Poems, Stories and Personal Accounts

They Went to Helena

("edited" by Capt. Chorpening)
Tread softly.. . Don't stamp your feet or otherwise jar the floor in the vicinity of Captain Chorpening or any member of his inspection group, all recently returned from Helena. Don't even drop another "R", you Southerners.. .If you do, you may be startled to see your fellow workers dive suddenly under the nearest desk or out the window.., for Chorpening's men have just lived through a real, honest to goodness earthquake, and are still supersensitive to sudden noises and shaking floors.

Prior to 11:43 am on October 31, they had prowled through ghostly ruins, secure in their belief that the quakes were diminishing in intensity and happy in the thought that their knowledge of building construction was being put to practical use. They had commiserated with the timid but kindly Mother Superior at St. Vincents who had felt her beloved abode tortured and wracked by terrible unseen power, the marble and plaster saints tumbled from their niches and shattered on the floors. But amongst themselves, the men had joked about her remark that "since the first quake, (she) couldn't see straight... everything looked jumbled." They thought that she and the others with whom they'd talked were drawing heavily on their imaginations.

Now, even they will tell you that the power of an earthquake must be experienced to be appreciated, for no two men will agree in describing their sensations during those few awful seconds of a major quake, but all will agree that it is terrifying. Surely no man-made structure couk[withstand another such insanely heaving and grinding shock. . .Death must surely lie just around the corner.

Captain Chorpening's party was sent to Helena to assist that city's authorities in determining the safety of occupancy for buildings damaged by the earthquake of October 18th. In the group were
H.H. Dunham,G.V.R..Gloyd, H.V. Pennington, A.H.Buckley,and Gus Peters
representing, you will note, almost every section of Fort Peck operations except the Safety section. The party spent six days in the stricken city, inspecting and reporting on a number of buildings, and experiencedmore than a hundred minor quakes before the severest one of October 31st. The buildings were carefully inspected and written reports of the conditions found, conclusions regarding safe occupancy and recommendations for rendering them safe for occupancy were submitted to the Helena City Engineer by Captain Chorpening.

The damage from the second major quake, which occcured October 31st, practically nullified the value of these reports, inasmuch as nearly all of the buildings previously inspected suffered additional damage. All of the school buildings and certain public buildings were reinspected after this second quake and notes were taken of the additional damage and submitted. As the local newspapers have stated, the earthquake's damage to property in Helena is extensive and will probably amount to severaf million dollars. The new Helena High School alone probably represents a loss of three to four hundred thousand dollars.

In general, brick buildings suffered the most, especially those with brick facings not adequately bonded into the walls behind them. Frame contstructions suffered very little; and most buildings of standard reinforced concrete, with the notable exception of the new High School, withstood the shocks very well. Ceiling plaster was cracked and loosened or dislodged throughout the city. With few exceptions, basement and foundation walls suffered little or no damage, even in buildings otherwise severely affected. Chimneys and parapet walls fared badly.

Definite conclusions as to how quake-proof or quake- resistant buildings ~an or should be built can only be made after thorough comparative analysis of the structural weaknesses developed in}lelena and elsewhere. Still, as this article is appearing in a magazine devoted to Safety, it seems proper to express here these few DONT's for construction in earthquake prone areas:

DON'T permit plaster ceilings damaged by leaky roofs
or plumbing to remain unrepaired.

DON'T build brick parapet walls without a good
waterproof coating on the rear side of the wall.

DON'T permit parapet walls, copings and chimneys
above roofs to get into a loosened condition.

And to those who may be led by duty or curiosity into an area of quake activity, here are a few additional DONT's:

DON'T venture into roped-off streets: A loosened brick
or falling wall may get you.

DON'T situnder achandeiier.orÄany- heavy-upright .ù -ù.ù--ùùù-.
piece of furtniture or wall decor.

DON'T sleep in or occupy for long any room with
loosened or damaged plaster.

It should please you to know that the typical Fort Peck temporary house, or even one of the government barracks, with their frame construction and light-weight wallboard ceilings, would be relatively safe places to occupy during a severe quake, as long as they were at a safe distance from higher, heavier structures.

The author of this contribution to SAFETY NEWS freely admits that on the night of October 31st, as he took a last doubtful look at the cracked plaster on the ceiling of his sixth floor room in Helena's Placer Hotel, counted the seconds between the shivers and tremors that continued to shake his nerves, and reluctantly climbed into bed.. .he yearned most affectionately for his little grey home in Fort Peck,

The writer of the following report on the injuries suffered in the Helena quake is trying to chisel into the Safety Section. (How about it,Mr. Woodruff?)


1. Lotta Potts.. .Chambermaid at Quaker Hotel
Injury: Severe bruises on rump and thighs:
Caused by: Lack of preparedness

Miss Potts, upon retiring, lay face downward, following her own peculiar custom. A large chunk of falling plaster caused the injury to that portion of her anatomy nearest the ceiling. Having been warned of the danger from earthquakes, she should have been wearing a bustle as recommended in Section 12 of the Earthquake Safety Manual.

2. Delia A. Hand. ... Bridge expert
Injury: Abrasion on left ankle
Caused by: Inattention.

While attempting to dodge falling bricks in the hillside street near her home, she was knocked down and run over by a car which, insecurely parked, had been jarred loose from the curb by the quake. Miss Hand should have paid no attention to falling bricks until after she had carefully inspected all the parked cars on the hill.

3. Mort. R. Bott... Brickmason
Injury: Broken leg and severe body contusions
Caused by: Lack of Preparedness

Mr. Bott was repairing damaged brickwork at the top of a tall smokestack and was thrown to the ground by the violence of the second quake. He would have been uninjured had he been equipped with the approved latest model skyhook.

4. Plen T. Sharp.. .Sword swallower and Juggler
Injury: Loss of hearing in one ear
Caused by: Unsuitable procedure

Mr. Sharp was eating a late supper at the time of the first major quake. His usually steady hand was shaken, and a pea, dislodged from his knife, flew into his right ear. He neglected to report the accident until the pea had sprouted. Mr. Sharp should have been eating turnips, knowing as he did that he was within the quake area.

Gus Peters, sent with Captain Chorpening's expedition to subdue the recent "uprisings" at Helena, was the only one who got something there for nothing.. .a free haircut. The barber started with his clippers at the nape of Gus's neck and had nearly reached his left ear when the quake hit. As razors, mirrors and shaving mugs clattered to the floor, the barber fled and Gus got the job finished back in Fort Peck.

©1/2002 by Arthur H. Buckley/Diane B. Pile