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(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 53 Casualties on the Homefront: Scotts Run Mining Disasters During World War II

By Paul H. Rakes

Volume 53 (1994), pp. 95-118

You miners have everything at stake in this war. Though you work in the mines, far from the battle front, you are soldiers just as much as the men who fly our fighting planes and drive our tanks.

Wilbur Nelson, War Production Board, July 14, 1942 1

United States entry into World War II encouraged public and private demands that workers sacrifice their personal desires and increase production. Any act demonstrating a priority of private motives over the nation's war effort was considered little more than treason. When attempts to organize grocery clerks resulted in the temporary halt of production at two factories, a General Motors executive referred to the event as a treasonous act and a national disgrace. Some coal operators, taking advantage of the patriotic atmosphere, inserted "thankyou notes from Hitler" into the pay envelopes of employees who were guilty of absenteeism.2 Coal certainly was an important resource to the production of steel and chemicals used in military equipment. However, the assumption that coal miners were similar to soldiers in the field could encourage dangerous rationalizations. If miners were akin to combat troops, it then followed that the industry may suffer sacrificial casualties.

The public perceived underground coal mining as inherently dangerous. A 1943 survey demonstrated that many individuals regarded the occupation as so hazardous that no financial reward could induce them to embrace the trade. One citizen remarked he "would not be a coal miner for $100 an hour."3 Acceptance of coal mining as a perilous vocation accommodated Wilbur Nelson's military analogy. Combat soldiers acquiesced to the possibility of death in battle and coal miners accepted similar occupational risks. Consequently, men pursuing these careers were often regarded as a subculture that submitted to occupational dangers as a fulfillment of particular cultural mores. Descriptions of coal miners sometimes ignored reality and portrayed them in a manner that was reminiscent of characters invented by Sir Walter Scott. One writer observed, "they live lives full of robust pleasures and of danger while they produce the stuff that turns more wheels than any other power in the nation."4

Although these traditional perceptions of a hazardous occupation ameliorated the social impact of mining catastrophes, state and federal safety agencies pointed out that disasters resulted from general carelessness. Modern mine inspectors conduct their investigations based on the premise that several careless inspectors may collectively produce calamitous results. In 1942, government inspectors were equally aware and suggested that if any of the varied individual conditions that contributed to disasters were removed, the effects of the combinations would cease to present problems.5

Before World War II, coal mines along the Scotts Run tributary of the Monongahela River had never experienced a devastating mine catastrophe. Fatalities occurred in Scotts Run mines, but the district had not endured a single incident of five or more deaths that would qualify as a disaster. However, many Scotts Run operations increased production through mechanization, and government mine officials pointed out that mechanized mining, while eliminating many hazards, introduced new dangers that required progressive attitudes toward ventilation and electricity.6

During World War II, three mine disasters along Scotts Run confirmed that there were dangers associated with mechanized mining. Occurring within nine months, these incidents caused eighty-nine fatalities, requiring the support of the surrounding communities for those directly affected. Utilizing recommended procedures for any domestic war-related emergencies, community mobilization mirrored civilian defense directives that called for rescue parties, trffic control, health services, ambulance services, and liaison with civil authorities.7

Community shock from the incidents juxtaposed with wartime tensions encouraged some speculation that enemy subversion caused the catastrophes. Government investigators insisted that the disasters resulted from a combination of careless practices, but romanticized accounts portrayed the victims as combat soldiers in the war effort and, as such, diminished some of the corporate responsibility shared by the Pursglove and Christopher companies.

After purchasing the interests of his two business partners in 1936, Frank E. Christopher formed both the Christopher Coal Company and a consulting firm known as the Christopher Association. As president of the corporation, Frank Christopher was a familiar and personable individual to numerous employees, while his brother Lee busied himself primarily with administrative tasks at the company's headquarters in the Monongahela Building in Morgantown.8 Rumors in the Scotts Run area suggested that the Christophers anticipated the coming of World War II and the subsequent increased demand for coal. Such foresight, according to local speculation, encouraged the Christophers to invest in Scotts Run coal properties during the late 1930s and to reopen the Osage operation of the bankrupt Brady-Warner interests.9

The Christophers were "highly respected" in the Morgantown-Scotts Run area. Before large conglomerate coal companies became the norm, many mine owners maintained a visible and personal association with the daily activities of their operations. This may have resulted from the naturally higher visibility of individuals who conducted business as independent operators. Whatever the reason, Frank Christopher was respected because of his open association with many of the laboring members of the organization, and it was suggested that the company president knew "most of them by their first names."10

