Frontier No. 1 Mine Explosion

Shaft of Flame Swept Mine; Starting in the Thirtieth Entry
Ninety-nine miners lie cold in death in Kemmerer's two morgues, IOOF hall, and private homes this morning, victims of an explosion which swept Kemmerer Coal Company No. 1 mine almost from end to end about 8:30 o'clock, just after the two trips bearing the 136 miners to their working places had been made.

There was no intonation above ground, the first sign of all not being well underground being when dense clouds of jet black smoke were emitted from the fan, located in a building above ground.  Simultaneously with this it was found that the telephone line and signal wires were out of commission, by the hoisting engineer.

The alarm spread and it was only a matter of minutes until many had gathered at the entry, awaiting the word from a leader to direct them.  The smoke from the fan house was enough for the expert miners, who at once proceeded to organize for quick and effective work.

By 9 o'clock the first relief expedition was in the mine.  At the 15th level the body of George Wormer, pumpman, was found with life extinct.  This was enough to indicate what happened below, and the belief was at once expressed that it would be fortunate if many would be found alive.  However, about this time Pete Tapero, and Alex Inama, company men, who were working at about the 9th level, walked out, and when they heard what had really happened, they at once re-entered the mine and assisted in the rescue.  Then hopes ran high for other miners in the trap.

It took some time to get an accurate check on the number of miners who had entered the mine that morning.  Ordinarily, the mine employs nearly three hundred men, with the larger crew on day shift, but on the ill-fated day, it developed after a checkup that between 135 and 140 (miners) only had entered.

Trip was Wrecked
The first rescue parties encountered a wrecked trip at the 15th level.  It was evident that the explosion had blown the trip from the track, and the track itself was torn up for some distance, and debris marked the course between the 15th and 17th entries.  One party of rescuers climbed over this wreckage, safeguarding themselves with helmets, when they soon realized that it was a holocaust.  Dead bodies were strewn all along the slope head to feet, lying where they had fallen after breathing the awful gases.  This party went as far as the 20th entry.

Others of the relief expedition at once set out to clear the wreckage at the 15th entry, and to repair the telephone, lighting and signal wiring that had been damaged at this point.  It was only a matter of a few hours until all wreckage had been cleared away, and free access to all parts of the mine was possible, although caution was necessary at all times, as gases were encountered in many places.

Hundreds of willing hands stood in readiness for any emergency, and the organization  of the workers was excellent.
About noon the charred and blackened cars, that figured in the wreck at the 15th level were brought up, which cast gloom upon the crowd as the people realized that smoke and flame had swept the mine.

Most Deaths on Slope
Further investigation proved that most of the deaths had occurred on the slope from suffocation, while those at what is believed to have been the scene of the explosion, were burned and charred, many in terrible condition.  Many more would be alive today, had they remained in the rooms or at the face of the entries.  Indications are that the explosion was gas, and that it occurred in the seventh room of the 30th entry, where the body of Thomas Roberts and a Japanese were found.

Removal of Dead
After two hours of fruitless search for any who might survive the flame and gas of the morning, at 8 o'clock Tuesday the first funeral cars were sent into the mine--those same cars that had carried the men to their doom that morning--to bring them out for the last time.  The first cargo of the dead reached the surface shortly after 9 p.m., and 23 corpses were transferred into seven trucks and borne to Kemmerer, where they were taken to the Fitzpatrick funeral parlors, the Embree funeral parlors, and to IOOF hall, an improvised morgue.

At all three places many volunteers assisted in preparing the bodies for burial, and a score of persons assisted the four undertakers.  Despite the number and the arduous task, many of the victims were thoroughly embalmed, but the utter impossibility of this with the limited number of the undertakers changed the operation to another and quicker method, sufficient to preserve the bodies for several days.

88 Corpses to Surface
Trip after trip continued to bring bodies to the surface and at the early morning hour, 88 corpses had been recovered, leaving 11 more in the mine until the following morning.  The work was resumed Wednesday morning, and eight more were brought forth shortly after noon that day.  That left three more.  Two of these, L. Andretta and Paul Warhol, were recovered late in the afternoon, which left only Thomas Roberts in the mine.  It was decided, when a council was held, after the large crew had become tired out, that the work would be abandoned for the day, but James Roberts, brother of the missing man was insistent that the search be continued and with three others he did so.  The body was finally located after midnight yesterday morning in the 7th room of the 30 entry.  It had been passed by many times by the searchers.  This brought the total dead to 99.

A pall of gloom settled over the entire local mining district Wednesday.  Widows and orphans by the score enacted scenes of hysterical grief that are indescribable, and many last night were attended by physicians. 

Gruesome Sight

The scene at the mine opening Tuesday night was gruesome, as the blackened corpses, some of them terribly burned, were brought to the surface and carried by the dozens from the trip cars to waiting motor trucks.  Incongruous was the sign that had not been removed, "Work Tomorrow," as it stood out in bold relief on the mine office under a glaring electric light.

