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Ohio and Pennsylvania Coal Company
Nelms Mine Explosion

Nelms, Harrison County, Ohio
November 29, 1940
No. Killed - 31

USBM Final Investigation Report  (7.6 Mb)  PDF Format
(includes correspondence and news articles)
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Hope Abandoned for 31 Men Trapped in Mine Near Cadiz; One Body Found
The Coshocton Tribune, Ohio
November 30, 1940

Cadiz, Oh. -- Three state mine inspectors today gave up hope of finding alive any of 31 men entombed by an explosion in the Nelms mine of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Coal Company.

Emerging from the mine where they had been helping rescue crews thru the night, the inspectors expressed belief that men in the wrecked section, known as 12 North, were killed instantly by the explosion yesterday afternoon.

Tom McFarlane, one of the inspectors, said there "is not the slightest chance" the men could still be alive.

Company officials and John Owens, Cambridge, O., president of the Ohio district of the United Mine Workers, concurred in this conclusion.  The other two inspectors were Tom Richardson and Joshua Matheny.

They assisted in recovering the first body.  It was Pete Speicher, 38, brother of Matthew Speicher, personnel director of the coal company.  The body, with the head nearly torn off, was found in a telephone shanty within the corridor leading to "12 North."

Thousands of tons of debris still confronted rescue crews in their slow inch-by-inch labor to reach the entombed men.  A heavy snow began falling this morning and roads in vicinity of the blasted mine were icy.

Frank St. Clair, chief clerk of the mine company office, said the searchers within the mine were "real close," but he declined to say how long it would require to reach all of the men.  He believed a large mass of debris still had to be removed.

Rescue parties themselves were in some peril.  One group narrowly escaped being crushed by a mass of rock loosened by the explosion which fell near them.  Five others, were carried out of the min unconscious from the effects of gas, but were quickly revived.

May Be Reached Today

Officials despaired of finding any of the entombed miners alive.  They thought the men probably had been suffocated if they were not killed in the explosion.  It now appeared possible, however, that they might be reached yet today.  It was reported previously that rescue workers could not cut thru before tonight or tomorrow.

The explosion occurred yesterday afternoon.  Its cause was not known, but officials suggested that a slate fall broke electric cables, creating a short circuit that set off a pocket of gas.  There was no evidence that there had been a fire.

Wives and families of the miners huddled about the company yards, waiting for word from the searchers below.  Thru the night a glow from a burning slag pile and individual blazes that watchers had lighted in small buckets for warmth cast an eerie light over the mine entrance and the surrounding hills.

Two Crews Trapped

Two full mine crews evidently were caught by the collapse of the tunnel that followed the explosion.  They were imprisoned about 500 feet below the surface and some 2,000 feet off the main shaft two miles inside the main entrance.  Members of rescue squads led by Harvey Nelms, mine superintendent, estimated they had cut thru to within 1,000 feet of the buried men, but did not know to what distance the passage still was blocked.

Approximately 150 other men were at work in the mine when the explosion occurred, but those in other sections escaped.  The company employs 600 men working in three shifts.

Searchers had heard no sound to indicate that the trapped men were alive.

Mine Deep In Hills

The mine is about one-fourth of a mile off a main highway deep in the hills of Harrison County in southeastern Ohio.  Highway patrolmen and sheriff's deputies kept back the curious and sought also to restrain anxious relatives.  By early morning they persuaded some of the women to go home.

The disaster was the second in Ohio this year and the third in the Ohio-West Virginia coal area.  Seventy-two men died last March in an explosion in the Willow Grove Mine of the Hanna Coal Company, and earlier in the year 91 perished at a mine of the Pocahontas Coal Corporation, at Bartley, W. Va.

Representatives of the Federal Bureau of Mines and the state mining division helped direct the rescue efforts and sought to determine the cause of the explosion.  Neighboring communities sent blankets, stretchers, first aid materials and food.

J. P. Nelms, vice president of the coal company, arrived from Cleveland and went immediately into the mine with other company officers.

Officials Arrive

Likewise arriving at the scene a few hours after the blast were George A. Strain, state director of industrial relations, and Will T. Blake, chairman of the state industrial commission.

Gov. John W. Bricker sent an agent of the state industrial commission from Columbus to make arrangements for a prompt settlement of workmen's compensation death or injury claims.

The Nelms workings have been in use for some 15 years and officials said there had been no previous major accidents.  The mine has one of the deepest shafts in the state.

First indication of trouble in the mine was given at 2:15 p.m. yesterday when electric power in the mine failed.  Soon, the dreaded "blackdamp," aftermath of a mine explosion, began to pour in from "12 North."

Mine inspectors, summoned immediately, donned gas masks and entered the shaft.  They found debris strewn up and down the corridor leading to "12 North."  The section was blocked and rescue workers estimated the blasted area extends 1500 feet into the mine.

Didn't Hear Blast

Men working in other sections heard no explosion nor felt any ill effects from the accident.

There were six state mine inspectors, with mine rescue cars, on the scene along with many doctors, nurses and volunteers if their services should be needed.

Rescuers were forced to dig cautiously into the wreckage and to "timber" or build wooden supports to hold up the walls as they went along the shaft.  They also had to construct brattices, or air-blocks, of burlap and wood to keep the bad air away from them.

Victims of Mine Disaster Listed
The Coshocton Tribune, Ohio
November 30, 1940

Cadiz, Oh. -- The Ohio and Pennsylvania Coal Company today released a list of names of 27 men known to have been trapped in the Nelms mine.  The company said identities of four other men in the mine had not been definitely established.

Found Dead:
  • Pete Speicher, 38, of Bergholz
Trapped, Believed Dead:
  • Andy Marcus of Bergholz
  • Bryan Griffith, of Bergholz
  • Dan Smith of Jewett
  • Jahn Mattern of Cadiz
  • Jules Courtville of Cadiz
  • Edgar Marshbank of Cadiz
  • Lewis Sedgmer of Cadiz, Foreman
  • Herbert Jardos of Cadiz
  • Jesse Ryal of Cadiz
  • Clifford Ryal of Cadiz
  • Francis Woods of Kildare
  • Frank Mazroski of Cadiz
  • John Bernard of Cadiz
  • Edward Prather of New Rumley
  • Steve Nemeth of Amsterdam
  • Mike Finn of Bergholz
  • John Smith of Bergholz
  • Leonard Fannin of Cadiz
  • Robert Donger of Cadiz
  • Ora Farms of Cadiz
  • William Carr of Bergholz
  • Emerson Howes of Cadiz
  • Davis Mcintyre of Amsterdam
  • Joseph Hornyak of German
  • James Harbauer of Adena

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