Tower Accidents And Other Stories
If you come across an interesting article we would like to hear from you. It may be added to the list shown below. These stories are from Canada as well as the U.S.A.
Brakeman killed by tower's water spout. (1900) Worker has heart attack atop water tower. (2004)
The Great Water (beer?) Tower Caper. (1958) Ship hits water tower; 16 people die (1917)
Canadian killed when bomber hits water tower (1943) Home



Brakeman killed by tower's water spout. (From U.S. Supreme Court transcripts, 1903)
There was evidence tending to show that McDade, a brakeman in the employ of the company, was killed on the night of August 19, 1900, while engaged in the discharge of his duties as head brakeman on a car in one of the company's trains. McDade was at his post of duty, and, when last seen, was transmitting a signal from the conductor to the engineer to run past the station of Goodwin, Arkansas, which the train was then approaching. The train passed Goodwin at a rate of from 20 to 25 miles an hour. At Goodwin there was a water tank, having attached thereto an iron spout, which, when not in use, hung at an angle from the side of the tank. Shortly after passing Goodwin, McDade was missed from the train, and, upon search being instituted, his lantern was found near the place on the car where he was at the time of giving the signal. His body was found at a distance of about six hundred and seventy-five feet beyond the Goodwin tank. There was also testimony tending to show, from the location of the waterspout and the injuries upon the head and person of McDade, that he was killed as a result of being struck by the overhanging spout. The car upon which McDade was engaged at the time of the injury was a furniture car, wider and higher than the average car, and of such size as to make it highly dangerous to be on top of it at the place it was necessary to be when giving signals, in view of the fact that the spout cleared the car by less than the height of a man above the car when in position to perform the duties required of him.
While the evidence was circumstantial, it was ample, in our opinion, to warrant the submission of this question to the jury under the instructions given. Furniture cars like the one on which McDade was riding were received and transported over this road. There is testimony tending to show that a proper construction of the tank and appliances required the spout to hang vertically when not in use, and other testimony to the effect that, when hung in this manner, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the fireman to pull down the spout in taking water, and that to hang it at an angle is, at least, a more convenient method of adjustment. Be this as it may, the testimony makes it clear that in the proper construction of this appliance there is no necessity of bringing it so near to the car as to endanger brakemen working thereon. Whether hung at an angle or not, it can be so constructed as to leave such space between it and the top of the car as to make it entirely safe for brakemen in passing. The testimony makes it equally clear that, when on the furniture car, McDade, sitting at his post, would be likely to be struck by the spout in passing.
Above information compiled (01-05) from full case details as found on
Back to Top




Worker has heart attack atop water tower. (North Carolina, 2004)
Water department worker Troy Brooks suffered a heart attack yesterday atop a tower in Pender County, N.C., causing a fall that left him dangling from his safety rope 150 feet above ground.
He was working on the tower with his brother, who immediately shouted to coworkers below to call 911.
"I knew this would be beyond our scope of capabilities," Pender EMS Assistant Chief Steve Conway told a reporter from local station WECT-TV.
The nearby Hampstead, Ogden and Castle Hayne Fire Departments, along with the New Hanover County Tactical Squad, came to perform what's known as a high angle rescue.
Fortunately for Brooks, rescuers in the New Hanover County Fire Department go through annual training with the Wilmington Fire Department on area water towers and at the state port.
"The adrenaline gets pumping, you know you've got somebody up there that you've got to help. You get up there and do the job, then you think about it afterward," New Hanover Fire Search and Rescue Lt. Ryan E. Merrill told WECT. "It really paid off, because it showed that we practiced and knew what to do."

Eventually, Brooks was airlifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center where he was treated. He was released from the center today.
Source: WECT-TV December 14, 2004
Back to Top