No reason for the explosion has been officially given out, but this point probably will be settled this morning at the coroner's inquest which is set for 9 o'clock.  The explosion no doubt occurred in the last working level, the 30th, following which the flame and gas carried into the other entries clear up to the fifteenth.  Indicative of this is the fact that the men found in the 30th entry were badly burned, showing the force of the explosion, while others farther up the slope and in some of the entries, showed plainly that suffocation had brought death.  Most of the men died in the slope.

The Oldest Mine
99 Victims of Explosion
37 Rescued from Greatest Local Mine Disaster
Mine No. 1 is the first mine operated by the Kemmerer Coal Company, having been started 26 years ago.  It is now over a mine in length, with a 16 degree pitch, and considerable complaint of gas has been made of late years by the miners, who state that it has become so large that it is difficult to convey the air properly.  It has 31 entries, the last being a sump, owing to a heavy water flow.  Three pumps convey the water to the surface, and are operated at full time during the spring season, but about half time at this season of the year.

The mine itself was only slightly damaged by the explosion, and today is in a position to produce coal the same as it was the morning before the accident. No statement has yet been made as to the future plans of the company as to operation of the mine. 

The Kemmerer Republican, Friday, August 17, 1923, page 1.

Graphic Story of Phillips of 29th
 The most graphic story of the experience of the miners of the 29th entry  is given by Clifford Phillips, whose presence of mind and cool-headedness had a great deal to do with saving the twenty-odd men from this entry.  Phillips has been in three mine accidents before, two explosions, and one cave, where he and a companion were imprisoned for three days.

Phillips and several other miners were in the 21st room of the 29th when the explosion came.  He first felt a rush of air, then the concussion.  With others he ran toward the slope, until smoke was encountered.  Immediately they returned, and at Phillips suggestion made for an air course not far back of the entry.  Here they found a cave-in, which perhaps had a lot to do with saving the men, as it was blocked and kept much of the smoke out of the 29th entry.  "Let's go back to the face," said Phillips "and bulkhead ourselves in the safe air."

On the return the miners encountered bad air to more or less degree, and caught like rats in a trap, they floundered about into rooms, up slants, through crosscuts, and managed to build four bulkheads, two of which were later torn out by other frantic miners seeking places of safety from the gases.  Knowing the air courses perfectly, Phillips and a few others with him decided to build a large bulkhead.  Seeing it was an impossible task for so few men, Phillips volunteered to go from the 29th top entry to look for help.

On going to the top 29th he encountered about 20 miners sitting down, as they had given up hope.  Phillips asked them to accompany him on his return to the back entry and assist in building the large bulkhead, at which place gas already was accumulating.  All the men refused to go, saying they were doomed and couldn't do anything further.  Phillips was insistent, and for a time the only response he could get from the hopeless men was maledictions.  Patting a few on the back, cajoling and entreating he got some of them started, so the remainder languidly followed, believing that the worst might as well be over.  All were at the time very weak from gas.  They finally reached the scene of the partially constructed bulkhead at the lower 29th entry, near the 15th room.  Phillips took charge of the workmen and it was decided that each man would put up ten shovels of rock and dirt  in turns, so weak they were.  One man fell carrying a rock weighing not over ten pounds.  August Hakala, a large man, was able to shovel only three times before he gave out.

First after the explosion it was terror, then as the weary minutes and hours wore on  the men lost hope and cared not when the end came.  Then, a few whiffs of fresh air would seize them.  Finally the bulkhead was finished, the last parts being coats and other clothing from the miners' persons, which they crowded into the remaining apertures.  They sat down to discuss--those who could talk--what was being done above to save them.

Terrorized, Phillips heard a rumbling and imaginative cracking, and decided the mine was afire.  Without a word to his companions, he asked Hakala to accompany him, and the two left to explore another part of the mine,  where he knew there had been slants and crosscuts that might let himself and companions through to the upper abandoned entries of the mine, where fire could not get to them.  It was on this trip that he encountered the better air and made his way toward the slope.  In the distance he saw lights.

His heart leaped into his throat.  He knew the rumbling he had heard was the trip containing rescuers instead of fire.  Running toward the lights he soon met one of the rescuers, "Hello," said the rescuer, "are you all right."  It was only a matter of moments for Phillips to lead the rescuers to his companions, and thus between 20 and 30 men saved that but for Phillips' efforts might today be listed among the dead.

The  Wyoming Press, 26 August 1923, page 1.
The Kemmerer Republican,  17 August 1923, page 1 and 2. 

Body of Roberts Last  Recovered
The Body of the last victim of the explosion, Fireboss Thomas Roberts was not recovered until yesterday morning at 12:40 o'clock, 40 hours after the explosion, when it was found more by accident than otherwise by his own brother, James Roberts.  The body was found in a kneeling position in room No. 7 of the 30 entry, where it is believed the explosion occurred.

Frantic search had been made for Roberts' body, after two other of the remaining three in the mine, Paul Warhol and L. Andretta, had been taken out Wednesday afternoon at 3:45 o'clock.  The mine was thoroughly explored, and it (was) afterward developed that Roberts' body had been passed many times during the search.

