NO travelers in an upheaved and disorganized land push through
with more pluck and courage than the newspaper correspondents.
Accounts have already been given of some of their experiences.
A writer in the New York Times thus told of his,
a week after the events described:
"A man who starts on a journey on ten minutes' notice likes
the journey to be short, with a promise of success and of food
and clothes at its end. Starting suddenly a week ago, the Times's
correspondent has since had but a small measure of success,
a smaller measure of food, and for nights no rest at all; a long
tramp across the Blue Hills and Allegheny Mountains, behind jaded
horses; helping to push up-hill the wagon they tried to pull or
to lift the vehicle up and down bridges whose approaches were
torn away, or in and out of fords the pathways to which had disappeared;
and in the blackness of the night, scrambling through gullies
in the pike road made by the storm, paved with sharp and treacherous
rocks and traversed by swift running streams, whose roar was the
only guide to their course. All this prepared a weary reporter
to welcome the bed of straw he found in a Johnstown stable loft
last Monday, and on which he has reposed nightly ever since.
"And let me advise reporters and other persons who are
liable to sudden missions to out-of-the-way places not to wear
patent leather shoes. They are no good for mountain roads. This
is the result of sad experience. Wetness and stone bruises are
the benisons they confer on feet that tread rough paths.
The quarter past twelve train was the one boarded by the Times's
correspondent and three other reporters on their way hither a
week ago Friday night. It was in the minds of all that they would
get as far as Altoona, on the Pennsylvania Road, and thence by
wagon to this place. But all were mistaken. At Philadelphia we
were told that there were wash-outs in many places and bridges
were down everywhere, so that we would be lucky if we got even
to Harrisburg. This was harrowing news. It caused such a searching
of time-tables and of the map of Pennsylvania as those thin as
were rarely ever subjected to before. It was at last decided that
if the Pennsylvania Railroad stopped at Harrisburg an attempt
would be made to reach the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Martinsburg,
West Virginia, by way of the Cumberland Railroad, a train on which
was scheduled to leave Harrisburg ten minutes after the arrival
of the Pennsylvania train.
"It was only too evident to us, long before we reached
Harrisburg, that we would not get to the West out of that city.
The Susquehanna had risen far over its banks, and for miles our
train ran slowly with the water close to the fire-box of the locomotive
and over the lower steps of the car platform. At last we reached
the station. Several energetic Philadelphia reporters had come
on with us from that lively city, expecting to go straight to
Johnstown. As they left the train one cried: 'Hurrah, boys, there's
White. He'll know all about it. White stood placidly on the steps,
and knew nothing more than that he and several other Philadelphia
reporters, who had started Friday night, had got no further than
the Harrisburg station, and were in a state of wonderment, leaving
them to think our party caught.
"As the Cumberland Valley train was pulling out of the
station, its conductor, a big, genial fellow, who seemed to know
everybody in the valley, was loath to express an opinion as to
whether we would get to Martinsburg. He would take us as far as
he could, and then leave us to work out our own salvation. He
could give us no information about the Baltimore and Ohio Road.
Hope and fear chased one another in our midst; hope that trains
were running on that road, and fear that it, too, had been stopped
by wash-outs. In the latter case it seemed to us that we should
be compelled to return to Harrisburg and sit down to think with
our Philadelphia brethren.
The Cumberland Valley train took us to Hagerstown, and there
the big and genial conductor told us it would stay, as it could
not cross the Potomac to reach Martinsburg. We were twelve miles
from the Potomac and twenty from Martinsburg. Fortunately, a construction
train was going to the river to repair some small wash-outs, and
Major Ives, the engineer of the Cumberland Valley Road, took us
upon it, but be smiled pitifully when we told him we were going
across the bridge.
"'Why, man,' he said to the Times's correspondent,
'the Potomac is higher than it was in 1877, and there's no telling
when the bridge will go.'
At the bridge was a throng of country people waiting to see
it go down, and wondering how many more blows it would stand from
foundering canal-boats, washed out of the Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal, whose lines had already disappeared, under the flood. A
quick survey of the bridge showed that its second section was
weakening, and had already bent several inches, making a slight
concavity on the upper side.
No time was to be lost if we were going to Martinsburg. The country
people murmured disapproval, but we went on the bridge, and were
soon crossing it on the one-foot plank that served for a foot-walk.
It was an unpleasant walk. The river was roaring below us. To
yield to the fascination of the desire to look between the railroad
ties at the foaming water was to throw away our lives. Then that
fear that the tons of drift stuff piled against the upper side
of the bridge, would suddenly throw it over, was a cause of anything
but confidence. But we held our breath, balanced ourselves, measured
our steps, and looked far ahead at the hills on the Western Virginia
shore. At last the firm embankment was reached, and four reporters
sent up one sigh of relief and joy.
Finding two teams, we were soon on our way to Martinsburg.
"The Potomac was nine feet higher than it was ever known
to be before, and it was out for more than a mile beyond the tracks
of the Cumberland Valley Railroad at Falling Waters, where it
had carried away several houses. This made the route to Martinsburg
twice as long as it otherwise would have been. To weary, anxious
reporters it seemed four times as long, and that we should never
get beyond the village of Falling Waters. It confronted us at
every turn of the crooked way, until it became a source of pain.
It is a pretty place, but we were yearning for Johnstown, not
for rural beauty.