The Great Water (beer?) Tower Caper. (Waterloo Ontario. 3 June 1958)
It's something a little unusual for the Daily Bulletin: a detailed account of an incident that happened 41 years ago. Tomorrow we'll return to more up-to-date news. But today, this special report by Patricia Bow -- abridged from WEAL, the faculty of engineering alumni newsletter.
Vera Leavoy, then a staff member working in the office of the Waterloo College Associate Faculties on Albert Street, clearly remembers the morning of June 3, 1958. "Someone looked out the window and said, 'Look at the tower!' So we all rushed to the window to see. Then we all rushed to the taps to see if it was beer!"
The Record took another photograph of a young man holding up a hose and scratching his head in puzzlement, with the Lester Street water tower in the background. Painted in enormous but well-formed letters across the curve of the 500,000-gallon tank, 125 feet above the ground, was the word BEER.
Forty years later, the prank is still being recalled as one of the lighter moments in the history of the University of Waterloo. This is the true story, as Mike Matthews, BASc '63 (Mechanical), remembers it.
There were three of them: Mike from Toronto, Bill Stephen from Weston, and George Thompson -- known as Sandy because of his red hair -- from Hamilton. They'd started at Waterloo in October 1957 and by next June they were feeling frustrated. The University of Waterloo did not yet exist, and would not until a year later.
Waterloo College Associate Faculties, as UW was known then, had no reputation at all."When we went home," Mike says, "people would ask, 'What's this silly thing about you working in a factory every other semester?'" Many people had the idea that this new college was really just a glorified trade school. Mike, Bill, and Sandy took classes in a couple of tin-roofed temporary buildings in the Waterloo College parking lot at Albert and Dearborn (now University). Small wonder they felt the need to draw some attention to their unknown college.
On the evening of June 1, Mike, Sandy, and Bill were sitting in a Kitchener pub. Mike can still hear himself saying, "We've got to do something to get this place on the map."
But how? "We started batting around something we could do. I do not know how the idea of putting BEER on the water tower came up." All of them were living within a few blocks of the college, and the municipal water tower stood to the north-west, on Lester Street. Mike speculates that the daily sight of this landmark may have already planted the idea in someone's mind that: "Boy, it would be great to put beer in that thing." That evening, as glasses were raised, the idea surfaced.

The planning began. "We decided from the very beginning, this would be something that had to be fun, hopefully startling, but not injurious in any way to anybody, mentally or physically, and something that didn't damage property." Sensibly, they decided not to drink at all before climbing the tower. "We were stupid, but we weren't dumb."
Next day they gathered supplies: brushes, ropes, thinner, and a gallon of a new paint called Rustoleum in a dark red, the only colour available. Bill Stephen volunteered for the most dangerous job, probably because he'd worked as a painter, Mike recalls. "We decided we were going to tie under his arms, and then kind of a jock-strap-type thing around his midsection. . . . I remember Bill expressing some interest as to whether I really knew what to do with the ropes, and we assured him that I did. I had spent the summer before working as a deck hand on one of the lake tankers."
At about 2:30 a.m. on June 3, they walked up Lester Street carrying their supplies, flashlights, and a kerosene lantern which "I think we purloined off a construction site." The town was dark and quiet. They scaled a fence around the tower and climbed the spiral stairs around the central support pillar.
At the top of the stairs they found a locked trap door opening down from the base of the tank. They broke the lock -- the only real damage they did, Mike says -- and climbed a ladder up a tube inside the tank. At the top of the tube they emerged onto a circular railed platform above the water. For a few eerie moments they stood watching the coal-black liquid gleaming in the moving lights.
Then came another climb up a straight ladder to the ceiling, where a trap door opened outward. They climbed out, but stayed close to the ladder. All around them, the huge curved surface of the tank "just sort of disappeared" downward.

Now to suit up Bill. "We got him tied up and tested all the knots, and out he went. Sandy had one rope which was around Bill's shoulders and I had the rope that was around his crotch . . . We had it tied to the ladder and we left some slack in it, so if he lost his footing, or if we lost him, he would be caught hanging in mid air. . . . Nothing would happen to him except for scaring him to death."
They practiced letting him down a few times, getting the hang of manoeuvering him across the surface. It was tricky, because they couldn't actually see Bill once they had lowered him beyond the curve of the tank.
"He took his paint and his brush, and I don't think it took him more than 15 minutes. He had sneakers on, so he kind of walked on the surface of the tank, even when he was on the side. And he would say, 'Up on the shoulders . . . down on the crotch. . . . Down on the crotch, up on the shoulders. . . .' The ropes moved along, and he did a very neat, nice job considering it was the middle of the night, and he was hanging by ropes."
The job done, they climbed down again, closing trap doors behind them. "Then we just went home and hit the sack. I don't think any of us slept very well. I guess we planned to meet in the morning and look at it. And it was then that we realized -- 'My God, you can hardly see it, because it's up on the top curve there.'"

All the same, their exploit was the talk of the campus, and very soon their names were circulating. "We must've looked guilty. Or proud." But there remained the disappointing fact that their message was not as visible as they'd meant it to be. The class as a whole, which included a couple of trained pilots, agreed that they needed a record of the achievement. "We decided to rent an airplane, and we would go up there and stand on the top, shaking hands, while they flew over and took the picture."
When the airplane failed to appear, they came down again, only to find a crowd of spectators and several police cars waiting. The officers who arrested them "were giggling the whole time. Nobody took it seriously." However, the charge of public mischief was no laughing matter. Luckily, by the time Bill and Mike had their day in Waterloo Magistrates' Court, on June 18, public mischief had been changed to the less serious charge of trespass. (Sandy Thompson, who did not return to the water tower for the photo session, was not arrested, and his friends avoided mentioning his name. This gave rise to the belief that only two students were involved.)

