Joe Kane Remembers
The Flood of 1972
in Painted Post
as told to
"Mr. Kane, would you tell me some of the things you remember about the flood of 1972?"
"As I remember it, which may or may not be exactly right, it had rained, very hard at times, for three full days. By Thursday afternoon the rivers were over their banks and the roads were closed. The Ingersoll Rand Co. started letting their workers go home early if they lived out of town.
"After work I took the car and drove to Corning with my wife and my son, Mark. There was water over all the low spots in the road. The river was nearly up to the New York Central Railway bridge and very near the top of the dike. We were awfully glad when we finally got home because the sights we saw were scary. Later that evening I heard that people were being evacuated from the Hart and Kane Street area, so I went over town and started to help fill sand bags near the student parking lot across the street from West High School.
"It seemed as though there was very little warning. Of course, I can only rightly tell what happened to me, but I think everyone was so busy doing the things they felt were important that they didn't stop to add up the facts.
"While I was tying sand bags, a National Guard truck came by and told us that a Duck was being used to take out people from the New Haven road in Gang Mills.
"It was around midnight, and since there were no other lights, we had to work by the lights of cars and trucks. Sometime later, another guard truck came by and the men reported that the Fire Hall in Coopers was flooded out. I just kept right on tying bags. Looking back, it should have been, 'feet don't fail me now' and 'head for high ground.' No way could the dikes hold the water if it was coming down both valleys, hill to hill, three feet deep. It was nearly noon the next day before that reasoning finally hit me.
"At almost 4 am, the truck driver who was hauling the sand bags to the dike came back to ask for the bags we had finished because the temporary sand bag addition to the dike had started to leak. We loaded the bags quickly and took them to the dike at the end of West High Street. We only got a few on the dike when it gave way, the sand bags falling like dominoes.
"Evacuation of the Fire Station and the west end of town was started immediately. I started getting people up on Hamilton Circle and Olive Street, but when I got to the corner of Hamilton and High, the state trooper directing traffic asked me to go back to Hamilton Circle and stop people from coming down the street—they had already lost a car load of people on the Traffic Circle.
"Water was already coming down Hamilton Street and Chemung Street near the Post Office and the I-R office.
"About the third car I stopped was a Platt Street resident who was going back for the rest of his family and there was no way I was going to stop him. He made it back with them, but not by much.
"The water kept coming up until about ten in the morning when it ran around the island at the entrance to Hamilton Circle. When we noticed, around eleven, that the water wasn't flowing around the island anymore, we knew the water was going down and we all felt better. Someone invited me to their home to celebrate with a cup of coffee, cooked on a camping stove, because there were no gas or electric, as well as no phone or water. They had all failed Thursday night.
"By late afternoon, the water had gone down enough for us to get back into our house since the water had not quite reached the first floor. The cellar was still full of water and we got very little sleep that night because all through the night things were falling into the water, as the water went down.
"Saturday dawned damp and cold. I went to the Fire Station to see what could be done. Patrols were being set up to keep sight-seers and looters out. A group of my neighbors took the Hamilton Circle side of the old DL&W track bed and spent the day keeping everyone out who didn't have a good reason to be there.
"About then someone decided that we should set up road blocks, and I was assigned to Hamilton Street and Grace Boulevard. It was not very long before a Deputy Sheriff arrived with orders from the County Sheriff to guard the I-R plant. I had known the Deputy Sheriff for about forty years and let him pass. He was back shortly and said the next man down the street was harder to get along with and that he had to go to the Command Post, which was set up at the High Street viaduct, to get a pass.
"My two sons, Joe, Jr. and Bill, arrived from Rochester each with a car loaded with everything that they thought we could use: two 40 quart cans of clean water, milk, food, and various other necessities. They also both brought dry ice so we were able to save everything we had in the refrigerator and the freezer. Joe and Bill had come in by way of Watkins Glen where the state troopers let them through after they showed their licenses with Hamilton Circle, Painted Post, as their address.
