July 1995

 
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The Flood

of July 8, 1935

by

Joseph J. Kane

In the Spring of 1933 I went to work at the G. L. F. (Grange League Federation, now AgWay) feed mill in Addison as a full-time employee. The Grange had rented the feed mill just a few months before I started work there. Mr. and Mrs. Short owned the mill, a coal yard and a large gas station along Front Street.

Kenneth Armstrong was the manager. Edward Homer who had worked for the Shorts as a truck driver continued on, working for them at the coal yard and filling station and part-time for the G.L.F. As business improved at the mill Richard Wright began part-time work in 1934.

I still lived at home and helped with farming chores. My two older brothers (I was the middle one in a family of five boys) farmed with dad. My grandfather and his father had come to this country from Ireland around 1870 and worked building the second track of the Erie Railroad. When they got as far as Erwin they heard of a small one-and-one-half-storey house on 50 acres of partly cleared land that was for sale. They bought the property and sent back to Ireland for their family. Since that time the farm had increased to 215 acres.

Dad had about 20 Holstein dairy cows. From them he raised 8 to 10 heifers a year to replace the milking cows he sold to buyers for dairies near New York. We also had 800 chickens. Milk and eggs provided our principal income along with cash from the sale of potatoes, wheat and buckwheat. I was paid fifteen dollars a week at the mill; gasoline for my car that I drove to work cost one dollar for nine gallons.

Ken had let the supply in the store get real low in late June, 1935, because July 1st was the time for the annual inventory and it would be much easier to count the stock if there were fewer items. He had ordered a thirty-ton car of feed from Buffalo to be delivered by rail July 6th, and another on the 8th, to get the stock in the store back where it should be.

When the car didn't arrive on the 6th, Ken checked with the Erie Railroad agent and was informed that it was in the Hornell yard and would be delivered July 8th. Ken was leaving for a week vacation that afternoon; the assistant manager of the Ithaca store was to come in Monday morning to replace him. Either Ed Homer or Dick Wright could be called in part-time to help me, if necessary.

After a week of good weather, thunder storms were forecast for the afternoon of Sunday, the 7th. They arrived about 4:00 p.m. and the water came down harder than I had ever seen it rain before, or I have since that deluge.

At home our dairy cows were in the barnyard drinking water and Dad suggested that we should get them in the barn out of the storm. I put on a slicker with a hood and ran to the barn. From the barn window I looked back and saw my brother Tommy coming. He was just under one of two giant oak trees when lightning struck the tree and blew off a large branch. Tommy dashed for the house and the heavy limb came crashing down to the spot where Tommy had just been.

I put the cows in the barn and fed them grain. Dad and Tommy came out shortly and we did the milking. It was still raining very hard when we went to the house for supper.

About 7:00 p.m. the rain let up a little and Dad told us to let the cows out of the barn and put them in the nearby night pasture as the other pasture with a dry wash above would be full of water from the downpour. After putting the cows in the first pasture, Tommy and I went on up the lane and discovered that the dry wash was nearly dry. Farther up the hill a pignut tree had fallen across the run blocking it, and diverting the runoff water to an old gully that had probably been formed many years ago by a similar storm.

Looking down from the hill top to the highway we could see cars turning around because there was a large pile of eroded soil where the new creek crossed the road. The railroad track was also covered, and we could see a train backing up.

By the time I went to work Monday the rain had stopped. I could see that most of the river-bottom flats were covered with water. The highway was open, but the river had come up and washed out the track where the train was backing up the night before. The ties were hanging from the rails over the flood water.

Breman Hollow and Goodhue Creeks were running bank full. The highway that followed the base of the hill was covered with six or eight inches of water. There were piles of dirt on the road washed down by the water coming off the hill. The highway was closed about 10 a.m. The river kept coming up. By noon the floor of the suspension bridge that connected Goodhue Street with McCarthy Road was caught by the current and pushed downstream, twisted into a nearly vertical position.

The Addison Dam, built across the Canisteo River in 1816, went out in the afternoon. In Painted Post the Hodgeman Dam, where Hodgeman Park is now, gave way to the flood waters of the Conhocton. It had been built in the late 1820's to impound water to run Hodgeman's Mill which had become well known for its wheat and buckwheat flour.

Nearly all the stores on Main Street in Addison were flooded, as were homes on the south side of the river. Some of the cellars on the north side were filling with surface water. There was a lot of water around the mill and its cellar was flooded.

That night I stayed in Addison and went back to the mill at 7 Tuesday morning. The river had gone down a bit. The man from Ithaca who was supposed to take Ken's place called to tell me that he had lost his car and the clothes he had planned to wear in Addison that week and would not get here for a couple more days. We learned later that the storm was worse there than it had been in southern Steuben County.

Moore Brothers, who did trucking for the mill, came by and suggested that they could bring the car of feed from the Hornell rail yard to Addison. The railway agent informed us that the car of feed was there, but it was in several feet of water, and the feed would be worthless. The Moores said they would send a truck to Buffalo and get other trucks to go with them. We learned that the railway was washed out near Rathbone and it would be a few days before the Erie Railroad would be back in business. The Moores also got word that the milk station needed trucks to haul milk to a cheese factory near Campbell. Farmers got cheese-factory prices for their milk, instead of Grade A milk prices, until the Erie got back in business and could carry milk to bottling plants.

There was very little business at the store. In the afternoon the Addison Fire Department men pumped out the cellar. We washed down the grain hopper and grinder with clean water and ground a few bags of poor grain to clean the mill. It was powered by a natural gas engine on the first floor.

From the back door of the mill we watched as someone drove a horse and buggy across the suspension bridge. Not long after that the bridge was closed for good, taken down, and McCarthy Road extended on the south side of the river to Addison.

Wednesday we were back in the grist business, but I had to work alone as Dick had to help his father clean up a cow barn which had been flooded, and Ed had to deliver coal, as many people wanted to get a fire going to dry out their buildings.

Word got around that the Addison G. L. F. was the only grist mill working in the area. The telephone party lines of that time would spread local information about as fast as modern electronic equipment. Farmers whom we did not know came in to have their grain ground and to buy protein supplements to mix with it. No one complained when I rationed a few bags to each. Some of our regular customers helped out tending the mill while I waited on trade. Mrs. Short realized that I had had no lunch and she sent me in a sandwich and a pint of milk.

At the end of the day I was just locking the door about 6 p.m. after putting the sales slips and cash into the safe, when one of our good customers arrived with a five-ton load of grist. He offered to have his man pile it on the dock so it could be ground the next morning, but one of the trucks from Buffalo had been delayed and would have to unload his feed so he could make his milk run in the morning. We decided not to wait until morning, but to get the milling done, if possible, before the truck arrived. The customer's hired man moved the grain in to the mill, and we finished grinding about 8 p.m.

Thursday, many of the farmers sent their grist in by their wives who went over to the town to do their grocery shopping. Some of the stores had been able to save their stock that was above the water level, and some had also gotten in new supplies.

Things were much better Friday when both Dick and Ed came in to work. They kept the mill going while I waited on buyers. Farmers purchased more than usual because their pastures were spoiled, or they had lost grain when their barns were flooded. Our business was good, and there was no more rationing now that the Erie was moving again. Their work crews had filled coal cars with ballast and using a crane unloaded the cars to replace the embankment washed away by the flood current.

Five truck loads with five tons of feed each had replaced most of that lost in Hornell. The man from Ithaca arrived to do the paper work and affairs got back to normal.

1995, Joseph J. Kane
 
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