INTERVIEW DATE: September 8, 1975


Interviewed by: Lois S. Davies

Transcribed May 21-22, 2012 by: Mike Robinson

Transcriber’s note: During the 1970’s, The Troy Historical Society recognized that among Troy’s citizenry were survivors of the horrific 1913 Flood. These individuals had keen memories of that event, old enough in 1913 to have remembered it in detail. Early Historical Society trustee Lois Shilling Davies took it upon herself as a project to seek these people out and tape-record their remembrances in interview format; this interview is the second in the series. We are grateful to her for this important work and the technical quality of the recordings. The complete series of these recordings is available for listening at The Local History Library by pre-arrangement with the archivists or The Troy Historical Society.

At the time of the 1913 flood I was twenty-two- old enough to know what was going on, and had completed one year of college, operating a small business in Troy after having spent one year with the Hobart (Manufacturing) Company in their New York office. I came home due to a family death, became involved with a small business and never returned to New York, although I was slated to take over their Boston office.

At the time of the flood I lived at 16 North Walnut Street with my parents, brother and sister Harold and Bernice, who later married Jim Dollar; they both went to Fort Wayne Bible School and became ministers until her death about three years ago. The property is now a business building (Webb’s Auto Parts), right across from Harry Julian’s residence and tinker shop- he “tinkered” with bicycles, signs and all sorts of things.

The point I was making was that there were three of us- three families around 20 North Cherry where my future wife Betty and I later lived; here we were nearest to the river, and yet we were surrounded by water. As I recall it, we were surrounded by water going east on Water Street right about the railroad crossing they started to dip down; turning to the south where the Dog House Restaurant is, the old canal, it started to dip down. Coming west on Water Street, almost opposite Jackson Street, it started to dip down towards Elm Street; this entire area was free from water, creating an island. We didn’t even have water in the basement- just surface water being carried away. Three of us went down South Market Street to Race Street, at the water’s edge- pretty deep. We came back and reported the water was there and Gilly Thomas- I think he was a lawyer, a brother of L.A. Thomas who operated the greenhouse that “Ducky” later operated- just south of the railroad where Plum Street runs into Grant. This was Monday night, the first night of the general alarm; we had been standing at the Market Street Bridge listening to these awful screams in Nineva; that section from North Market street down to where they’re now tearing down the old power plant, that was just a jungle, a tangle, mostly thorn trees and little cottages; I remember such characters as Hod and Emmie Frickle, lived there. Some of them had climbed into thorn trees and were just screaming, shouting for help. We couldn’t stand it and went into my office; George had a pair of dice, we were sitting in front of an open fire and they were shooting “nine”. In those days, the ringing of the fire bell nine times, that was the signal of an emergency. This was either late Monday night or early Tuesday; this was the first warning of the bursting of the St. Mary's reservoir. We began walking down Market Street to the relief headquarters in the City Building in the part that later became the library, next door to the Fire Department headquarters.

Gilly Thomas said, “I wonder if there’s any water down around the greenhouse. C. R. Bushong, purchasing agent at Hobart (Manufacturing) Company, had a horse and spring wagon with a galvanized steel boat without ports; Howard Reichard happened to be standing with us, so the three of us all got in the spring wagon, went down Plum Street; we got to Drury Lane and discovered water there. We all got into the boat; Howard and I started rowing the boat; everything was dark, but I saw a light pertaining to the railroad crossing at Grant and Plum; we crossed the railroad without even dragging the keel of the boat, the water was up that high. We started on towards the greenhouse and heard cries for help; on further down a quarter of a block below the greenhouse we found Bob Mott hanging onto a telephone pole; he had started to swim out to get help, had become exhausted, and was shouting for help himself on Grant which was lined with big trees at that time. We got Bob in the boat and he said, “in there- in the cottage (VanTyle’s)!” We went into the cottage which had a porch overhang, went under that, and found a glass pane door and could see the gas light was burning, up above the water line; we had to duck to get them out of the cottage and into the boat. We could see an old lady, Mrs. VanTyle, in there on the bed and her crippled son- she was just bouncing around on the bed in a wheelchair with her son guarding all corners and sides of the bed so she wouldn’t roll off. We went over to the bed, tried to get her to come with us; meanwhile the boat capsized. We argued with her- she wouldn’t go without her wheelchair and we couldn’t possibly get the wheelchair through the opening on the top of the roof to the porch. I said, “well Reichie, I’ll find something to bail that boat and get it back up here”; an old “safe cabinet” blocked my path and pinned my legs under the water. I had an awful time- hip boots full of water and everyplace I’d go would bump a table leg. I finally found an opening, got above water, and found a “jardinière” ceramic piece- a big planter. The boat was almost submerged and I dove in, held my breath, and was able to get into position to begin bailing. The boat was now usable again but the old lad y continued to refuse to leave without her wheelchair. I said, “Reichie, this is no time to be tenderhearted we have to be rough”. We dragged her out of the wheelchair, floated her over to the boat like a sack of meal, to get her through this small opening into the boat. Then we took the son- Bob Mott was standing around with us at that time-practically helpless, so we put him in the boat but Howard couldn’t paddle by himself so Mott and I changed places. After getting hung up on a tree, we paddled back to the greenhouse to put them off. When we got there, the inhabitants were Ducky Thomas, Leo and his wife, and Poke, his brother who had moved into an upstairs attic and the water was up to about three feet of the floor of that. We tied sheets around the old lady, got her up through the window, then her son the same way, then I went blank. The next thing I knew I was stretched out on the floor upstairs and Poke Thomas had a bottle of Old Crow whiskey, which brought me back. Of course, we had to go back and get Bob Mott; after I came to, we did; he was still standing in the doorway. Although weakened by these efforts, Bushong, Reichard and I participated in more rescues, but they were all minor compared to the VanTyle-Mott experience.