Frank Christopher's humanitarian reputation was augmented by local awareness of his mine safety consciousness. Considered to be "a stickler for safety," the company president imposed "strict rules designed to safeguard the lives of his men." Despite some general carelessness, Christopher operations were found to be better maintained than the average mines in the vicinity. In early 1942, Christopher's No. 3 mine at Osage conformed to this respectable safety standing, and on May 11, West Virginia Department of Mines Inspector Alex Bryce declared the mine to be one of the safest in the northern section of the state.11

Mechanized production altered the coal mining environment of the hand-loading era. Machinery increased the tempo of mining procedures, and miners were aware that the equipment used was potentially dangerous, whether from the close quarters with swinging conveyor booms or the speed of coupling and uncoupling mine cars while in motion. The noise level of mechanized mining made it impossible to hear the sounds of the roof "working" before a fall. Rapid undermining of the roof produced larger areas of temporary timbering support during the loading cycle, and miners needed to be more aware of the visual signs of impending falls. Electrical current used to power the equipment produced a threat of lethal physical contact and increased the number of potential ignition sources for undetected accumulations of methane.12

Perhaps the most significant change affecting the miners'safety was the increased volume of coal dust. Prior to mechanical production, hand-loaders tended to work their shift without a coating of dust on their faces, but the men at Christopher No. 3 breathed the fine particles of coal suspended in the mine atmosphere and exited the mine with begrimed faces. State officials voiced concern about the amount of suspended dust produced by Osage machinery because particles from the mine's Pittsburgh seam were extremely volatile and would readily contribute to a methane or dust explosion.13

The increased speed of mining at Osage and other mechanized operations exposed rock strata and virgin coal faces at a rate unobtainable during the hand-loading era and increased the possibility of releasing dangerous amounts of methane into the orking areas. The same machinery that rapidly exposed methane and produced volatile coal dust could also provide an electrical spark for ignition. Five of the nation's six major explosions in 1940 occurred under mechanized conditions. Because only one-third of the nations coal was mechanically mined, knowledgeable officials were aware that the increased hazards associated with technologically advanced mines were responsible for a greater percentage of major disasters.14 However, informed operators knew that proper ventilation of mining faces practically eliminated the potential for catastrophe. Sufficient volumes of fresh air prevented the accumulation of volatile methane mixtures, and regardless of the lack of proper maintenance of face equipment, no amount of electrical arcing would result in a methane ignition.15

The Osage operation depended on trapdoors across haulageways to direct ventilating currents, and any time a door remained ajar, the air supply to certain working sections of the mine was interrupted. During the afternoon of May 12, 1942, a door remained open for approximately ten minutes in an area of the mine known as 1 Right while a locomotive shifted mine cars onto and off No. 1 Section. Ventilation was halted to No. 3 Section and either the unit's gathering locomotive cable short-circuited against the shields of the machinery or the cutting machine operator engaged the "cutter's" start switch, releasing an electrical arc into a methane-filled atmosphere.16 The volatile air mixture and surrounding coal dust ignited, blowing the locomotive and its empty cars on No. 3 Section from the track. Explosive flame and forces of expansion spread through all three working sections on 1 Right. Rooffalls in intersections covered the bodies of several workers killed in the blast and blocked the entries leading to the sections. Besides the destruction of roof supports, the explosion destroyed air regulators and doors, halting ventilation to the entire area. Without incoming fresh air, "afterdamp," an atmosphere lacking oxygen and usually containing lethal amounts of carbon monoxide, spread throughout the affected area.17

The explosive forces traversed all three sections of 1 Right, and the velocity of the blast swept the floor clean along much of the area. Reaching the entrance to the 1 Right area, the explosion expanded in all directions for several hundred feet before losing momentum. Fifty-three men had died on the working sections, and three others along the main haulageway soon suffocated in the noxious fumes created by the blast.18

Destruction of underground electrical facilities caused a general power failure, and on the surface, Mine Superintendent Edward O'Neill detailed an individual to investigate the electrical substation. Someone near the surface tool shop reported that a "big blast of wind just stopped the fan and knocked off the fan belt," and the individual investigating the substation telephoned the superintendent to say that the circuit breakers had disengaged, an unusual odor was escaping from the borehole where the power cables entered the mine, and smoke was issuing from the same opening.19

