Motorcycle lost in ‘77 flood found during excavation work
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — On July 20, 1977, John Vitalie was trying to make sure his family was safe as the floodwaters were rising fast around his Alexander Street home in the West End section of Johnstown.
“There was so much rain and lightning, you could have read a newspaper by it,” the 76-year-old said. “The rain kept coming down.”
A shed located beside the house served as storage for the family’s motorcycles and minibikes, including Vitalie’s Yamaha 200.
“The shed started rocking and then it just disintegrated,” he said. “It was gone.”
Everything that was in there was washed away.
But at around 10:30 a.m. Thursday - 39 years and one day to the date of the flood - workers with Everett-based Cottle’s Asphalt Maintenance found that Yamaha 200 buried in the ground while they were digging for the St. Clair Run box culvert project along Fairfield Avenue.
Shawn Sherer, the PennDOT inspector in charge, said at the time they were excavating for the toe wall that goes at the lower end of the stream.
“They were 5 feet deep below the surface, below the concrete channel,” he said. “The excavator snared something. All the workmen were down there watching and I was standing on the roadway surface behind the barrier and noticed right away what it was.”
As luck would have it, the PennDOT field office is located across the street from Vitalie’s home a few blocks from the construction site.
Vitalie had shared with Sherer and the workmen that he had lost motorcycles in the flood.
“I just saw him go up the street with his dog and I ran over to him and asked him if he lost his motorcycle and he said yes,” Sherer said. “We went down to look at it and he said that was his bike.”
Sherer said he’ll often hear stories of artifacts that PennDOT crews dig up, but finding a decades-old motorcycle is a first.
Brad Price, the job superintendent with Cottle’s, said he wasn’t quite sure what to think when the bike was pulled out but he had an inkling of who it belonged to.
“This is the rarest thing we’ve ever found,” he said. “I think we might bring it back to the office and put it on display.”
As for Vitalie, he has no desire to have the motorcycle back.
“I took pictures of it, that’s enough,” he said.