Only known image of St. Francis Damkeeper Tony Harnischfeger, seen here at Cantil (Kern County, just south of Red Rock State Park) with his wife, Gladys;
their son Coder (born 1921); and their daughter Gladys Antoinette (born 1924).
This might be about the last time the couple was happy. They split in 1926 or 1927. Tony was living just below the dam with Coder and Tony's girlfriend,
Leona Johnson. The three were the first to die when the dam broke just before midnight on March 12, 1928.
Read their story here.
Seven miles up San Francisquito Canyon Road from today's Copper Hill Drive, construction on the 700-foot-long, 205-foot-high St. Francis Dam started in August 1924. With a 12.5 billion-gallon capacity, the reservoir began to fill with water on March 1, 1926. It was completed two months later.
At 11:57:30 p.m. on March 12, 1928, the dam failed, sending a 180-foot-high wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. An estimated 431 people lay dead by the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean south of Ventura 5½ hours later.
It was the second-worst disaster in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in terms of lives lost — and America's worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century.