NEWSPAPER ARTICLE - Craig Empire-Courier; January 28, 1942; http://www.museumnwco.org/lookBackArticle.php?lookBackID=40
Wadge Mine Disaster in Mount Harris.
The Following Six Men from Craig Are among Casualties; H. H. Hartman, Joe Goodrich, Don Ford, Raymond Pope, Charley Baker, Frank Shepherd.
State Officials Are Investigating Cause of the Blast.
Bodies Being Brought out Today.
Thirty-four Mount Harris miners lost their lives in what is believed to be Colorado's greatest mine disaster last night, when an explosion occurred in a workroom and tunnel of the Victor American Coal Company Wadge Mine at Mount Harris, 22 miles east of Craig. First news of the disaster reached the outside world at about 10:15 PM last night when Joe Gall, Robert Fickle, Elmer Eversole, and Mike Atanasoff escaped from the mine through the airshaft. They said that they were working in a room several hundred feet closer to the entrance of the mine than the room where the explosion took place. They felt the vibration of the blast, and knew that a serious explosion had taken place. Investigation of the disaster was started at once and it was soon apparent that all 34 men who were working in the 19th tunnel some 5500 feet from the mine entrance had been killed either by the force of the explosion or from falling rocks and coal from the tunnel and workrooms off this tunnel. The Wadge Mines main tunnel with air shafts parallel to the main tunnel extends west from the main entrance which is located on the north side of U.S. 40 in Mount Harris. From the main tunnel other work tunnels branch off to the north. It was in the 19th branch tunnel, the one furthest to the west and north that the explosion took place. The main tunnel drops off at an angle of about 10 degrees from the surface of the earth at the location. Hoists pull the cars from the mine on this incline. Thus the explosion actually took place at a distance of a little over a mile north and west of the town of Mount Harris. Work of clearing the debris from the mine in an effort to reach the bodies was started last night but it was 10:30 this morning when the first bodies were brought out. It was necessary to place these bodies on stretchers and carry them some 2000 feet where they were placed on mine cars and brought to the surface. At 10:30 AM eight bodies had been recovered. It is probable that it will be nightfall or later before all the bodies can be removed. Arrangements have been made at Mount Harris to take the bodies to the Liberty Hall, the town's movie theater where they will probably remain until the inquest can be completed. The mine officials and state mine inspectors have started an investigation in an effort to determine the cause of the explosion. It is believe that mine gas must have been the cause of the blast, but what set it off has not been determined. The men who lost their lives went into the mine at 3:30 yesterday afternoon and would have completed their shift at about 11 o'clock last night. Thus they had been at work for some time before the explosion took place. District attorney Ray Monson said here today, that the inquest would be started either tonight or tomorrow morning. Funeral arrangements of course had scarcely been considered today since friends and relatives are still stunned by the sudden disaster. All families of the deceased men will receive compensation through Colorado's workman compensation law and from Federal Social Security. Mr. Leonard Smith of Grand Junction will be in this community in the near future to make Social Security adjustments for the families. Of the men living in Craig who lost their lives, Charley Baker was age 37 and is survived by his wife and one child Aubrey, 13. Don Ford, single, age 25 is a brother of Emmett Ford. He had already completed examinations in preparation for entering the armed service and was only working until he would be called for active duty. His mother Mina C, Ford lives at Parkdale. Joe Goodrich age 40 was single and is survived by his brother George R. of Vernal, Utah. Frank Shepherd age 33 is survived by his wife and four children, Nina age 10, Anna age 9, Margie age 7, and Glenn age 4. H. H. Hartman age 47 is survived by his wife; they had been living at Mount Harris this winter, although they formerly lived in Moffat County. Following is a list of the dead from Mount Harris, Hayden and other points in Routt County. Antonio Adame 42, Arthur Van Cleave 34, Harrison Ward 44, Elmer Hindman 40, Leo Beck 42, Kenneth Hockman 32, Pete Creton 54, Plutarco Adame 45, Bob Nance 46, Tom McKnight 54, Tony Skufca 39, Harry Oliver, Sr. 55, Walter Blount 50, Adrian Vriezema 21, Harvey Hardin 46, Philip Gonzalez 50, Joe Martinek 55, Ross Cable 35, Ralph Cable 30, Max Bustos 65, Joe Sertich 50, Raymond Cable 38, Tim Trujillo 26, Jack Gasparich 42, Charles Vuckoman 49, George Searles 40, Harry Moore 29, H.T. Been 37.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE - The Steamboat Pilot, Thursday January 29th, 1942: http://www.museumnwco.org/lookBackArticle.php?lookBackID=40
Tragedy Stalked at Mount Harris and 34 Killed in Explosion at Coal Mine.
Blast Occurred Tuesday Night in the Wadge Mine
- Greatest Mine Disaster in 25 Years.
