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Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Co.
Bartley No. 1 Mine Explosion

Bartley, McDowell County, West Virginia
January 10, 1940
No. Killed - 91

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At 2:30 p.m. there were 138 men in the mine, when an explosion brought death to 91 of them.  The west side of the mine was not affected, and the 37 men working there escaped uninjured.  Ten men at the shaft bottoms also escaped.  The mine foreman and the others near the bottom of the manway shaft felt a strong rush of air, which had a sound like a fire siren, and dust allayed the air.  The men from the west section and from the shaft bottoms were quickly hoisted out.

The top operating officials were holding a safety meeting at the general office nearby, and rescue work was organized at once.  The explosion doors at the fan had blown open; these were closed, and a rescue party entered the mine about 3 p.m.  They traveled in fresh air to the explosion area, repaired an overcast, extinguished some small fires, and were replacing a stopping with a temporary brattice when a second explosion occurred.  This explosion 7 hours after the first did no damage and was evidenced only by a strong air movement.

The party returned to the surface.  Apparatus crews and other rescue men had arrived, and work was resumed that night, using apparatus crews to erect temporary brattices across the intakes ahead of the crews bratticing the breakthroughs, so that only safe areas were ventilated at a time.  No additional fires were found.  Extreme precautions were necessary in this very gassy mine.  Large falls hindered the work, and crews were put to clean them up as the air was cleared.

The bodies were removed by January 14, and men withdrawn.  Permanent ventilation had to be restored to permit thorough investigation, as the temporary stoppings allowed so much leakage that only a section at a time could be ventilated.  The investigation from January 24 to February 2 did not flnd the exact point of origin, because evidence was destroyed by the second explosion and because the explosion covered pillar areas in which several bodies of gas over falls may have been ignited as the explosion progressed.  The ventilation provided could not prevent gas accumulations from forming or being pushed out into working places by a fall.

The source of ignition was probably an electric arc.  The explosion was propagated by coal dust.  Rock dust had been applied over thick accumulations of coal dust, and back entries were not treated.  Dust from this low-volatile coal was ignited in the violent gas explosion.

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

2 Killed, 85 Trapped in Mine Blast
The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
January 11, 1940

Bartley, Jan. 10. -- (AP) -- An explosion, possibly presaging the worst West Virginia mine disaster in more than a decade, killed at least two men and caught an estimated 94 others two miles underground today in the Bartley No. 1 mine of the Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Corporation.  W. C. Sturgiss, a district mine inspector, announced shortly before midnight that the number of men trapped had been revised upward from 85.

J. J. Hammond, mine official, said after hours of checking it had been almost definitely determined there were 93 men at work on the day shift.  Five had completed work and left and two were found dead, leaving 86 unaccounted for.

A tentative list of the trapped men was being prepared.

Hammond expressed hopes that at least 40 men were in sections not badly affected by the explosions and might be alive.

Eight rescue crews in relays dug their way toward three blast-wrecked sections of the mine but progress was slow and midnight found them still 2,500 feet from the estimated location of the disaster.

47 Leave Unscathed

Company officials, headed by Vice President R. E. Salvati of Holden, remained hopeful that a majority of the men had escaped.

Salvati reported that 47 men, in the eastern section of the operation, came out unscathed at 4 p.m., unaware there had been a blast.

One of the dead men, whose bodies were found a half mile from the bottom of the 620-foot shaft was identified as Charley Moffitt.  The other was unidentified.  The bodies were left below while the crews pressed on.

The valley mining community, scene of the blast, is in the southwestern tip of McDowell County, one of southern West Virginia's busiest and richest coal sections.  Two other Pond Creek mines rear their shafts within sight of No. 1, along the banks of shallow Dry Fork River.  War, the nearest town, is four miles away and Welch is 20 miles away.

The cause of the blast was undetermined, although Sturgiss said it was possible the men had cut through to some long unused, gas-filled entry.

(The Department of Mines at Charleston said Bartley No. 1 was gaseous, but was thoroughly rockdusted.)

The western area of the mine only was affected.  The mine tunnel leaves the foot of the shaft, runs back several thousand feet and then branches.  The men who escaped were in the eastern section.