Magistrate Kirkpatrick spoke severely to the two culprits. "You could have been injured or you could have fallen in the water and drowned," he said. "I'd hate to think of how Waterloo's water supply would be contaminated then. We'd mourn your loss, but we would also suffer the loss of our water supply."Mike and Bill received suspended sentences and were told to keep the peace. They also had to pay the cost of repainting the BEER section of the tower: about $100. It was a lot of money in those days -- "Tuition might have been about $125."

What happened next is among Mike's warmest memories. As he recalls it, Vera Leavoy decided that when the students came to turn in their chemistry equipment to get their deposits back, she would ask them if they'd like to contribute to the Tower Fund. "I think the deposits were $3," Mike says. "And about everybody did." It didn't end there. The Record photo of the young man with the hose (who was not one of the three culprits) appeared in newspapers across Canada, bringing the new college its first taste of national publicity. "People were calling from all over the country when they saw this picture come across the wires.... Waterloo College Associate Faculties was now on the map!"
Reprinted with permission (28-02-05). Photo and text courtesy of "Daily Bulletin", a publication of the University of Waterloo. Waterloo Ontario Canada.

20 Years after the 'beer' incident the same tower was decorated with a 'vodka' banner.To view picture click here.
Back to Top





Ship hits water tower. (Milwaukee 1917)
The Christopher Columbus, an oddly shaped "whaleback" style passenger liner, turned out to be one of the most popular and successful cruise vessels to traverse the Great Lakes. The ship was launched in 1893.
On 30 June 1917, while being towed out of the Milwaukee River by the tugs WELCOME and KNIGHT TEMPLAR, the Goodrich Lines’ CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (steel propeller whaleback passenger steamer, 110.34 m., 1511 gross tons), with 413 passengers onboard, was caught by the current and swung close to shore. The overhang of her snout-bow sheered off two legs of the water tower of the Yahr-Lang Drug Company and toppled the 30.48 m.high water tower on the bank of the Milwaukee River. Sixteen passengers died and another 20 were hurt in the freak accident.
As Capt. Charles E. Moody and the harbor tugs were carefully swinging the ship around from its moorings in the Milwaukee River, many of the passengers crowded the deck railings to watch. The strong river current was blamed for pushing the bow of the ship forward into the bank of the river where it collided with the water tower.

Moody was on the bridge and saw the impending danger. He ordered the ship's engines operated full astern but it was too late. The boat was just beginning to back when the tank and 94,000 liters of water toppled.
Witnesses said the huge tank seemed to drop in slow motion even as the officers on the bridge frantically shouted orders to get out of harm's way. The steel tank hit the wheelhouse a reflecting below and then fell through three decks, sending torrents of water racing through the ship. The wheelhouse was demolished but Moody and a wheelman, James Brody, miraculously survived.

"The next thing I knew the pilot house was lying all around me and Brody was nowhere to be seen," Moody later reflected. "I called 'Jim, Jim,' as loud as I could, then I heard him call back: 'Here, captain.' I crawled over the deck where he was, about 10 feet, and there he sat, crying." All around them was devastation. The decks were ripped into kindling and many people were found crushed beneath the weight of wood and iron. Other passengers were knocked off the decks and still others were believed to have jumped into the river to drown.
Witnesses said the dining salon of the Columbus looked like a slaughter house. Those not hit by the crushing force of the tank and collapsing decks were deluged with water. Staterooms were awash.

The Christopher Columbus was repaired and put back into service the following year and sailed the lakes for another 19 years before it was scrapped at Manitowoc, Wis., in 1936.
Source: Unknown
Back to Top





Canadian killed when bomber hits water tower. (Mursley England, 1943)
Mursley water tower is a local landmark, which was built by the Buckinghamshire Water Board in 1938. On 11th. April, 1943, at 00:15hrs a crew of 4 men was sadly killed when a Wellington, BJ879, which was doing training circuits and landings, hit the side of the tower and exploded. The conditions were very foggy and the Wellington tried twice to land, each time making a dangerous and low approach to Little Horwood airfield. On the third attempt it was given permission to land. The pilot made a similar approach but suddenly there was a blinding flash in the sky followed by an explosion. The aircraft had hit the water tower at Mursley and all four airmen were killed. The only Canadian crewmember was T JLLBelanger-RCAF- A/G-Canada.

The crash blackened the exterior of the tower and distorted some of the large pipes. Repairs were swiftly made and the tower was back working within a week. Yet not until a renovation of the tower in 1968 were the wartime scars removed. In 1995 Anglian Water, which owns the tower, decided to open it to the public for half a day and they also set about providing a memorial plaque. Two families and 10 relatives of the aircrew were contacted and 1,000 local people attended the memorial service, during which a plaque to honour the 4 airmen, who were killed, was uncovered. For more on the dedication ceremony click on the link below.
Source: Tower image: unknown. Story: British intelligence during WWII
Back to Top