Routt County and all of Colorado morn today with Mount Harris where in an improvised mortuary in the town theater, the torn and blackened bodies of 34 miners await identification. They were killed about 10:30 Tuesday night when a terrific explosion rocked the depths of the Wadge Mine of the Victor American Fuel Company and was followed by dense billows a blackdamp, deadly carbon monoxide gas. Of the entire night shift in the mine, only four men working 3000 feet from the entrance of the main tunnel escaped. Upon hearing the explosion further underground they raced to safety through an airshaft parallel to the main tunnel and gave the alarm. Scores of rescue workers equipped with oxygen helmets and other safety equipment reached the mine within a few minutes. Most of the rescue workers were made up from the highly trained rescue unit of the Mount Harris Mine which is located across Highway 40 and Yampa River from the Wadge Mine. It was hours later however, before the first rescue squad reached the pit from the mine entrance where 34 men had been working and where the explosion occurred. Thomas Allen, State Coal Mine Inspector rushed from the Denver office to the scene of the disaster. Coroner A. W. Heyer called up on morticians from Oak Creek and Craig to aid him in the work of taking care of the bodies. Identification of the bodies was very difficult. The first six bodies removed from the mine reached the surface on stretchers placed on a mine car at 11:00 AM Wednesday. All day the work of recovering the bodies continued. They were so badly mangled and burned that the immediate identification was almost impossible except in a few instances. It was the worst disaster the state has known since 1917 when 132 men were killed in the Hastings mine in Las Animas County. It was the first major mine disaster ever to occur in Routt County. Blackdamp or afterdamp frequently follows a mine explosion due to the exhaustion of the oxygen in the air by the blast itself; blackdamp is not explosive. But because it contains very little oxygen, oxygen masks are needed to sustain life where the mine air is mostly consisted of blackdamp, and afterdamp. The Wadge Mine always had been considered quite safe and a report made by Finlay McCallum, Deputy State Mine Inspector, in November 1941, said ventilation in the mine appeared to be good and that working conditions were satisfactory. The entire town went into mourning as word of the disaster spread. Schools in the town were closed Wednesday, and the 300 odd workers in the Colorado Utah Mine were told not to report for work. Henry Johnson is Mine Superintendent and Ben Snyder, mine clerk. The men who escaped to the surface were: Joe Gall, age 40, who lives in Milner, Bill Fickle, age 35, and Elmer Everson age 23, both of Hayden, and Mike Atanasoff, “Fat Mike”, of Mount Harris. 24 of the 34 men killed were married and most of them had children. Thomas Allen, Chief State Coal Mine Inspector, said Wednesday afternoon, that investigations show the explosion had been caused by firedamp, a methane gas which becomes highly explosive when mixed with oxygen in the air. The men in the mine, he said, were working near a fault or fissure. He expressed the belief that the firedamp was present in the fissure and escaped into the pit as the coal enclosing it was cut away. Firedamp is odorless, and being lighter than air it rises to the roof of the coal seam. A spark from the overhead trolley wire for the electric motors used to move the coal cars used in the mine or from electric coal cutting machinery might have caused the gas to ignite, Allen said. The town of Hayden went into mourning too and closed its school for the day. A basketball game between the Hayden and Steamboat Springs high schools scheduled for Wednesday night was canceled. Charles Ward, center of the Hayden team, is a son of Harrison Ford of Steamboat Springs, one of the mine victims. The Cable family of Hayden was hardest hit by the disaster three brothers Ralph, Ross, and Raymond Cable died in the mine and Elmer Hindman, also of Hayden, another victim, was a brother-in-law of Ralph Cable. The night shift at the Wadge mine had gone to work at 3:30 PM Tuesday. The explosion occurred about an hour and a half before the shift was due to quit work. Had the explosion occurred much later into the shift, the fatalities could have been doubled, because the changing of the shift took place inside the mine, and quite possibly two separate shifts would have been in the disaster instead of one. Henry Johnson, Mine Superintendent, said the explosion was so far underground that the sound of it was not audible on the surface. The main mine tunnel goes under the Wadge Mine holdings at a slope of about 10 degrees. Bill Fickle, one of the men who escaped, said he and his three companions heard a dull thud far back in the mine about 10 PM. Within a moment they smelled smoke and ran for their lives. They had happened to be near a passage, which connects the main tunnel with the air passage; near the junction is a telephone, which apparently was out of order, as Fickle and his companions could not get any response over it. Dashing through the air passage they were uncomfortable but not sick as a result of the blackdamp, Fickle said. "If we would have had to go a couple hundred yards in the mine tunnel itself we would not have made it,” he added. The air passage ends in a blower house through which the four men reached the surface. Superintendent Johnson first learned of the explosion from Fickle and his companions. Powerful blowers were to put to work to force fresh air into the main tunnel and draw off the blackdamp fumes. With the fans in operation rescue party members wearing helmets began to work their way deep into the mine. Others who rushed to the scene from Denver, in addition to Allen, were H.E. McDonald, President of the Victor American Fuel Company; W. H. Forbes, engineer in charge of the Denver Safety Office of the United States Bureau of Mines; E.L. Christensen, and E.A. Morgan, inspectors under Forbes; George B. Frittis, and Floyd G. Anderson, safety experts under Forbes, and James W. Gresham, mine rescue instructor for the State Department of Vocational Education. The federal officials brought with them a truck carrying rescue equipment. By the time the first bodies were removed from the mine, rescue workers on hand included 24 men equipped with oxygen helmets, and more than 50 men who were formed into relief crews. Allen said the damage to the mine in itself from the explosion did not appear to be great. While the men of the camp worked at their grim task, the women of Mount Harris and neighboring communities, which had been formed into first aid groups, set themselves to the work of doing all they could for the families of the mine victims. Mrs. Veda Burford, who is in charge of the Safety Division of the State Coal Mine Department, left Denver for Mount Harris Wednesday afternoon to help direct the women in their work among the families of the victims. Coroner Heyer is conducting an inquest at Mount Harris today, attended by District Attorney Ray Monson and many state officials. Tentative plans are that a mass funeral will be held at Mount Harris Saturday afternoon, but all the relatives have not yet been reached. If this is done, business houses in Steamboat Springs will be asked to close. The miners killed in the explosion from Steamboat Springs are; Arthur Van Cleave a native of Routt County, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Churchie Van Cleave. He has a wife and three children. Harrison Ward, recently living in Hayden has a wife and two children. Leo Beck is a son of Mrs. Josephine Beck, brother of Mrs. Charles Eckstein, and a longtime resident of Routt County.