25 Have Chance

Sturgiss fixed the possible location of the explosion in the Main 6 head, from which "four left" branches.  He said:
"Twenty-five men in the fourth left have a better chance that any others, providing the explosion occurred in Main 6, and indications are that is true."
U. S. Bureau of Mines rescue cars were enroute from Eckman, McDowell County, and from Pittsburgh.  Oxygen equipment was on hand at the shaft mouth, manned by crews ready to help any who were brought out alive.

N. P. Rhinehart, chief of the state mines department who had been attending a safety meeting in Pittsburgh, was enroute to the mine.

Progress toward the blast sector was slow and mine department officials said the ventilating system had to be rebuilt as the crews moved ahead.  The main ventilating system of the mine continued in operation, however.

(At Charleston, H. G. Houtz, chief engineer for the department said the chances were "slim" that the men had been able to build barricades and conserve what pure air remained in the affected areas.)

There were reports that the known death lest was seven but both company and mine department officials said nothing was known of the fate of the men, except the two found dead a half mile in.

Ropes 100 yards from the tipple kept back a crowd of between 1,000 and 2,000 persons, while another roped-in area about 75 feet from the shaft was reserved for families and relatives of the men below.

Families Await Word

The members of the families stood about apathetically hoping for word but knowing it might be hours before anything was known definitely.  Crews reported every minute over the mine telephone system but their only word was "moving ahead."

Time Fixed at 2:20

Salvati fixed the time of the blast at 2:20 p.m. but said it was more than an hour before it was determined there had been an explosion.  He said it was first believed the accident was a slate fall.

Roy Ashworth, a motorman was almost at the foot of the shaft at the time of the blast.  He said he did not hear it because of the noise but that "a big cloud of dust rolled out over me."

Hastily strung lights brightened the area around Bartley No. 1, the glow reaching to hundreds of cars parked on the highway across Dry Fork.

E. J. Stalling, general manager joined Salvati in vigil at the telephone while Supt. W. M. Haslam joined the crews digging away a mile back in.

Officials said the men known dead apparently had disobeyed orders and were walking out of the mine.  The rule is that although work is finished the men must wait and come out on the regularly scheduled "man trips" hauled by mine motors.

The state department of mines received a revised report last night that 95 men were trapped in an explosion at Bartley.

Two were known dead

H. G. Houtz chief engineer of the department said Inspector E. L. Chatfield had called, saying that the latest estimate showed 95 men caught in three sections of the mine, instead of 85 as first reported.

Crews were moving slowly in the wrecked operation, Houtz said, and they were finding it necessary to rebuild the ventilation system as they edged toward the disaster zone more than two miles from the foot of the 620-foot shaft of the Pocahontas Pond Creek corporation's mine in southern McDowell county.

Houtz said his reports were that the chances were "very slim" that many of the men had been able to build brattices and save themselves.

(Company officials at Bartley expressed hope that men in at least two sections had been able to build brattices.)

N. P. Rhinehart, chief of the mines department who had been attending a safety meeting in Pittsburgh, was enroute to southern West Virginia.

92 Killed in Blast at Bartley Coal Mine
The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia
January 13, 1940

Bartley, Jan. 12. -- (AP) -- Identification of the dead, plans for burial and care of bereaved families became the tasks today at Bartley No. 1 mine -- all that could be done after it was announced definitely that 92 miners died in a gas explosion.

Rescue crews no longer sought living men, for hope was lost early today when five battered bodies proved that the force of Wednesday's blast struck all the men at work in the western half of the Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Company mine.

It was West Virginia's worst mine catastrophe since April 30, 1927, when 97 men died at Everettville, Monongalia county.

Figure Raised to 92

Raymond E. Salvati, vice president of Pond Creek, checked over a revised list late today and announced 92 men were below.  The figure previously had been placed at 91.

Twenty-seven bodies had been found tonight, leaving 65 still in the debris-clogged "rooms" of the various mine entries two miles from the foot of the 620-foot shaft.

None of the bodies had been brought to the surface and only three had been identified.  Salvati said identification would be made at the foot of the shaft.

Crews were clearing tracks back toward the blast-torn sections so the bodies could be moved to the bottom of the shaft by mine motors.  That was a slow task and it was unlikely that any of the dead would be taken up the elevator before dawn.

