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|A Personal Family experience of|
The 1936 JOHNSTOWN FLOOD
|Written by RAYMOND M. GIBBONS|
Tuesday, March 17th, 1936
Contributed by John Gibbons
I was working in the roundhouse of the P.R.R. at Conemaugh and I watched the Conemaugh River rise about one foot in ten minutes and it started to flood the roundhouse. At about 1:30 P.M., the Engine house foreman, W. E. Bowers ordered everybody out of the shops. Everyone started to head home, I had to come up over Franklin Street hill to Solomon Road for the wooden bridges were washed out.
After supper, mother put Phyllis Jean and her brother Gerald to bed. About 8:00 P.M. Jacoby Street was flooded and cars could not get through. Around 10:30 P.M. the police where going in and out Bedford Street telling everybody to get to the hills that the Wilmore dam was busted. Mother got Phyllis Jean out of bed and ready to go as I gathered up brother Gerald. We left with our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Baumgardner and children. We headed up pretty far to the home of Mr. & Mrs. Faust. Mr. Baumgardner and I came back down home to watch for water and it was raining pretty hard all the time. Luckily, it did not come within a mile of our home. We went back up the hill to bring our families back home, Phyllis Jean cried all the time she was away from home, mother could not do anything with her. Once back home, we put Phyllis and Gerald to bed and mother and I decided we'd stay up all night, by morning it had stopped raining.
I made about four trips into town to see where grandmother Gibbons was at. It was late afternoon when the water was low enough that I could crawl over sheds & debris on the Haynes Street bridge & wade mud and water above my knee high boot tops to Franklin & Diebert Street.
There were a lot of new cars smashed up and laying on their tops & sides. The Poplar Street and the Franklin Street bridges were washed away. I went in Grandma Gibbons' house on Franklin Street and found uncle Charles Gibbons along with great uncle John Berschneider both shoveling out the mud and water, they were glad to see me. Grandma was upstairs in the hall, crying, she said my house is gone now, Ray. I saw the piano was all that was left in the living room, it was laying face down on the floor. Piled together in a corner of the dinning room was the table, buffet, and china closet, all upside down. In the kitchen I saw the davenport and 2 chairs piled up with the kitchen table, along with the stove and ice box.
Grandma Gibbons, aunt Pauline and great uncle John Berschneider were in the house all the time the water was raging. I wanted them to come out to our house, but they were going to stay and clean up the mess up.
I was only there about 10 minutes when people were running and holloring, "run for the hills, the Quemahoning dam was busted", we ran into the street and Charles and I took a hold of grandma and aunt Pauline, we did not see great uncle Berschneider, we yelled for him to hurry up. There was an airplane flying awful low, the pilot was yelling thru a mega-phone to run for the hills the dam is busted so Charley and I started to run with grandma. We climbed the side of the hill to Westmont and it started to rain real hard, all of us got a good soaking, as we headed to Uncle Joe's house on Wyoming Street. Once there I got a chance to rest a little. I really wanted to get back home to my own family, mother, Gerald and Phyllis Jean. When I left earlier, they did not want me to leave, they said I would be caught in the flood and drowned. But I was almost crazy so I left uncle Joe's and headed down the Southmont Blvd. to Osborne Street and over the Moxham bridge which had been pretty well smashed up. I traveled out Oak Street to home. Mother and Gerald were worried I wouldn't be home anymore and were sure glad to see me again and said they would not to let me out of their sight again.