"All roads have an end, and Farmer Sperow's teams at last
dragged us into Martinsburg. Little comfort was in store for us
there. No train had arrived there for more than twenty-four hours.
Farmer Sperow was called on to take us back to the river, our
instructions being to cross the bridge again and take a trip over
the mountains. Hope gave way to utter despair when we learned
that the bridge had fallen twenty minutes after our passage. We
had put ourselves into a pickle. Chief Engineer Ives and his assistant,
Mr. Schoonmaker joined us a little while later. They had followed
us across the bridge and been cut off also. They were needed at
Harrisburg, and they backed up our effort to get a special train
to go to the Shenandoah Valley Road's bridge, twenty-five miles
away, which was reported to be yet standing.
"The Baltimore and Ohio officials were obdurate. They
did not know enough about the tracks to the eastward to experiment
with a train on them in the dark. They promised to make up a train
in the morning. Wagons would not take us as soon. A drearier night
was never passed by men with their hearts in their work. Morning
came at last and with it the news that the road to the east was
passable nearly to Harper's Ferry. Lots of Martinsburg folks wanted
to see the sights at the Ferry, and we had the advantage of their
society on an excursion train as far as Shenandoah junction, where
Mr. Ives had telegraphed for a special to come over and meet us
if the bridge was standing.
The telegraph kept us informed about the movement of the train.
When we learned that it had tested and crossed the bridge our
joy was modified only by the fear that we had made fools of ourselves
in leaving Harrisburg, and that the more phlegmatic Philadelphia
reporters had already got to Johnstown. But this fear was soon
dissipated. The trainman knew that Harrisburg was inundated and
no train had gone west for nearly two days. A new fear took its
place. It was that New York men, starting behind us, had got into
Johnstown through Pittsburgh by way of the New York Central and
its connections. No telegrams were penned with more conflicting
emotions surging through the writer than those by which the Times's
correspondent made it known that he had got out of the Martinsburg
pocket and was about to make a wagon journey of one hundred and
ten mile's across the mountains, and asked for information as
to whether any Eastern man had got to the scene of the flood.
"The special train took us to Chambersburg, where Superintendent
Riddle, of the Cumberland Valley Road, had information that four
Philadelphia men were on their way thither, and had engaged a
team to take them on the first stage of the overland trip. A wild
rush was made for Schiner's livery, and in ten minutes we were
bowling over the pike toward McConnellsburg, having already sent
thither a telegraphic order for fresh teams. The train from Harrisburg
was due in five minutes when we started. As we mounted each hill
we eagerly scanned the road behind for pursuers. They never came
"In McConnellsburg the entire town had heard of our coming,
and were out to greet us with cheers. They knew our mission and
that a party of competitors was tracking us. Landlord Prosser,
of the Fulton Hotel, had his team ready, but said there had been
an enormous wash-out near the Juniata River, beyond which he could
not take us. We would have to walk through the break in the pike
and cross the river on a bridge tottering on a few supports. Telegrams
to Everett for a team to meet us beyond the river and take us
to Bedford, and to the latter place for a team to make the journey
across the Alleghenies to Johnstown settled all our plans.
"As well as we could make it out by telegraphic advices,
we were an hour ahead of the Philadelphians. Ten minutes. Was
not, therefore, too long for supper. Landlord Prosser took the
reins himself and we started again, with a hurrah from the populace.
As it was Sunday, they would sell us nothing, but storekeeper
Young and telegraph operator Sloan supplied us with tobacco and
other little comforts, our stock of which had been exhausted.
It will gratify our Prohibition friends to learn that whisky was
not among them. McConnellsburg is, unfortunately, a dry town for
the time being. It was a long and weary pull to the top of Sidling
Hill. To case up on the team, we walked the greater part of the
way. A short descent and a straight run took us to the banks of
"Harrisonville was just beyond, and Harrisonville had
been under a raging flood, which had weakened the props of the
bridge and washed out the road for fifty feet beyond it. The only
thing to do was to unhitch and lead the horses over the bridge
and through the gully. This was difficult, but it was finally
accomplished. The more difficult task was to get the wagon over.
A long pull, with many strong lifts, in which some of the natives
aided, took it down from the bridge and through the break, but
at the end there were more barked shins and bruised toes than
any other four men ever had in common.
"It was a quick ride from Everett to Bedford, for our
driver had a good wagon and a speedy team. Arriving at Bedford
a little after two o'clock in the morning, we found dispatches
that cheered us, for they told us that we, had made no mistake,
and might reach the scene of disaster first. Only a reporter who
has been on a mission similar to this can tell the joy imparted
by a dispatch like this:
"'NEW YORKNobody is ahead of you. Go it.' At four o'clock
in the morning we started on our long trip of forty miles across
the Alleghenies to Johnstown. Pleasantville was reached at half-past
six a.m. Now the road became bad, and everybody but the driver
had to walk. Footsore as we were, we had to clamber over rocks
and through mud in a driving rain, which wet us through. For ten
miles we went thus dismally. Ten miles from Johnstown we got in
the wagon, and every one promptly went to sleep, at the risk of
being thrown out at any time as the wagon jolted along. Tired
nature could stand no more, and we slumbered peacefully until
four half-drunken special policemen halted us at the entrance
to Johnstown. Argument with them stirred us up, and we got into
town and saw what a ruin it was."
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