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Thread: PRR Equipment in the Johnstown Flood 1889

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    Default PRR Equipment in the Johnstown Flood 1889

    As I am slowly (emphasis on slowly, sadly) gathering information to try and re-create the Philly - Harrisburg - Pittsburgh line, I recently tried looking at trackage around the Johnstown - Conemaugh area, and inevitably got drawn into details about the terrible flood and devastation.

    My google-fu seems to be woefully inadequate for the task of trying to pin down the engines of the PRR that were being used at the time of the flood (May 31, 1889). In eyewitness accounts, the No. 8 Day Train from Pittsburgh was trapped in the East Conemaugh train yard, along with several other engines and freight trains, but I could not identify what was pulling that train. Most of the trains in the yard were destroyed. There were about 24 engines that were destroyed when the 30-60 foot wall of debris and water hit the roundhouse in East Conemaugh at about 30mph. I can't seem to locate any details from the PRR about their lost equipment.

    Engine No. 1309 somehow managed to survive the onslaught. It was described in accounts as an 8-driver Class R engine, but some researching found that the old Class R engines were later reclassified as Class H3, of which one, No. 1187, escaped the scrap heap and exists today. A picture of 1187 shows her to be a 2-8-0 consolidation, but in some of my searches, it seems that 2-8-0 consolidations may have been built later than 1889, when the flood occurred. As noted, my search abilities seem to be unsuccessful - comes from being a technosaur I suppose.

    One of the heroes of the incident was PRR engineer John C. Hess, an engineer based out of E. Conemaugh yard. He was running a gravel train further up the line, checking and repairing washouts from the tremendous amount of rainfall the area had been getting. When the South Fork dam broke apart, further up the river, it released a wall of water that collected houses, people, trees, and bridges as it roared downstream.

    Engineer Hess heard the roar of the flood before he saw it, and deduced what happened. He tied his train whistle open for a constant scream, and opened the throttle of his train wide, racing backwards towards E. Conemaugh while watching as the wall of water, trees, and debris kept overtaking his train. This warning spurred many residents to immediately rush for high ground, because rumors had been flying that the dam was going to break, and an engine with a constant scream of it's whistle was a warning that something terrible had happened. Engineer Hess's wife, in E. Conemaugh, recognised her husband's train whistle, and knew the worst had happened - the dam had broken. She got his family to safety.

    Hess got his train to the yard safely, but only moments before the flood struck the town. He and most of the men on his train made it to high ground, but his engine, No. 1124, was washed away.

    I cannot find any sort of details about what class of engine 1124 was. I'm guessing she would probably have been a 2-8-0, but she could have been an older 4-4-0 as she was pulling a work train. If there are any PRR afficionadoes out there that might be able to shed some light on this, I'd be grateful. I was thinking it would be rather cool to immortalize old PRR No. 1124 in honor of her crazy ride to warn people along with her engineer, John Hess, if I could figure out what kind of engine this was and how to reskin a number on her.

    Any help and suggestions on this would be welcome. I didn't know where to post this so I figured General Trainz would be good for a start, and moderators could move it if so desired.

    Thanks,

    Heinrich505

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    I'm sure that from the time the South Fork Rod & Gun Club dam started percolating took much less than 24 hours, and when it finally broke, took less than 15 minutes, until Johnstown was totally inflamed in oil, and a 90 foot tall wall wave of flotsam, of flooded barbed wire, and debris, completely wiped almost all the town off the face of the earth.

    I have studied this catastrophe extensively !
    Last edited by MP242; March 9th, 2020 at 07:16 PM.
    The expression: "Avoiding it like it is the Plague" just doesn't make any sense. Humans just don't do that very well.

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    The web can be a great sores for info . But if possible . Go to books with photos and documentation to them . The Triumph series have always been a good place I feel . I would tell you that a specific time should be kept in mine when looking . As the PRR changed roundhouses , trackage , and yards to suit the time of equipment use and planned . You've picked a large route . And that DEM will need 8 large yards . I was going to give this a try after I finish my on going route . But have dabble with that DEM and others . It's going to be a bit of work to say the least . Good luck

    Matt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heinrich505 View Post
    ...
    I cannot find any sort of details about what class of engine 1124 was. I'm guessing she would probably have been a 2-8-0, but she could have been an older 4-4-0 as she was pulling a work train. If there are any PRR afficionadoes out there that might be able to shed some light on this, I'd be grateful. I was thinking it would be rather cool to immortalize old PRR No. 1124 in honor of her crazy ride to warn people along with her engineer, John Hess, if I could figure out what kind of engine this was and how to reskin a number on her.

    Any help and suggestions on this would be welcome. I didn't know where to post this so I figured General Trainz would be good for a start, and moderators could move it if so desired.

    Thanks,

    Heinrich505
    Heinrich505 here's where I go to 1st when researching data for especs. There's enough info here to set up one that's in the ball park if I can't find anything else. If you know the class it will give the wheel arrgt for current PRR classifications and 19th century ones. It doesn't list loco numbers unfortunately.

    https://orion.math.iastate.edu/jdhsm...m/slusprr0.htm

    PRR R class is a 2-8-0 and Smith links to a pic of 1187 in the table probably same one you found (?). R class locos were built both before and after 1889 but I don't have exact dates. R class built in 1889 and before were reclassed to H3 and those after 1889 to H3a.

    Bob Pearson
    Last edited by RPearson; March 10th, 2020 at 03:55 PM.
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    MP242,
    It was harrowing reading the eyewitness accounts. What a terrible tragedy, made worse by the way the club's millionaires and legal counsel managed to slip away, pretty much unscathed.


