The 1913 West Liberty Flood
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
On Tuesday, March 25, 1913, the Miami Valley received 8 inches of rain in 48 hours, causing the Mad River to overflow its banks and cause the “Great Flood” in West Liberty and surrounding area.
In my grandfather Lee Roy Birt Sr.'s memoirs, he mentions the flood at a time when he was a lad of 9 years old.
“My father gave up working for the canning company and took a job on a large farm north of Urbana. The river runs north and south in Champaign County. They raised all the crops that you raised on an ordinary farm. We also tried onions, beets, turnips, fattened up a lot of cattle and sheep. It was here I met a young lady about 13 years old that was to later become my wife but I didn't know it at that time. This was back in 1913 when they had the big flood all up and down the river valley. There seemed to be water everywhere up around our house just ready to come in on the floor. The owner of the farm had cut a lot of wood and had it all corded up ready to haul out. The water took this wood to the fence rows and pulled the fences up, posts and all; and it took out many bridges, filled the old channels of Mad River in many places. They had to re-dredge old Mad River. I can remember that old dredge work for many cubic yards.”
If the flood wasn't already tragic enough, the rail road bridge south of West Liberty was weakened by the flood waters, collapsed under the weight of a Penn Locomotive as well as a Pullman sleeper and fell into to the raging waters at 1:00 am.
The Penn Passenger Train #3 was headed west from Columbus to Chicago via Urbana. It was stopped because of washouts in Piqua. Plans were to detour to Bellefontaine then west being pulled backward to Bellefontaine from Urbana; then west to Indianapolis Division Big Four to Union City then rejoin the Penn System.
The train's passengers were safe with only 7 injured. James Woods, Engineer and C. E. Tilton, Fireman, of Columbus sustained slight injuries and were found that day. The Conductor, Phil Henn, was rescued after 12 hours of water exposure. The only life lost because of the train accident was that of the Elwood Howell of Columbus, the Brakeman. His body was found 24 hours later lodged against a farm fence near Pimtown Road.
Crews were sent to recover the train cars from the muddy waters. This was not an easy task because when they put a pile trestle in place of the bridge, they drove piling through the trailer and ash pan of the engine. This made it impossible to raise the engine until the pilling could be removed. After reconstructing the trestle in part, it wasn't until August 12 that the first attempt was made to raise the engine. However the bed of one of the derricks (wreckers) broke a king-pin under the load and another derrick was called to the scene. The following day the engine and bridge spans were lifted. In spite of being under water for four and a half months the locomotive was found to be in good enough shape to repair and put back into service.
Photos used by permission of Bob McClure
#1- Looking south at the train in the flood waters.
#2- Rescue of the train Conductor Henn.
#3- Raising of the engine being pulled from the flood waters in August of 1913.
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