Late in the night, the searchers, fatigued and weak had almost decided to give up until the following day, when James Roberts said, "I cannot leave this mine without word concerning my brother."  The pathos affected several of the men, so Night Foreman William Allan, Sam Lycett, and another miner whose name is not known volunteered to remain. 

Slowly they started into 30 entry.  Searching carefully they found the lost one's dinner pail in the fifth room.  they proceeded to the sixth, thence to the seventh, with James Roberts slowly leading the way.  Ninety feet up in the room, James exclaimed, "Here he is!"  The body was at once brought to the surface, thence to the Fitzpatrick morgue, which brought the total of dead removed from the mine to 99.

The Kemmerer Republican, 17 August 1923, page 1.

Force of Explosion
Mike Paylish, survivor of the explosion, told of the force of the explosion.  Mike is a shot-firer, and was near the face of the entry, or the 32d room when he heard a noise, immediately after which the wind was felt so strong that the ear drum seemed crushed by the concussion.  The wind striking the face of the entry rebounded, and every man was knocked down.  So strong was this wind that a tub full of water, used for watering the horses,  was blown the full length of ten rooms.  Following the explosion many hours were spent by the men seeking safety, at many times giving up hope.
Kemmerer Republican, Friday, 17 August 1923, page 2.

Several Buried
Owing to the condition of the Fireboss Thomas Roberts and L. Andretta, both found in the the lower level of the mine hours after the explosion, burial was made yesterday, following  short services at the grave.  A number of others were also interred yesterday, including a number of Japanese, who were frightfully burned.  Officiating at the services for the Japanese were priests of their own land.
Kemmerer Republican, Friday, 17 August 1923, page 2.

Efficient Safety Lights
No. 1 mine recently was electrified throughout, the miners wearing a light on their caps, which was connected with a storage battery attached to their waists.  These lamps are charged for 16 hours, yet when L. Andretta's body was found at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the fatal 30th entry, his light was still burning, after 32 hours--just twice its allotted time.  It was a sad sight to see the lights, some of which were still burning when they were taken into the morgue.
The Kemmerer Republican, 17 august, 1923, page 2.

Their Last Reports
Both fire bosses of No. 1 mine were killed in the blast, Thomas Roberts and John Sager.  These mine workmen enter the mine several hours before the working crew, and come forth with reports on the condition of the entries and rooms, and the mine generally.  Roberts' last report was that there was 50 cubic feet of gas in the 27th entry, but no information could be secured on what Sager reported.  From appearances it may be that Roberts was endeavoring to brattice off gas in the 30th entry when the explosion occurred.
The Kemmerer Republican, 17 August 1923, page 2.
Kemmerer Mine Horror
Latest News of Disaster in Neighboring Grief-Stricken City
The greatest gloom in the history of the State of Wyoming was cast over the Kemmerer Coal District on August 14th, when an explosion occurred at the Frontier Mine No. 1 at 9 a.m. which caused the death of 102 miners (number of victims was misprinted) and the escape of 34 others, some of whom were badly burned.

Relief crews were organized immediately and under the direction of P.J. Quealy, vice president and general manager of the Kemmerer Coal company, and T.C. Russell, superintendent of the Diamond Coal and Coke company, an experienced mine rescue expert the work of exploring the mine began.  Russell entered the mine at once, and as volunteers rushed to the mine from adjoining properties of the company and from other mines a radius of 15 miles of the camp, more men were sent into the slope until more than 100 rescuers were at work.  The exact cause of the blast remained a mystery early today, although officials of the Kemmerer Coal Company, in a statement issued late Tuesday, declared a blown-out shot was responsible for the detonation.  Another theory is that a careening "trip" car, jumping from the track on the 1700 foot level, where the explosion occurred and caused a spark which ignited a cloud of dust or gas.

Disastrous as was the loss of life, the interior of the mine was only slightly wrecked by the explosion and rescue workers who plunged into the smoke-filled passageways early Tuesday, were hampered but little by debris.  At Entry 15, it was necessary to clear away a cave-in which had buried six mine cars, and beyond, at Entry 17, the workers were forced to relay stretches of track torn up by the concussion.

Most of the dead are lying in the Odd Fellows' Hall, and may of the bodies will buried tomorrow.

Several parties from Evanston visited the scene of terror and reported conditions about as reported above.

The Wyoming Times, 16 August 1923, page 1.

More Than Hundred Miners Die in Wyoming Blast
Only 37 of 138 Who are Caught in the Mine Saved by Rescuers
Every Portion of the Workings Penetrated and all Living Brought Out. 

It is Indicated; No Fire Followed
Cause of Disaster is Believed to Have Been "Blow-Out" Shot

Thirty-seven of the 138 miners entombed in Frontier Mine No. 1, of the Kemmerer Coal Co. at Kemmerer, Wyo., have be rescued, according to a message received tonight by D. J. Parker, of the Pittsburgh office of the Bureau of Mines, from H.E. Munn, engineer in charge of the mine rescue car No. 2, at the scene of the disaster.  The number of the dead will exceed 100 the telegram said.

Daily News Frederick Maryland 21 Aug 1923, page 1.

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