Mar 23 2009
07:34 am
By: WhitesCreek

By Ray Collett...

Hello Readers, In my last article I wrote about the Rockwood Mine Explosion of 1925,( the first one.) Details are not as plentiful on that one as the 1926 explosion , and a lot of reports contradict each other. It being a very tragic time in our Rockwood history, it certainly should be researched and preserved. With the help of our local historian, and good friend, Tom Scott, and microfilms from the Rockwood Library, these are a few things I have discovered. It is quite long, but there is no newspaper to edit me. I will probably make this in two columns..


The Roane Iron Cal mine gave up its first dead Thursday night at 8:00 o'clock when two bodies were brought to the surface by the third rescue party which entered the mines at 3:10pm. This was the first party with oxygen helmets, the men in the helmet crew being John Millican, Harry Dale, Nelse Dale, and Ed Lands. Brattice men accompayning them were Amos Cunningham, George McCoy, Bronse Rodgers, and Robert Altum, drivers were Rube Cook, Jim Fritts, Barney Boles, and Hammett Swing. Clarence Stevens had charge of the safety lamps and Mr. Webb was head of the party. The bodies were not positively identified, but were thought to be Claude Tindell and Raymond Watkins, young men. They were found about 800 feet from where the rest of the fire party had been, and were in the rear dipping water to use against the blaze when the explosion caught them. The force of the blast hurled a trip of loaded cars against the air door, blocking progress of the rescuers for some time, and making difficult the removal of the bodies. No attempt was made to go further at that time owing to the presence of smoke and after damp from the fire.
A forth rescue party went in at 9:40, consisting of John Millican, Joe and Bill Hendren of laFollette, Clarence Stevens, Jim Falls, Wheeler Taylor, Arthur East, Dave Brummett, Jim Mitchell, A.J.Carroll, Ed Foland, Ed Burnett, Charles Miller, Dewey Devaney, the first eight being rescue workers and the others drivers and messengers. They returned at midnight and reported no additional progress, as the smoke and after damp had been backing up in the entry and rendered work impossible. Shortly before midnight, W.T.Richards, former mine superintendent of the local mines, and a crew of his trained rescue men from Westbourne arrived.
A conference behind closed doors was held by E.O.Wells, general superintendent Howie, state and federal mine inspectors, Mr. Richards, and local leaders of rescue parties, and soon after 1:00 o'clock Friday morning it was decided to brattice off the fire, sealing the remaining eight miners in an underground tomb where they will remain for an indefinite period. Further efforts to remove the bodies at this time were declared to be hopeless, and likely to result only in fresh loss of life. At 2:15, the fifth rescue party, headed by Mr. Richards, left for the dip, taking with them lumber and other material for building a brattice to check the fire by cutting off all air. Nelse Dale, Joe Hendren, Henry Hardin, F.E.Cash, and C.E. Saxon, the last two being from the Birmingham district, were the rescue men, assisted by Tom Kirby, Trois Johnson, Sam Brown, J. Tom Dannel, Paul Ficke, Earl Johnson, Vick Nealon, Rube Cook, Jas. McGaha, John Brock and John Davis. Shortly after 5:00 am., a call went out for additional help, miners came from Beech Grove, Ky. and Bill Hardin, a local miner went in at 5:39. This makes the third or forth trip for Hardin according to Capt. Thompson,. The brattice had not been built at 5:00 o"clock but was thought it would be erected shortly.
This disaster is the worst in the history of the local mines, as more than one man had never been killed in any previous explosion.
Wm. J. Snow, Superintendent of the Roane Iron company coal mines, and a party of nine men are thought to be dead as the result of the fire and explosion in Bryson dip on Number 2 entry this morning at 5:10, which turned that part of the mine into a gas filled inferno. A mine fire broke out in the dip about four months ago, and was walled up to extinguish it. Saturday the barrier was removed in the presence of district state mine inspector Holder, and J.W.Webb of the United States bureau of mines at Knoxville. These authorities pronounced the fire out, and left Rockwood yesterday afternoon, but at 11:00 o'clock last night the blaze was again discovered.
Mine foreman Sam Howard, in whose territory the accident occurred, had material on hand to battice the fire off again, but when superintendent Snow was called he organized a party about midnight and went into the mines to fight the flames. The men accompanying Mr. Snow were, Roy Limberg, Tom and John Green, Jim Wilson, Sam Givins, Tom Sullivan, Sam Doughty, Claude Tindell, and Raymond Watkins, who was a new employee at the minesand Mal King, a gas inspector who was with the party, but after reaching the scene left to make his rounds of the mines.
On completing this task, he was returning to the party in the dip, and was about 4,000 feet away when he heard an explosion, the force of which blew open the air doors, and smelled a heavy quantity of after damp gas. He was nearly overcome, and only managed to escape by getting into a car drawn by a mule, and racing the deadly gas cloud to the main slope. here he was found about 6:00 o'clock by men of the day shift who were coming to work, in a semi-conscious condition and barely able to speak.
The alarm was at once given, and the mines cleared of men. Only a few were working in the night shift on No. 9 entry, but had the disaster occurred two hours later, about 100 men would probably have been killed. State and federal mine inspectors wre summoned, and rescue parties organized, the first of which left at 7:55 headed by W.H.Elliot. This party consists of Jim Falls, Jehu Howard, Clarence Stevens, Harry Dale, Nelse Dale, John kelyon, and Bill Harding. They will not attempt to reach the entrapped men, but merely to survey the situation and determine the best way of reaching them. A second rescue party headed by W.C.Taylor, and consisting of Jim Leffew, Joe Lawson, Walter Owings, Rube Cook, Ed. Burnett, Robert Altum, Harry Taylor, and John Riddle left at 11:00 o'clock. A third party has been organized and will go into the mines shortly. The work of organizing and checking in the rescue parties is in charge of Capt. R.H. Thompson, formerly a coal miner.
At 11:00 o'clock, deputy inspector Holder was expected momentarily, and Mr. Webb was enroute from the government mine rescue station at Knoxville with a quantity of rescue equipment. W.T.Richards, former superintendent of the mines, was reached on the telephone at Chevrolet, Ky., and is on his way to aid in the rescue work.
A large crowd of anxious relatives and friends of the explosion victims is gathered about the mouth of the mines, which has been roped off and is being patrolled by city police and American Legion members. "Grave fears are entertained for their safety," was the official announcement by general superintendent Howie when asked as the probable fate of the men, and veteran miners waiting about the mouth of the mines shake their heads when asked the same question.
As I said at the beginning of the article, it is long and details are scarce. I am sure the original newspaper article was written in haste with many items omitted and many repeated. I just can't imagine the scene that our relatives and relatives friends were experiencing. My dad was a coal miner in the 1930's and early 1940's in Anderson Co. near Devonia,Tn and I can remember those days even though I was only 5 or 6. He would always take a canned jar of peaches that my mom had canned to work with him and bring them back home to me in the evening. I thought that was the most wonderful thing, him bringing me home something every day......I will continue this article in a day or so........Ray

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