"The National Guard arrived about ten o'clock that evening and took over guard duty which lasted for several days.
"Sunday was quiet. I cooked some food on the camping stove which had been on a shelf in the garage along with the charcoal which did not get wet. Evelyn, my wife, and some of the neighbors walked to West High School where a church service was being held.
"Sometime Sunday night I woke up to the fact that as building inspector it would be up to me to condemn the damaged homes of the village. Early Monday, I was told by officials that I should get my own help and straighten the problem out as soon as possible. With the help of two neighbors, I started in the east corner of the village and worked on from there, using small signs made by some of the kids from Hamilton Circle. The first house we condemned was on Hart Street. It turned out to be the last house in the village to be completely repaired about three years later.
"As we worked up Jerome and Brewster Street condemning homes, it occurred to me that I had known and worked with these homeowners for over twenty years. It wasn't a pleasant thought that I would have to face these people after my job was done. As it turned out, the people were really fine and realized the fact that the job had to be done. Monday and Tuesday morning we had covered the village and condemned thirty homes. Five business establishments were condemned the next day.
"With the help of National Guardsmen, we opened up five houses for ventilation since no one had returned to these homes. Many of these homes were all closed up.
"Corning Glass had men taking pictures of the flooded area. One man who was from Hornell agreed to come and take picutres of the properties I had condemned because I only had notes and felt I should have visual evidence in case it would be needed in the future.
"I attended, along with Mayor O'Malia, a meeting in Corning conducted by some U. D. C. official to explain what the bulding inspectors should do. The official said that any house with water on the second floor could be condemned. Someone from Corning said that by those standards he could condemn Houghton Plot without ever leaving his office! The official then talked about trailers that would be available for people without homes and said he wanted a list of the condemned houses. When I said I had condemned thirty houses already, he added that he wanted the names and addresses of the owners and where they were staying now. I told him to forget that part because I couldn't even find where my own friends were staying. All the other inspectors agreed that if 'A' house on 'B' street was condemned and a person who wanted a trailer gave that address as his home, it would be enough to qualify.
"There was a meeting in the Corning Glass Union Hall with H. U. D. officials who explained the trailer program. They wanted me to be in charge of the stake-out crew of local trailer lots. I told them that I was too busy, but later I was forced to work on this program checking all water and sewer lines to the trailers that were installed on private lots.
"I condemned the new addition of the Charles Street School because the entire floor had collapsed. It had looked fine on June 28th.
"Dr. Schirmer said that all building permits in the disaster area should be free and stamped DISASTER. Mayor O'Malia suggested that people take time to decide whether to repair their homes or have them removed if they had been condemned.
"Dr Schirmer stated that the contractors, Blades of Hornell and Hakes of Painted Post, would share the work of removing condemned buildings and other trash. We met and agreed that Hakes should take the jobs on both sides of High Street and the west side of the village, plus the block where he was doing business on East High Street. Blades would get the rest.
"About this time, Urban Development Corp. opened an office in the building on Denison Parkway where Grant's Store had been, and they wanted six copies of everything, most of which just added to the confusion. About every two weeks someone new was in charge and had his own way of doing things.
"A couple of interesting things happened there. One day a girl who worked there said on the phone that she had the six copies of about ten different release forms made for me. I thanked her and said I would pick them up. When I went to get the copies, I took about eight new releases with me, which I handed to her with one hand, while taking the bunch of papers from her with my other hand. About a week later I received, by messenger, six more copies of the ten releases I already had. The girl had lost the new release forms and the only thing I could do was find the eight people and have them sign the papers all over again.
"Around this time I found out that a man I knew was working in that office. He said he could help me keep things straight, so I made a phone call to the office and the same girl I had talked to before answered. I asked her if could speak to my friend, but she told me no one by that name worked there. I asked her to check the desk directly behind her. She informed me that she had checked the payroll and no one by the name was there. I went down to the office and there sat my friend not six feet away from her! He had a good laugh when I told him about the mix-up on the phone. He asked me if the Rand was paying me for my work in the Post and I said yes, they were paying me as well as a crew who were installing the heaters, moving heavy trash, and just about anything else. He told me that Corning Glass was paying him and many others, but some of the U. D. C. "professional workers' must not consider them real people!