Underground, an assistant foreman who had walked to the main haulage entries to investigate immediately noted the odor of afterdamp caused by the suspension of quantities of creosote, benzol, and ethylene. Hurriedly returning to a telephone, he notified O'Neill that "something terrible had happened" and asked that the superintendent not engage the electrical power or restart the fan until further information was reported. O'Neill repeatedly attempted to telephone the 1 Right area until the mine dispatcher called and reported that an explosion had occurred and that smoke was drifting into the main entries.20

Smoke prohibited any attempt to reach the outside through the main haulageway, and individuals gathered at a position where a twelve-inch borehole extended to the surface. The men rapidly began constructing a barricade and an assistant foreman reported the situation to O'Neill. After discussing the options, the two men decided that the assistant foreman would lead the workers toward the outside through a return airway. O'Neill agreed that restoration ofmine power and operation of the ventilation fan would be delayed until he received word that the retreating party had reached a designated area approximately 9,700 feet from their present position.21

The decision to delay restarting the ventilation fan created a dilemma for O'Neill. Government directives mandated that the first priority following a mine explosion was to insure that the ventilation fan was operating properly. However, without the fan, the "pull" of smoke and fumes into the return airways was slowed, providing workers with an avenue of escape. Restarting the fan would cause noxious gases to engulf the men in transit, but, if anyone remained alive on 1 Right, a restoration of fresh air could possibly save them.22 O'Neill made a rational decision based on known factors rather than speculation.

Informed that they would attempt an escape, the men underground ceased work on their barricade, gathered nails, brattice cloth, axes, picks, first-aid kit, and saw and hurriedly traveled along a return airway. After proceeding a considerable distance, the men noticed that the air had begun circulating and smoke and fumes soon overtook the group. Fortunately, the men reached the predetermined position near the mine upcast shaft without anyone being overcome, although some suffered from smoke inhalation. O'Neill and a party of officials entered the mine while the underground group was in transit, and Frank Christopher answered when the assistant foreman telephoned to report that the workers had arrived safely.23

Apparently the decision to risk restarting the fan was made after Christopher's arrival. Although he had not received word that the men underground had escaped, Christopher determined that enough time had elapsed for the group to do so, and because it was believed imperative to channel air into 1 Right, he ordered the ventilation system restarted.24 Such a decision was extremely hazardous. Christopher and his managers had no way of knowing the exact location of the group. It was possible to reach a reasonable conclusion concerning required travel time, but the potential for unforeseen delays was apparently not taken into account. The logistics of fifty-seven men moving in a single line through a small trapdoor into the return airway would have slowed the group to some extent, and any problems with unknown rock falls or physical stamina could have resulted in further disaster. More importantly, the men underground proceeded under the false assumption that the ventilation fan would remain inoperative until contact was reestablished. Quite simply, Frank Christopher, concerned about possible survivors on 1 Right, took a gamble based on his knowledge of the mine.

While Christopher assumed command on the surface, O'Neill's party hurried underground to ascertain the conditions on 1 Right. The lack of communication from the affected area was ominous, but even government recommendations permitted risk-taking if lives were involved. Thus, the possibility of injured or barricaded individuals increased the urgency of O'Neills group.25

Approaching the affected area, the exploration party discovered the body of one miner near the entrance to 1 Right. The group reestablished trolley power for transportation, and mine inspectors, accompanied by three oxygen-breathing apparatus crews, joined O'Neill's party at approximately 6:30 p.m. Government officials conferred with Mine Foreman Howard Feathers as to the expected damage to airway mechanisms, and the crew hurriedly attempted to make temporary repairs that would circulate air into the affected area. Two more bodies were located in the main entries and indicated little possibility of survivors on 1 Right, but the exploration parties pushed forward on the premise that survivors would be found. Shortly before 9:00 p.m., rescue teams entered the explosion area. Although hampered by concentrations of carbon monoxide, the teams discovered forty-three bodies by 12:30 a.m. Convinced all the workers in the area had perished in the explosion, rescuers ceased rapid explorations.26

Christopher officials on the surface not only had to maintain support for the rescue teams during the hours of rapid exploration, they also had to contend with the gathering of a huge crowd. Governmental guidelines insisted that company officials notify physicians, mining engineers, rescue squads, and various individuals who could provide assistance, but surrounding Scotts Run communities like Pursglove, Davis, and Cassville needed no formal notification of events at Osage. As word spread, the roads to the mine site became blocked for miles by crowds of curious onlookers and relatives of the men working in the mine. The crowd itself attracted individuals who were unaware of what had occurred, and Stanley Solomon, a young Osage resident amazed by the hundreds of people lined along the roadway to the mine, mingled into the crowd to "see what all the fuss was about." Spilling onto the roadway, the throng obstructed traffic while state police and sheriffs deputies struggled to maintain a passageway for arriving rescue teams and emergency vehicles.27