Tuesday we still had the boat which I believe came from the Troy Wagon Works lumber yard, located at the site of the present Post Office at Race and Market, but the crew changed; now it was Charley Gorrell, Sr. Buck Wilson and myself. We were told that Buck Underwood had a bunch of people in his house and were asked if we would take a basket of sandwiches down to them at West Market and Lincoln, a two-story frame house; other houses in that area were one-story and those people fled to the Underwood place. This route took us through the main stream of the current, down towards where the dynamiting later took place. Wilsons had a rope, and we tied it to a tree on property where a Mrs. Pearson was supposed to be lying dead in the house at the time. With the rope tied to the boat, we set out into the current but the rope was in two pieces- we tied them together which gave us enough rope to reach Underwood's. Buck Underwood was a building contractor, and possessed a number of strong ropes which proved vital in the rescue efforts. However, the shortness of the rope caused us to jerk violently against the house throwing us in the water, but we all caught a window; miraculously, I hung onto the sandwiches. After all this, when I got into the house surrounded by fourteen people, I was told they had plenty of food after all! There was a house across the street, however, also full of people, that needed food, so we rigged a rope to that house, placed the unneeded sandwiches in a tub and they were pulled across. The people in this house were Jewish, however, and discovering the sandwiches were ham, they exclaimed, “Ham is Hog!” The response of Buck Underwood, on hearing the rejection of the ham, was, “Eat ‘em or starve to death, you (vulgarity deleted)!” The people ate them, but they violated the ethics of their religion when they ate ham. It was also at this location where “Slim Sedan” an Ohio River boatman then a prisoner in the Miami County Jail, performed all his heroic rescues. For his efforts, he was released from jail, settled in Troy and married a local girl, and for the rest of his days remained a very responsible citizen.

On Thursday, we were down at the foot of West Market Street, where they had a lot of boats, up on where Frank Henne lived- the brick house- suddenly I saw my canoe with the boat accumulation. The police asked if I could handle it in the current- there was a lot of food across the street which they wanted me to bring back. I said, “give me a front man for power and I’ll get it for you”, and Ken Williamson volunteered. The current was so strong that we played it safe- we went way up to the Sunshade, cut across, and wound up on Route 55 where the farmers had brought in food. Frank Miller lived on one corner and Johnson West on the other; between those two points we could cross without much concern about the current. They started loading the canoe; a lady in the crowd said, “Why Wilbur- you look you need some coffee.” I replied, “I don’t need coffee, I need a drink!” the straight-laced lady was horrified, since at that time the “wet and dry” feelings were intense. Someone came up with some wood-grain alcohol which I mixed with grape juice; by the time we were ready to shove off in the canoe, I was feeling no pain and ready to go. Fortified by the alcohol, I said, “let’s cross right here”, the shortest distance but we faced the strong current. When we got to the middle, rowing like hell, the current carried us right into Conn Halter’s blacksmith shop; from there we could wade to the Henne house and the police took and delivered the food.

After the demand for my services was over, I returned to my business- The Troy Slide and Sign Company- making signs and lantern glass advertising slides for the silent movie business. During those years following the flood, the Miami Conservancy District was formed, which, although greatly admired today, was very controversial at the time.

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