On June 3, 1921, there was a sudden cloudburst ten miles west of Pueblo, Colorado. The always-volatile Arkansas River began swelling. About the same time, there was a downpour over the Fountain River 30 miles north. The two rivers meet in the heart of town. The waters rose to over 15 feet in some areas. When it was over, nearly 1,500 people were dead and damage to homes and businesses was widespread. Property loss was estimated to be over $20 million. The flood covered over 300 square miles.
Telephone service suffered, too. Damage to Mountain States lines and plant
was estimated at $200,000. All toll lines were rendered useless and more than 7,000 telephones were out of commission. The basement of the telephone building was filled with mud and 9 1/2 feet of water flooded the first floor terminal room.
Through it all, Mountain States employees performed admirably. Operators stayed at their switchboards throughout the ordeal, providing comfort and emergency communication to the flood-ravaged citizens. Numerous instances of courage and heroism were reported. (see Heroes - Byron Thady
). The first men from outside the devastated area were telephone company employees. MST&T lost no time in sending crews from surrounding areas. It took over a month of round-the-clock work to restore service to the entire town.
Two employees (Thady and Chief Operator Mrs. Josephine D. Pryor) received individual Vail Medals
, and commendations were awarded to all of the Pueblo employees and those crews from outside the area who helped restore service. The awards read:
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE - PUEBLO FLOOD
Because of the invaluable service rendered the public, and the unswerving loyalty shown our company during and shortly following the destructive flood at Pueblo, Colorado, June 3, 1921, this tablet of honor is gratefully dedicated to you and to your co-workers who bravely stood the test which none but strong hearts could have endured.
Ben S. Read, President
The Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co.
For more photos of the flood,
Telephone crews from around the state slept in tents at "P-Y Camp" (for N. O. Pierce, general plant manager, and major A.W. Young, who was in charge of all the clean-up crews) (from The Monitor, July 1921).
Three weeks after the flood - mud is still piled in front of the telephone office. Water came up to the Bell sign on the building (from The Monitor, July 1921).
For more than a week after the flood, the exchange was operated out of a church, with only half of the operators working. "The girls" were happy to finally go back to work (sketch by Pueblo operator Wilma Cary).
Underground cables exposed and wrecked by the flood (from The Monitor, July 1921).
see the Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Department on-line photography collection at photoswest.org
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