The vice president directing rescue operations issued this statement:
"We have penetrated far enough to justify out thoughts that there was no possibility that the men barricaded themselves.  They are all dead.  They would be dead even if they had barricaded themselves.  There is insufficient air."
The bodies will be removed in ambulances directly from the shaft housing and taken to an emergency morgue in Welch, 20 miles away.  Relatives will be consulted as to funeral arrangements.

It was unlikely there would be mass funerals, each family burying its own dead.

Governor Visits Scene

Gov. Homer A. Holt and Ben Downing, assistant to the workmen’s compensation commissioner, arrived to cooperate with company officials, confer with mine department men and go into the question of compensation claims.

The company made arrangements for providing families with necessities and announced that tomorrow -- payday -- the dead miners pay envelopes would be distributed to the widows or other beneficiaries.

President James D. Francis of the Island Creek and Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal companies directed that groups be organized to visit homes and see that all bereaved families were cared for.

Salvati, after checking his list, said disposition of the trapped men had been as follows: Forty-one in "main 6" heading where the explosion occurred, 24 in "fourth left" entry, 25 in "third right" entry, and two others found nearer the front of the mine.

The dead included three foremen, Alonzo Barnett, 37; Lee Hall, 43; and G. L. Spence, 43.

Killed By Exploding Gas

It was virtually certain exploding gas killed the 92 men but the cause probably will remain undetermined until an investigation starts, probably next week.

Until 4 a. m. (EST) today company officials had held hopes for 60 of the trapped miners, on the chance the blast had not ripped through the third and fourth entries.

At that hour, however, crews came across five badly mangled bodies.  That meant all the miners caught never had a chance and died where they stood.

As the crews stumbled on toward more bodies that fact became more obvious.

The hopes that had been raised last night when it was announced crews were in striking distance of the blast area were quickly dissipated with the dawn, and relatives apathetically settled down to await arrival of the bodies.

Crews spent the day working in the third and fourth entries, to get those bodies out before going on the Main 6.  Grover Pile, auditor for the company, said it might be "Sunday or Monday" before all bodies are removed.

Many of the dead men were from other mining communities in southern West Virginia and in most cases these bodies will be returned to the home villages.

Little Hysteria

Although all was sadness and gloom in Bartley, there was little hysteria.  Women whose husbands and sons were dead and children whose fathers and brothers were gone, sorrowed in their homes, comforted by those whose men had escaped catastrophe.

There were 47 miners in the eastern section who escaped the blast and around 200 employees of the company who were not working that day, were on other shifts or had "outside" jobs.  Their families joined in giving help to those who needed it.

Offers of help came from coal operators and business men far and near, but Pile said the company was prepared to handle the situation.

Many long hours of toil remained ahead of the band of 50 safety crew members, working in relays.

Slate falls have held them back, "dead air" has retarded progress and there may be more of both before main 6 heading is reached.

All are equipped with oxygen tanks and work four hours in every 16.  Off duty, they sleep on improvised cots in the recreation room of the community church, and get their meals at the soup kitchen which has served all comers since Wednesday night.

Down in the mine their only food is oranges.  The soup kitchen sends down 250 oranges every four hours and the ration is six per man.

Classes in Bartley junior high school and all the elementary grades have been suspended since Thursday.  Teachers have been helping in preparation of food baskets for men at the mine and for the families of the dead men.

Fifteen Big Creek Boy Scouts have augmented relief forces in distributing food to homes.

Most Victims Married Men

Bartley, Jan. 12. -- (AP) -- The official list of the 92 victims of the disaster at Bartley No. 1 mine of the Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Company:
  • Alonzo Barnett, 37, mine foreman, married, four children, Of Bartley
  • Lee Hall, 43, mine foreman, married, two children, Bartley
  • G. L. Spencer, 43, mine foreman, five children, English
  • Charley Moffitt (Identified), 42, Negro married, four children, Bartley
  • Roy Evans, 41, (Identified), married, four children, Bartley
  • R. C. Hyatt (Identified), 32, married, four children, Bartley
  • Ern Harlow, 31, married, five children, Bartley
  • Virgil Mills, 28, married, two children, Bartley
  • Will Benjamin, 45, Negro, married four children, Bartley
  • Clarence Taylor, 43, married, Bartley
  • Clarence Oatmeal, 49, Negro, Bartley
  • E. W. Hoops, 41, married, five children, Bartley
  • Vane Marcum, 24, married, Breeden
  • P. C. Branscome, 30, married, two children, Jolo
  • James H. Wingo, 28, married, War
  • Gilmer F. Meade, 25, married, Bartley
  • W. P. Wheeling, 25, single, Bartley
  • W. R. O'quinn, 25, single, English
  • J. R. Underwood, 26, married, two children, English
  • Lee Smith, 36, married, four children, Bartley
  • C. P. Anders, 40, married, five children, Yukon
  • M. L. Mercer, War
  • Willie Busbee, 26, married, two children, Glen Rogers
  • R. L. Vance, War
  • E. E. Waters, 26, three children, Bartley
  • S. Sanchez, 41, married, War
  • W. A. Crouse, Yukon
  • Dankle Howard, 29, married, four children, Bartley
  • John Hess, 30, married, four children, Bartley
  • G. W. Griffith, Paynesville
  • J. L. Cox, War
  • Mike Lazar, 53, married, three children, English
  • Dave Sloane, Garrett
  • J. D. Dickerson, Bartley
  • M. S. Crisp, 25, single, Bartley
  • Miles Ray, 31, married, five children, Bartley
  • Floyd Combs, 26, married, Bartley
  • Cleve Owens, 35, married, seven children, Yukon
  • J. L. Sigmon, 19, single, Bartley
  • Alfred Sparks, 29, married, two children, Davy
  • C. W. Perkins, 37, married, Anjean
  • Jasper White, 47, married, eight children, Bartley
  • Hobart Branseome, 34, married, four children, Jolo
  • W. C. Simpkins, Portsmouth
  • C. G. Wyatt, Bartley
  • J. R. Kester, 35, married, one child, Bartley
  • J. E. Meggison, 31, married, three children, Bartley
  • Patrick Monoghan, 23, single, Bartley
  • Joe Tickle, 30, married, four children, Bartley
  • Kirby Ayers, Mount Airy, N. C.
  • B. M. Marshall, 34, single, Caretta
  • H. H. Hariston, 20, single, Bartley
  • Saunders Fultz, 45, Negro, married, two children, Bartley
  • Ernest Cole, 27, married, one child, Bartley
  • John Lindsey, Danville, Va.
  • J. M. Mullins, 45, married, four children, Bartley
  • Tommy Wallace, 30, married, four children, War
  • Robert Fultz, 51, single, Bartley
  • Charles Mullins, 20, single (Son Of J. M. Mullins)
  • Concerto Avanzato, 63, married, four children, War
  • M. L. Beavers, 47, married, six children, Bartley
  • Luther Lester, 35, married, two children, Paynesville
  • C. A. Hess, 27, married, three children, Drill, Va.
  • Carlos Whited, 23, married, two children, Drill, Va.
  • Dexter Hess, 21, married, one child, Drill, Va.
  • Robert York, 33, married, three children, Lenore
  • H. H. Spangler, 24, married, War
  • M. G. Mills, 29, married, one child, Cucumber
  • William Handy, 39, married, five children, Yukon
  • Felix Harper, 40, Negro, married, five children, Bartley
  • C. C. Stair, 57, married, seven children, Bartley
  • W. A. Garner, 25, single, English
  • T. H. Pruett, Bartley
  • T. E. Sigmon, 39, married, two children, Bartley
  • Chester Davidson, 29, married, one child, Bartley
  • Wash Mcglothlin, 27, married, two children, Bartley
  • J. H. Mcglothlin, Bartley
  • Robert Cribb, 32, Negro, single, Bartley
  • C. A. Stiltner, 19, single, English
  • Malcolm Garner, 45, married, eight children, English
  • Malcolm Garner, Jr., 20, single, Bartley
  • J. V. Mitchell, Bartley
  • Autice Littleton, 32, married, two children, English
  • P. B. Atwell, Bartley
  • N. J. Keen, Yukon
  • Warren O'quinn, Bartley
  • E. G. Fletcher, 25, married, Bartley
  • L. R. Flood, 37, Negro, married, two children, Bartley
  • H. S. Underwood, married, Bartley
  • L. C. Lester, 26, single, Paynesville
  • L. A. Wilt, 32, single, Fairmont
  • Robert Spence, English

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