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J. W. McCombs M. M. McCombs
John W. McComb
[1833 - c1920]
Mary M. McComb
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EARTH OPENED BY SIDE OF TRACK

Mr. and Mrs. J. W. McComb Tell of Their Experiences In the California Earthquake -- Train Almost Engulfed in a Sink Hole -- Delayed 40 Hours by Landslide.

We left Santa Ana Tuesday morning, April 17, [1906] for Los Angeles where we remained four hours to get a train. We then took the coast route of the Southern Pacific for Oakland. At 5:15 Wednesday morning we felt a jar that almost threw us out of our births. I supposed that it was caused by a broken rail or some such accident and after I had gotten up asked somebody what was the matter with the train, I was informed that it was an earthquake. We were then at a little place called Pajaro, beyond which is a cut through which we ran and then there was a place where it looked as if a fill has been made.

I could feel the cars sinking and as I looked out of the window could see a crack in the earth along side the track a foot wide and Mrs. McComb said there was one as wide on the other side. The ties seemed to be settling into the muck. A mail train following just behind us had a hard time in pulling out of this sink hole. The tracks were clear down into the muck and the Engineer told me that at one time he was afraid the weight of the rear end of the train would pull the engine back into the cavity. At this point there was a landslide just ahead of us that was caused by the earthquake and we were held here forty hours.

While we were waiting here a man from Iowa and myself went back to the "crater," out of which the train had just pulled, and there were three distinct waterspouts rapidly filling the depression with water. One of the spouts was as large through as a man's body and the other two were from four to six inches through. The railroad was at the bottom of this rapidly forming lake and the spouting water steamed as if it was hot, but we could not get near enough to make sure. A Catholic church in Pajaro was destroyed and a number of people buried in the ruins and burned. For the next fifty miles there was not a house, but showed effects of the earthquake and not a chimney was to be seen. An old ladies' home was destroyed and many killed.

Had it not been for the fact that we were about one-half hour late our train would have been completely demolished. A freight train that was running ahead of us on our schedule was buried by the landslide and wrecked. When arrangements had been made so that we could get around the landslide, we were taken out of the sleepers and the train divided. A wrecking train had made a temporary track around the landslide. We began to move on very slowly and could feel the track settling under us. At one place it seemed that we would surely tip over, but we managed some how to keep right side up. At the landslide proper we all had to get out of the cars and walk about half a mile. In the landslide boulders bad rolled down from the mountain, struck the track and shoved it for many feet out of its place. The rails were twisted and bent and many of them broken in two. A little farther along there was a bridge 200 feet long over a stream about 50 feet below. Some of the irons of the bridge from 6 to 8 inches through were broken. The baggage was transferred on hand cars across the bridge and the passengers had to crose on foot. A plank was laid along the center of the bridge and the men helped the women across.

While we were standing beside the train waiting for arrangements to be made so that we could get around the landslide, there were two short, sharp shocks and a fissure appeared almost at our feet and the two trains, our train and the mail train that were along side of each other, rocked to and fro and it seemed as if they would pitch into each other. All who were in the trains came rushing out and for awhile pandemonium reigned. It was pretty hard to get anything to eat while we were waiting at Pajaro as the town had been almost completely destroyed, but I finally bought two loaves of bread from a baker and at a nearby house some hot water was obtained so that we could make some coffee. This was all we had to eat during the forty hours we were waiting at Pajaro.

After we had crossed tbe brldge on foot we were put into a small train and started for San Jose. On all sidas not a chimney or windmill was standing and the houses of brick and stone were everywhere demolished. The tanks of crude oil from which the engines are supplied were down and the oil spilled. When we reached San Jose we found the city in ruins. The brick and stone of which the buildings had been construoted were piled up in the streets and between 400 and 500 people had been buried in the ruins and killed.

From San Jose to Oakland we made a pretty good run and for most of the way it was too dark for us to see how much damage had been done. When we reached Oakland the city was in chaos. While a great deal of damage had been done there it was not as bad as across the bay In San Francisco. But the ferry was bringing people from the stricken city as rapldly as possible. There was plenty of water in Oakland and every time the ferry started back for a load it carried three barrels of water which were consumed by the passengers before Oakland was reached, so great was their thirst. When we got down to the water's edge we could see the terrible fires in San Francisco and we were told that Broadway was burning. It was a terrible sight, a sight that tongue cannot describe.

We stayed in Oakland four hours before we could be transferred to another train. When the train was about to start the police had to force the people away, so great was their eagerneas to get away from the stricken district. Our train was composed of old fashionied sleepers, such as were made when sleepers first began to be used and we could get no better cars until we got to Ogden [Utah] when we were again permitted to ride in a modern train. We did not feel that we were in a safe place until we had reached Ogden and from there on home we felt that there was little danger of the earth's opening and swallowing us up. We are very thankful that we have reached home alive and have passed through a terrible experience, one that we can never forget.

-- John Wesley McComb, 1906

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RedArrow   John W. McCombs, 1833-c1918
RedArrow   History of Portage County, Ohio - John W. McCombs

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This page last updated 19-Mar-2016

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