"Only a few people really gave me a bad time considering that about 500 homes were flooded, as well as all businesses, churches, lodge halls and a school.
"A couple of times, though, I really did lose my temper.
"About two weeks after the flood, I had made out the papers for the removal of two homes. Both women told much the same story of how they and their husbands had worked to send their children to school and pay for their homes and now their husbands deceased, children grown, and homes removed, they would not be looking forward to living in an apartment.
"That was really too bad, and I wasn't happy either when I arrived home to find a woman on my front porch whose mother and father had drowned in the flood. As executor of the estate, she wanted to know if there was a program whereby she could recover some part of their loss.
"All of a sudden some kid on a motorcycle with a Hollywood exhaust started tearing around the circle in front of the house. He was making so much noise that it was impossible to talk to the woman who had come to me for help. About the third time he rounded the circle, he got caught up in traffic and was right in front of my house. I rushed outside and asked him WHAT he was doing? He sarcastically informed me that he was running messages for the National Guard. I guess I'll just have to leave a blank for what I told him to do.
"Another trying time came the latter part of August. An Army Captain arrived on the scene to audit my accounts and generally look over what was being done in connection with the Army Engineer's contracts to demolish condemned buildings and haul trash away.
"The first thing he wanted was evidence that the buildings, many of which had already been removed, were truly damaged by the flood. When I showed him the pictures of the condemned houses, he said, fine, he would take the pictures. Quickly I told him that he couldn't have these pictures because I might need them at a later date, but I did have the negatives, so copies could be made. That argument was settled when we decided to make him a set of the pictures which he would pay for. Eventually this only led to more problems because he would not pay for the pictures, which he pointed out were documentary evidence and could not be classified as payable.
"The next thing he wanted was a copy of the contract we had with the contractors, Blades and Hakes. When he was informed that it was an oral agreement which we made out in the street one morning, he was not happy with our bookkeeping method. We agreed to get a contract signed for him and one for ourselves as well.
"The Army Captain also wanted to see some of the condemned property. The first building we came to was the I.U.E. Union Hall. He went in while I talked to a neighbor. When he came out, he informed me that he would have me fired from my job as building inspector. I answered that was the best news I had heard since the flood first hit and I questioned him as to what was wrong now. He said it was gross neglect of duty—the building should have been condemned ten years ago! He smiled then and we got along much better for the next three days.
"Most everyone kept up their sense of humor during this difficult period, and as with any group, we had our share of practical jokers who made life interesting. There were a couple of times when I was part of the funny stories.
"One involved the firemen, who were working shifts so about four of them were always at the Fire Hall because all of the alarm boxes were out and communication was poor. These men did a wonderful job—working their regular jobs, trying to repair their own homes besides taking a shift at the station. One evening at the Fire House I remarked that I had to pick up some milk before I went home. They had a pile of Dairylea milk cartons covered with ice under a tarp and someone suggested that I take one of those cartons of milk. I questioned them to see if it was fresh and they said it had just come off the truck about an hour ago. They even said that maybe I should take two cartons since they wouldn't keep long, so I did. The next morning I made coffee, got a carton from the refrigerator and poured cold WATER into my coffee! I never did like black coffee.
"Another funny thing happened when I inspected a business which was not only flooded but had had water on the second floor. The owner was very undecided about what he planned to do. I told him to think it over since I wouldn't condemn the building unless he wanted it removed. Three days later he sent word that he wanted the building condemned. I said that it was no problem. We made out the papers and put a condemned sign in front of the building. A few days later I noticed that the sign was gone and I figured that someone had taken it as a souvenir. I was about to replace the sign when the owner informed me that he had changed his mind and was going to fix it up.
