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Merchant's Coal Company
Orenda No. 2 Mine Explosion

Boswell, Somerset County, Pennsylvania
January 25, 1909
No. Killed - 5

Pennsylvania Department of Mines Annual Report  (4.9 Mb)  PDF Format
See also: Orenda Mine Explosion, Aug. 31, 1915

Men Entombed in Boswell Mine

Altoona Mirror, Pennsylvania
January 26, 1909

Boswell, Pa., Jan. 26. -- As the result of a terrific mine explosion which occurred in the mines of the United Coal Company here last evening about 7:30 o'clock, fourteen miners are entombed, many of whom are thought to be dead.

Among the known dead are J. G. Logan, superintendent of the mines, who died a few minutes after his body was brought to the surface, and a foreigner, Andrew Stulock.

George Morris, assistant superintendent, and John Cole, night foreman, are two of the other prominent officials who are yet entombed in the darkness of the underground cavern and their fate is unknown.  Also trapped is Andrew Stulock's son, John Stulock.

Note: The above names are the only five fatalities in this explosion.

The explosion occurred far in the workings and was undoubtedly caused by the ignition of a pocket of gas which had been released by some of the shots fired before the day shift left the mine.

At 3 o'clock this morning, nine of the twenty-two who had been imprisoned had been taken from the mine, and all of them were overcome with the afterdamp, which followed the explosion.  All are reported as having a chance of recovery, except Logan, the superintendent, who died shortly after being brought to the surface and the foreigner who also died.

The fate of the fourteen men still in the mine is unknown, although it is feared that all have perished, since every minute in the deadly after-damp lessens the hope of their revival.

The unrecovered men in addition to the mine officials mentioned, includes one of a rescuing party who went into the mine soon after the explosion occurred and whose body has not yet been recovered.  Of the twenty-two men who were imprisoned, aside from the seven who escaped alive, the bodies of Logan and the foreigner were the only ones recovered up until a late hour this forenoon.  The thirteen other miners and the member of the rescuing party were still entombed.

Hundreds of people have remained at the mouth of the mine all night, anxious to hear the news from relatives or friends in the mine.  Three physicians have been in constant attendance, ready to do all in their power for those who are brought out.

The explosion is the first of the kind in the Somerset Field, and that the harvest of death was not more terrible is due entirely to the small number of men who were in the mine.

No explanation is given as to why the superintendent and foreman were both in the mine at that hour, although it is supposed that some indication of trouble had occurred and that they had gone in to investigate.  It may be possible that the explosion occurred before the officials entered the mine, but this is denied by the people at Boswell who ought to know.

It is the custom among bituminous miners, especially in mines where the ventilation is not of the best, to "shoot down" their coal just before they leave the mine in the evening, in order that the smoke may have a chance to clear out of the "rooms" before they begin loading the coal on the cars.  Where this is done there are a large number of places in a big mine where the coal is blasted down at one time, and it seems likely that in one of these blasts a pocket of gas was tapped, which later became ignited and caused the explosion.

So far as could be learned, no one was hurt in the actual explosion, and all of the victims were overcome by the after-damp which is simply carbonic acid gas, or air from which all of the oxygen has been burned and its place taken by the gas formed in combustion.  This gas is so deadly that a few minutes in it is usually sufficient to overcome the strongest man.

The mine was known as one of the best ventilated and equipped in that part of the country, and was therefore considered entirely safe.

The mine where the accident occurred is what is known as a "slope," that is, it is driven into the side of a hill on a down grade in order to reach the seam, which is at a lower level than the surface.  The operation had been driven about a mile, or between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, while headings have been driven from both sides of the main heading about half that distance.

The mine was opened by the Merchants' coal company, but was some time ago sold, with other operations, to the United Coal Company of Pittsburg.  It is equipped with electric haulage, but not with electric lights.  It has employed from 250 to 300 miners on the day shift, but this shift was over at 4 o'clock, and most of the miners were out at the time the explosion occurred.

The territory is not regarded as gaseous, although it has been found in rare instances.  The practice has been to not require the use of safety lamps except in cases where the fire boss has detected signs of gas, when they were used in all cases.

Boswell lies eighteen miles south of Johnstown, and has a population of 1,500, many of whom are foreigners.

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