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Woodward Iron Company
Dolomite No. 3 Mine Explosion

Dolomite, Jefferson County, Alabama
November 22, 1922
No. Killed - 90

1922 USBM Mine Inspection Report  (19.0 Mb)  PDF Format
Russell Register, Dec. 1, 1922  PDF Format

Successful Rescue

An unidentified foreman assembled thirty workers after the blast took place and ordered all to remain with him and work on fixing up brattices with stones and canvas to shut off the dreaded afterdamp gas that he felt sure was to follow the explosion.  When the fans started up again, the air cleared sufficiently to indicate that it was safe to tear down the temporary wall and the foreman led his men out.  One miner, who objected to remaining with the rest of the men was found only a few feet away from the temporary brattice.  He had become a victim of the gas.

(From Bureau of Mines Report, by D. Harrington and J. J. Forbes)

The No. 3 slope on a 30 degree pitch was 850 feet long from the surface to the coal seam at the bottom where a 500-foot yard was opened for handling loaded and empty trips.

Electric locomotives hauled trips in the mine, and ropes raised and lowered 3-car trips on the double-tracked slope.  About 2:40 p.m. the four-car trip became jammed in the rotary dump in the tipple on the surface.  In trying to jerk them free, three cars came loose suddenly and ran back down the slope, breaking through a rail stopblock and wrecking at the bottom against a loaded trip.

As usual, the runaway cars raised a dense cloud of dust, and this was ignited by an arc from the 3,300-volt armored cable in the slope caused by damage from the runaway cars.  Flame from the mouth of the slope burned the tipple, but there was little violence inby the yard.

Because of the expansion into the yard the violence was confined to the yard and slope, and only heat and gases penetrated beyond.  About 475 men were in the mine; of these 90 were killed and 70 injured by burns and afterdamp.  Rescue workers quickly removed the injured and dead.

Most of the uninjured survivors came out through No. 2 and No. 3 slopes after the air had cleared.  About 30 men saved their lives by building a rock stopping in a heading and remaining there until the air cleared.  Apparatus was used only for a short time, but rescuers equipped with gas masks found them handy and efficient.

Most of the work was done with open lights, as ventilation was quickly restored.  Dust had been controlled by sprinkling, but after this explosion the use of rockdust was recommended.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I

Eighty-Four Dead and Sixty Hurt in Mine Explosion at Birmingham
Laurel Daily Leader, Mississippi
November 23, 1922

Birmingham, Ala., Nov. 23. (By Associated Press) -- Eighty-four lives were lost and sixty persons were injured as a result of an accident and explosion yesterday in Dolomite No. 3 coal mine of the Woodward Iron Company, according to a statement issued at noon today by Frank H. Crockard, president of the company.  Of the injured 35 were removed to their homes, 25 were in hospitals.  Work of identification at that hour had not been completed but it was believed there were 38 white dead and 20 white injured.

Mine No. 3 was attempting to establish a new monthly record of 52,000 tons for November, at which it was halted by the blast, one of the greatest disasters in the Birmingham district.

Placed near the steps leading to the mine entrance, where the miners pass to their daily tasks, a large sign read:
Last month we broke our record for tonnage.  Let's make it 52,000 for November.
At least fifty men are listed in the casualties as either killed or injured when a train of trip cars running wild from the tipple crashed into the mine yard in the main entry.  This accident caused the snapping of an electric cable, which in turn set off the dust which resulted in the explosion.  The concussion rocked the earth for miles around and occurred so nearly simultaneously with the accident which produced it that the victims were not aware of what was happening.

Following rescue work which continued throughout the night, officials of the Woodward Iron company, owners of Dolomite mine No. 3, where a dust explosion trapped 475 miners yesterday afternoon, announced early today that 83 bodies had been taken from the mine, and that they feared the total toll of dead might reach 100.

Approximately sixty men were reported to have been injured by the blast, and the other men to have escaped unharmed.

Scenes of pathos about the mine mouth during the night and early morning hours continued, as relatives and families of miners known to have been in the mine when the blast occurred waited expectantly for news of their loved ones.  Many of these men, it was believed, had reached the surface in safety through the runway connecting the mine with mine No. 2, and had re-entered the workings to help in rescue work without communicating with company officials or relatives.

The anxious relatives, however, kept their watch about the mine mouth all night long, refusing to quit their post until they learned definitely of husbands, fathers, brothers or loved ones.

Throughout the night, joyous reunions occasionally relieved the sorrowful scenes.  One small girl gave a cry of delight as a grimy miner emerged, his face smoke-blackened and his clothing bearing mute signs of his struggle to reach the surface in safety.  As the man came out, the little girl threw herself into his arms, and the pair hurried off before the name of the man could be learned.  Another aged woman is said to have collapsed as she greeted two sons after several hours of anxious waiting at the entrance, fearing that lost their lives.  The boys, meeting rescuers in the mine as they were making their way out and learning that the workings were safe again from poisonous gases, had instantly turned back to aid in the search for other men, thus keeping their mother in suspense until they finally reached the surface exhausted.

Stories of heroism, common in coal mine disasters, began to tickle to the outside world early this morning as begrimed rescuers came to the surface after long hours of work in the mine.  One rescuer told of an unidentified mine foreman who assembled about him thirty workers and soon after the blast took place, ordered all to remain with him and work on fixing up brattices with stones and canvas to shut off the dreaded afterdamp gas that he felt sure was to follow the explosion.

While this work was going on, according to the rescue worker, one miner objected to remaining with the rest of the men.  He argued with the foreman, and finally saying that he was determined to try for the entrance by himself, and began to fight his way outward.  The rest stayed behind with the foreman and completed the brattice of stones and canvas, when the fans being started up again, the air cleared, sufficiently to indicate that it was safe to tear down the temporary wall, the foreman led his men out.  The body of the man who refused to stick with the rest was found only a few feet away from the temporary brattice.  He had become a victim of the gas.

Tales of many single miners, who hurriedly built walls across niches and hollows in the workings, stopping the chinks with parts of their own clothing and thus saving their lives from the gases, were numerous as rescue squads reached the surface.

It will probably be late today before a complete official check of the dead and injured will be available, according to company officials, who remained at the mine all night in an effort to relieve the minds of anxious relatives.

Many of the more seriously injured may succumb; it was said at the hospital in Bessemer, where they were taken after they were brought from the mine last night.

It was after midnight before the state militia at the scene of the disaster was able to clear the district about the mine entrance of the hundreds of curious who came to watch the rescue work.

Fourteen men were working within the mine about one mile from the entrance when the explosion took place.  All felt the force of the blast, entered a pocket in the walls of the mine and were rescued uninjured at 7:30 o'clock last night.

Shortly before midnight the work of identifying the dead was halted, authorities and officials turning all of their attention to caring for the injured.

The jam of automobiles about the mine during the late hours last night caused several collisions, no one being badly injured, but property damage was heavy.  The arrival of state troops finally relieved this traffic jam.

The force of the explosion was felt in Birmingham nine miles distant, the concussion being distinctly heard in the South Highlands resident district.

The partial list of identified white dead:
  • Grover Cleveland Early
  • Bennie T. Dobbs
  • David Andrew Buzbee
  • Tom C. Warnick
  • Herschell A. Warnick
  • Hugh Cornell
  • Percy Waldrop
  • Gail Burchfield
  • Eugene Robertson
  • Hobart Justice
  • Ed Brill
  • Sam Huey
  • Jim Scott
  • Herbert Knight
  • James Summerlin
  • Grady Crowder
  • Hubert Early
  • Will Anthony
  • Lige Stanford

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