Natural Disasters, Provo History, Weather

Two Men Killed, Residents Remember Snowslides of 1924

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In reminiscing about the massive Provo Canyon snowslides of March 28 and 29, 1924, that killed two men, Provoan Robert E. (Bob) Curtis has some impressive pictorial evidence to accompany his recollections.

Among others who have personal memories of the disaster is Doren D. Boyden of Provo who narrowly missed being part of a railroad track-clearing crew that was caught in the second of the two slides — the one that killed Don Allred and Mark Hyslop near the foot of Bridal Veil Falls.

Curtis, then a teenager, accompanied his father Robert S. to the slide area a day or two after the avalanches. The senior Curtis took some excellent pictures with an accordion-type camera of that era.

The photographs show large banks of snow stretching across the canyon, crews digging out the rail trackage, a “clam-shell” crane eating away at the mountain of snow, railroad engines pushing into the snowbank and spectators watching the operation.

“We drove our Dodge up the canyon and walked the last two or three blocks to the slide area,” recalls Bob, now retired from his abstract and title business and a 10-year stint as head of the County Assessor’s planning department.

One motivation for the trip was the fact that the Curtises owned a summer home at Vivian Park. The canyon road, however, remained blocked for some time. Provo River, dammed off at first, already had broken through the snow, with some help from a dragline. Three stumps and other debris littered the riverbed.

A 75-man crew of the D&RGW Railroad was working to clear trackage from the previous day’s slide when the avalanche of Saturday, March 29, thundered down from the cliffs above Bridal Veil Falls to the south.

New accounts said watchguards saw the snow coming and fired their guns. With this warning, 30 men scrambled to safety. Forty-five others were hit by the snow and debris. All dug out or were rescued except the two. Hyslop’s body was found April 1; Allred’s four or five days later.

Boyden, retired telephone technician, says that upon learning of the first slide which came down from the north, he called the Rio Grande seeking a Saturday job helping to clear the railroad tracks. The company agreed to pick him up at the Smoot Station, just south of the present Storehouse Market on Second West.

When the train was late on that cold morning, young Boyden headed for the main station of 600 South, but the train pulled out before he arrived. The mix-up may have saved Doren from being swept into the snowslide.

Having visited the scene later, Boyden recalls evidences of the fury of the slide and the onrushing wind that accompanied it. For example, the tin shed of an old bridge below Bridal Veil balls was slammed to the northwest against the mountain, a team of horses was killed, and trees were railed off “as if by a hedge trimmer.”

Another report said two men were hurled across the river.

Helen Littlefield of Orem recalls stories told by her late father Willis Beardall. A member of the railroad work crew, Beardall heard the warning gunshots and a whistle from the train engine.

He was one of those who raced to safety. Enroute, he had recalled, he stopped and helped rescue a fellow worker who had been downed by the slide. Both men made it to the safety of the locomotive.

As recounted by this writer in a Herald column, July 5, an earlier Provo Canyon snowslide claimed the life of William W. (Billy) Ferguson whose home and barnyard, down-canyon from Vivian Park, were wiped out by a powerful slide from the south during the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 1897.

Ferguson’s body was found still in his bed, but the home was destroyed. One of the few mementoes from the disaster is an oil painting of Ferguson and his ranch, by artist Joseph Kerby. The painting was retrieved from the wrecked home. It is a valued possession today of the victim’s great-grandson Glen S. Ferguson of Lehi.

One more 5 story: William Jonathan Clegg and Henry McMullin, brothers-in-law of Heber City, hauled a load of wood to Provo and sold it on Feb. 18, 1897. Returning to Heber, they stopped at Ferguson’s for dinner and rest. They were tempted by Billy’s invitation to stay overnight, but decided to press on and camp at Deer Creek. They learned the next day what their fate would have been had they accepted the invitation.

Clegg and his family later moved to the Provo area.