    Railwoodman,
    Yes, I'm probably reaching too much for the size of the route. I looked at the Triumph books online, and they are very expensive. Would they have details in them like yard trackage diagrams and things like that? My time frame would be just after the Pennsy electrified the Philly to Harrisburg route, as I would want to run GG1s and P5a electrics on the route.

    I may be shortening my adventure to Philly - Harrisburg, haha. I may only be able to afford that one book, if I can find it.

    By all means, give the full length of PA a shot once the Dreaming PA gets done. You've the skills for it while I am just starting out at the bottom rung.


    RPearson,
    Thanks for the suggestion and link. I'm leaning towards the 2-8-0 as the engine that Engineer Hess had, simply because his engine number - 1124 - is close to the other engine that survived - 1309. And, Hess was an experienced and senior engineer who would probably rate one of the "newer" consolidations rather than an older 4-4-0. He was able to just barely stay ahead of the debris and flood while running backwards, shoving a consist of 7-8 gravel cars and one crew car - I'm not sure a worn-out 4-4-0 would have been able to do that.

    All this is, of course, speculation on my part, and not based on any actual engine data.

    Thanks all for your input.

    Heinrich505

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    It would seem that some fictionalization occurred describing miraculous bravery of individuals, of them being able to escape the onrushing water, by climbing hillsides, outrunning the fast moving tidal wave, and such. As it was an absolutely rushing torrent, of millions of gallons of swift water, in some places a 90 foot high tidal of fast moving wave of water, traveling very, very, very, very fast.
    Last edited by MP242; March 13th, 2020 at 10:42 AM.
    The expression: "Avoiding it like it is the Plague" just doesn't make any sense. Humans just don't do that very well.

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    Many many years ago the PBS did a few episodes on the Johnstown flood . And a section on the PRR aftermath that was my first learning of the disaster . It was well done , with a lot of photos of before and after .

    The books do have what you asked . But they can be hard to read and get the gritty details sometimes . And there other to be sure not of that expensive . I like this link also

    https://www.openrailwaymap.org/

    It has rails as now . But also gives details of past alignments . I also would second the one posted by Bob .

    But even with all the Books I have on the Pennsy . I'm still learning . Or relearning a lot . Yards such as Harrisburg , Lewiston , Altoona , Enola and many more . I thought I knew . Ha yea right . But I call it fun . Go figure

    Matt
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    Railwoodman,
    That open rails link is really nice. Thanks for that. I didn't know about it.

    Heinrich505

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    After editing my original post above I was looking for a reference and couldn't locate it. But further investigation indicates that it may only cover numbering of PRR locos built (or maybe existing) after 1906 and loco no 1124 mentioned above was destroyed in the 1889 flood. Personally I'd lean towards #1124 being a 2-8-0.

    "Keystone Steam & Electric", by William D. Edson, a paperback published by Bob Wayner (Wayner Publications 1977) in New York. Long out of print, and unillustrated. It has a class-by-class, number-by-number accounting of PRR steam locos, with a numbering cross-reference. Hard copies are prohibitively expensive imo and I didn't find any digital copies but you might find it in a library or know someone with a copy. But as I said it may not cover this loco.

    19th century PRR S and R class were 2-8-0 arrgt and Pennsy used that wheel arrgt as it's primary freight loco in the late 1800's. PRR had many hunderd 2-8-0 locos in service at the time of the flood. Over 800 R class were built.

    The EBT, some miles to the east, was hard hit by devastating flooding from the same storms but nothing like the dam break in Johnstown. Three Springs Creek and Aughwick Creek left their banks and the approach trestle and bridge at Pogue were completely destroyed.

    Bob Pearson

    PS I found this on the web and if it is a pic of #1124 it looks like it could be a 2-8-0. Definitely not a 4-4-0.
    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.p...23984464284275
    Last edited by RPearson; March 13th, 2020 at 07:30 AM.
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    RPearson,
    That's a great picture. Thanks for posting it. I agree, it would be a 2-8-0 and not a 4-4-0 in the picture.

    I was thinking I might send off an email to the Johnstown Flood Society, just for the heck of it, but they probably don't take charity requests.

    I looked for the book you noted. Amazon starts at $95 for the softcover. Wow. Yes, maybe a library.

    Thanks for the info. I'd say that it is looking very much like Engineer Hess was running the 2-8-0 on that fateful day.

    Heinrich505

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    I had heard of the hurricane in 1936 that devastated other areas of the NE US.

    Portions of the PRR were completely washed away from Tyrone to Huntingdon, and beyond.

    The area from Forge to Spruce Creek was so washed away that only after extensive excavation of the hillsides, that only 3 of the 4 tracks could be laid in the areas.

    I had never seen the movie about the 2nd Johnstown flood, thanks for sharing that with us.

    I remember camping in a tent during the Third 1977 flood, as it rained for well over 3 whole days, and we were stuck living in our car. The rain was nonstop, pelting down in a deluge, unreletlessly for 3 entire days and nights.

    The river channels constructed to avert this 2nd flood, and sewer drainage systems were inadequate to handle the many days long torrents of watter

    I sure would not be standing watching on a bridge as boxcars floated down river, crashing into the bridge.

    Johnstown sure has had its share of many tragic catastrophes.

    It is a wonder how the masses regrouped from such awful tragedies, where would one start, to survive the great loss's ?
    Last edited by MP242; March 16th, 2020 at 10:45 AM.
    The expression: "Avoiding it like it is the Plague" just doesn't make any sense. Humans just don't do that very well.

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    Railwoodman,
    Thanks for posting that. I'd never seen the video. The devastation was tremendous, again.

    MP242,
    It's terrible how certain places always seem to be subjected to such destruction. What is even more amazing is the resiliency of the people in Johnstown, who just shrugged their shoulders and started rebuilding, yet again.


    Heinrich505

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