"Later I found out that some of the boys had told him that people with flooded homes could get S.B.A. loans to cover their losses with $2,500.00 forgiven if they used it properly (later carried to $5,000.00). This was true, but they built it up to the point that businessmen could get very large loans, and up to $20,000.00 forgiven if the building was condemned.
"Many people had money problems and I was one of them. The banks were closed and money was scarce. After about a week it was announced that Ingersoll-Rand Co. and the I.U.E. Union had reached an agreement that all workers could work for a flat rate on clean-up of the plant and foundry. Everyone was to report for work in work clothes and to bring their own lunch and water to drink. The Village officials asked me to stay at my building inspector's job, which was okay with me. The first day my boss from I-R was driving by in an I-R truck and he told me that he was sure that it was all right for me to keep on working for the Village and that he would tell the people at I-R why I wasn't reporting for work. A week went by and I received a call from the I-R Co. to inspect their houses with one of their officials that afternoon.
"At noon when I went home for lunch, I was informed that I-R had called my home and said that I was A.W.O.L. from work. The official that I worked with that evening said that he had seen my name on the A.W.O.L., but he would take care of it. A few days later the firemen got paid, but I did not. I complained to John Nobriga, a Village board member, and he said not to worry, he would put my name in with the firemen and I would get my money.
"The next week the firemen got paid, but there was no check for me.
"I complained to John Welch, another Village board member, who said he would put my name in with his Gas Engine group who were doing what they could to help people who needed it.
"The next week the Gas Engine group got paid, but there was nothing for me. I was really upset and I told Mr. Welch what had happened again. He got on the phone to I-R and told me to stop in at the Payroll Office and pick up some cash. They had $200.00 cash for me and the Cashier said the rest would come by check. I told the Cashier that was fine, but I was curious to know what all the mix-up had been. She said that at first I was listed as A.W.O.L. by the Air Power division until the list of I-R houses I had condemned had come in. Then the list of firemen from John Nobriga came in with my name on it, and since I was not a fireman I was red lined. The same thing happened again when my name was found on John Welch's Gas Engine list.
"There's one other story I remember from the flood time. On day, just about two weeks after the flood, an elderly man that was standing in his yard looking at his badly damaged condemned house, motioned that he wanted to talk to me. He explained that his parents had had no regular religion and that he had never attended any church. He had always thought that the story of Noah and the ark was just another story. He told me that he had been thinking lately that if it had rained here for three days and three nights, then the story was true. There could be no argument about that!
"About the first of October the work of picking up the pieces was nearly over. Bills for nearly $100,00.00, which I had written for work orders, were complete and were audited by State and Federal auditors. One hundred twelve buildings in all were removed: 30 homes, 5 business establishments, and 77 garages. Also removed was a great deal of trash. There were 157 trailers in use in the Village.
"The people at the U.D.C. were busily working on the two blocks in the center of the Village. Their work would result in the demolishing of two lodge halls, two churches, many business places, and several homes all after I had gone back to work at Ingersoll-Rand.
"In closing, it is quite proper to say that the people of Painted Post, the Village officials, Ingersoll-Rand officials, and many auditors were really wonderful to work with. Everyone showed a real concern for the difficulties that we all had to some extent. Even the contractors helped by removing most of the houses at night so the owners would not see them being taken down. All in all, we were a people who struggled through a difficult time relying on our courage, strength, and good humor, as well as the support of each other to make it through the hardships. The people of Painted Post shared their troubles and their sadness and pulled together to reclaim their Village."
© Joseph Kane, Amy Fowler, 1992
Joseph Kane is the director of the Erwin Museum, historian for the Town of Erwin, and historian for the Village of Painted Post. Amy Fowler was a junior in 1984 at Painted Post's West High School. She worked at the Erwin Museum in the summertime helping Mr. Kane look after exhibits, and doing typing chores for him. One day when her work was all caught up, she asked that he tell her about the flood of '72 that she might take it down. Joe told her all he could remember and find in his notes. Amy produced the typescript that is reproduced here.