Members of the crowd gathered on the hills behind the driftmouth entrance and many individuals stood on the concrete directly overlooking the entrance, while the more adventurous positioned themselves on the roof of an adjacent building or at any other vantage point to improve their view of events at the mine portal. Men from inside the mine were exiting and joining the crowd along with other miners who had just completed their shifts at neighboring Scotts Run operations. Survivors suffering from the effects of afterdamp were given oxygen and then joined family members among the spectators.28

During the early stages, the crowd was relaxed, with large groups of people milling around, laughing, and shouting questions out above the noise. As afternoon became evening, the reality of the disaster seemed to quiet the gathering. While the occasional crying of relatives could be heard, hundreds of onlookers clustered in little groups and spoke in hushed tones.29 The crowd maintained a vigil into the night, and Red Cross and Salvation Army representatives from Morgantown established relief stations where they comforted family members and supplied food for the rescue teams. The Red Cross station, under the direction of Paul Summers and Minta Ridgeway of Morgantown, set up a small office with telephone communication. Many relatives of the missing workers came to the shelter for food, possibly the most reliable information concerning developments, and to share their emotions with others having a personal interest in what had occurred.30

Although many of the relatives of the missing miners refused to end their vigil, the curious onlookers left the mine site. Christopher officials issued a terse, but carefully worded statement that a crowd inhibiting recovery efforts could not be tolerated. Despite the increasing probability that none of the workers still in the mine had survived, the knowledge that so many had escaped caused many to hope that some workers would be found safely barricaded. Frank Christopher fueled the faith of anxious family members with his statement that he had not given up hope "some would come out alive" and that every effort was being made to reach the "trapped" miners in the shortest possible time.31

The removal of bodies began in earnest early on May 13, and the diminished crowd of the night before swelled again with the coming daylight. County and state law officers found the task of maintaining order overwhelming, and Captain Leland Jamison arrived with thirty-five members of Morgantown's newly organized West Virginia National Guard unit to assist in keeping back the crowd and clearing roads for the ambulances.32 Thirty-eight bodies were brought to the surface throughout the day and the gruesome task of identification conducted. Minta Ridgeway's Red Cross workers and Salvation Army volunteers under the direction of Emil Shultz assisted with the identification process, relayed recovery progress to the family members of those unaccounted for, and provided food for the rescue workers. Personal identification of the casualties proved difficult in many cases because of the effects of the explosion and because miners did not carry a positive means of identification on their person.33 Conequently, officials encountered problems in determining exactly which men remained unaccounted for. Some bodies were misidentified, and officials later discovered the person so identified in subsequent body removals.34

Frank Christopher extended humane gestures that contributed to the high regard he enjoyed. Christopher suspended operations at the company's Maidsville Mine for one shift and for twenty-four hours in the nearby company mine at Cassville because of "the miners' anxiety concerning the fate of their fellow workers at the Osage mine." Exhibiting a hands-on approach to the recovery efforts, Christopher remained inside the mine throughout the evening and personally directed the removal of four bodies brought to the surface at 10:00 p.m.35

The fatalities removed during the night of May 13 raised the body count to forty-five, and officials declared that there were at least eleven more remaining inside. Despite an exhaustive records examination, officials could not be certain of the number of men unaccounted for because there was no positive check-in-and-out system for workers. Matters were further complicated by the condition of the mine, where recovery teams were hindered by accumulations of explosive methane, slate falls, concrete blocks, and the twisted wreckage of trolley wire and other debris. The remaining casualties were trapped beneath the wreckage and rescue workers had to remove the slate to search for bodies. Frank Christopher insisted that the recovery crews advance methodically so every casualty could be found and an accurate body count obtained.36

Relatives suffered an anxious vigil of several days as victims were located and brought to the surface one or two at a time. The experience of Raymond Mayfield was indicative of the emotional suffering caused by the tendency of relatives to work together in the same mine. Mayfield, who escaped following the explosion, waited for news of his father and brother. His father Homer Mayfield was brought to the surface during the early stages of the rescue operation, and funeral services were held several days before his brother Kermit was found on May 22.37

The prolonged recovery process at Osage attracted a degree of national attention. In Washington, President Franklin Roosevelt was aware of the extended efforts but ignorant of the structural devastation that required the removal of slate falls, repair of ventilation systems, and construction of roof supports to protect the recovery workers. Speculating as to the cause of the delay, the president suggested that Osage was an older mine with inadequate maps.38 A degree of national and local consciousness had been exhibited by workers at Christopher No. 3 prior to the disaster. Shortly before the explosion, employees at Osage contributed one day's pay to the area's community chest, donated one hundred dollars to civilian defense, and every worker had registered with a payroll plan to purchase "victory" bonds.39 This community spirit was reciprocated in the financial relief efforts of government agencies, relief organizations, union support, and private donations.

