough Park, 503 Green Valley St., and organizers are hopeful it’ll attract current and former area residents, especially people who attended Joseph Johns Junior High School.

    July 27, 2014

  • Scaife remembered for strong convictions

    At a weekend memorial service, publisher Richard Mellon Scaife was remembered by the archbishop of Washington as someone who had the courage to stand “for things that mattered.”

    July 27, 2014

  • kids new VIDEO | ‘Best friends killing friends’: Kids share concerns about drugs, bullying, shootings

    Sara Norman wasn’t shocked to learn that a 15-year-old stands accused of shooting a Johnstown police academy recruit July 13 in Oakhurst.
    And she wouldn’t be surprised that a 16-year-old took three bullets Thursday in another Oakhurst neighborhood shooting.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo 4 Stories

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads