Mine Safety Training Repository
united states mine rescue association
Mine Disasters in the United States

Tank's Poetry

Father Time
See more disasters
from this year
Calendar Image
Mine Disaster Calendar

Summit Branch Coal Company
Williamstown Mine Asphyxiations

Williamstown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania
May 25, 1904
No. Killed - 10

1904 Pennsylvania Annual Report Description  (1.5 Mb)  PDF Format

See also: Willamstown Colliery Explosion, July 15, 1908

Rescuer Deaths

Nine of the ten men killed and all of the forty overcome by the sulphurous fumes in a tunnel of the Williamstown Colliery of the Summit Branch Mining Company at Williamstown were members of a relief party.  Enoch Morgan was the first man killed.  The rest of the victims were members of the rescuing party, which at one time was made up of more than 100 men.  Intimation of the presence of extraordinary amounts of sulphurous gas in the mine was first gotten by miners who were walking through the tunnel.  Shortly afterward a train came through and picked up some of these men who were overcome and hurried them to the Williams Valley side.  A relief train, loaded with reserves and members of the night shift, was hurriedly made up and sent into the mine to rescue the others.  Before the train had gotten any great distance the rescuers started to explore the mine, and in a short while these men were tottering and fell to the ground either fatally stricken or seriously overcome.  Investigators concluded that the victims were suffocated by coal gas from the locomotive, the accumulation of which at this particular time was due to high temperature on the surface, the effect of which caused the air to reverse, nullifying the action of the fan.  Source document PDF Format

(From Reports of the Inspectors of Coal Mines of the Anthracite Coal Regions of PA, 1904, p. ix)

About 3:00 p.m., on May 25, 1904, an unusual accident occurred in the Williamstown tunnel.  While a steam locomotive was shifting a mine car loaded with plank, the loaded car jumped the track.  About this time there were some men waiting for an accommodation car which the company had been in the habit of providing them for transportation to the end of the tunnel on the line of route to their homes.

Thinking that it would be some time before the car would be placed on the track, they decided to walk through the tunnel.  At a point of about 200 feet from the end of the tunnel ten men were suffocated by fumes from the steam driven (coal fired) locomotive.

Ten Miners Perish
The Daily Courier, Connellsville, PA
May 26, 1904

Wilkes-Barre, May 26.--Ten miners were suffocated by gas and sulphur fumes from a small locomotive in the workings of the Summit Branch Coal Company at Williamstown, near Harrisburg.

The dead are:
  • James Bert, miner, 31
  • Henry Fredrick, trackman, 43
  • Michael Golden, foreman, 56
  • John Kinney, miner, 31
  • Arrion Koppenhaver, trackman, 49
  • Torpus Koppenhaver, trackman, 44
  • Enoch Morgan, miner, 37
  • Albert Nah, engineer, 18
  • Joseph Punch, laborer, 25
  • George Radle, machinist, 51
Source: Pennsylvania Registers of Anthracite Mine Accidents, 1899-1913  (5.4 Mb)  PDF Format
The accident was one of the most peculiar in the history of the anthracite mines and no reason for it can be assigned by the officials.  The victims include Michael Golden, general inside foreman of the company, and nine miners and laborers.

The tunnel in which the disaster occurred is one mile in length and is used by the coal company to convey the coal mined in the workings in the Bear valley to the breaker in the Williams valley.  The men employed in the mines in the Bear valley who reside in Williamstown, have made a practice for years to ride back and from their work on the trips of cars that are hauled between the two valleys by small locomotives.

About 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Foreman Golden and about 50 miners boarded a loaded trip which was about to be hauled from Bear valley to Williamstown.  Everything went all right until about half the journey was made when some of the men attracted the attention of the engineer who at once stopped, and it was found that nearly every man in the party on the cars had been overcome by the gas and sulphur which emanated from the stack of the locomotive and floated back over them.

The engineer at once crowded on all steam and the unconscious men were hurried to the Williamstown end of the tunnel with all speed possible.  Here help was at once summoned and the men were taken to the surface where a corps of physicians made every effort to resuscitate them, but aid came too late for Foreman Golden and the other victims.

All the telephone and telegraph wires leading to Williamstown were put out of service by a storm and Williamstown was cut off until last night, when the Pennsylvania railroad company restored its telegraph service.

See more about these products