In an effort to expedite the preparation of claims, field representatives of the Workmen's Compensation Catastrophe Fund immediately traveled to the scene of the disaster and determined widows would receive thirty dollars per month until remarriage. Children through the age of sixteen were allotted five dollars per month. Suspecting that some dependents of victims were unaware of the complete range of available assistance, Red Cross officials detailed one member of their Washington office to advise these families concerning social security, workmen's compensation benefits, and otherwise to assist family members in making adjustments necessitated by the loss of a wage earner. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) provided assistance at various levels of the organization and contributed a benefaction of $5,700. Each family of the fifty-six victims received one hundred dollars, regardless of the number of dependents, and the remainder was distributed at the discretion of the Osage union local officials. The extensive loss of life placed a significant financial burden on the UMWA's local burial fund, andunion leaders decided to assess the remaining members fifty-six dollars each. Other union locals in the Scotts Run district graciously extended contributions to help Osage members achieve the designated amount.40

Assistance extended beyond formal relief agencies, and the establishment of the Osage Disaster Relief Fund represented the genuine empathy shared by the surrounding communities. On the evening of May 14, a group of UMWA officials and local residents, concerned about the welfare of the Osage victims' families, met in the Red Cross section of the Morgantown post office building and elected a committee to accept and administer financial contributions. Local residents, businesses, union affiliates, and fraternal organizations in and around Scotts Run quickly responded with donations.41

The pleas for donations and local empathy enabled the disaster fund to collect slightly more than fourteen thousand dollars. Unlike the benefaction from the UMWA, which allotted equal amounts to each family, Osage Disaster Fund officers distributed financial assistance based on the number of surviving dependents. Seventy-five dollars went to the nearest relative of each Osage victim, one hundred dollars to expectant mothers, and the remaining sum was equally allocated to children younger than sixteen. A total of eighty-nine youngsters qualified for the funds and one Osage widow received $963.63 for her nine eligible children.42

While disaster fund officials canvassed the area for donations, recovery workers continued slowly advancing through the debris of rock falls, tangled timbers, and twisted electrical wiring on 1 Right. Workers entering the portal to search for the remaining casualties were practically in sight of the funeral services conducted for some of the Osage victims. As recovery teams approached completion of their task, mine officers remained unsure how many bodies were still hidden in the wreckage. Confusion increased with the gruesome reality that bodies were dismembered and total recovery improbable, a horror more akin to foreign battlefronts of World War II than an industrial disaster.43

Two political figures associated Osage with the sacrifice of military personnel. West Virginia Governor Matthew Neely, accompanied by Frank Christopher, entered the mine on May 15 and surveyed recovery efforts. Addressing a group of miners in the local union hall, Neely speculated that the patriotic deaths of the Osage workers were like those of soldiers on the battlefield. On May 29, after visiting commencement exercises in the New Deal experimental community of Arthurdale, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to Osage and spoke with members of the mine's afternoon shift. Accompanied by an entourage of dignitaries that included West Virginia Congressman Jennings Randolph, the first lady positioned herself on the steps leading to the mine office and delivered an address to a large crowd. She insisted that the Osage victims were serving their country by producing coal for the war effort and their deaths were a sacrifice like those of combat soldiers. Although she empathized with the ten-day period of anxiety until Arthurdale's Edward McClain was located, she pointed out that social security payments and other government subsidies would provide expectant mother Gertrude McClain and her two daughters a total of fifty-seven dollars per month. Her nationalistic scenario included references to the bravery of the individuals who survived the explosion and returned to work at the mine. "Like the sailors who go back on our merchant ships after they have been torpedoed, these men go back into the mines because they know their work is needed for the war effort."44

The Osage mine may have represented an important component of the national war machine, but it was also a capitalistic enterprise. The estimated operator's cost for a mine explosion was approximately $502,000, but Christopher's Osage expenses probably exceeded that figure because of the thirteen days required for recovery efforts. The last victim was brought from the mine at noon on May 23, and Christopher No. 3 returned to production on May 25.45

State and federal mine inspectors remained at Osage until the last victimwas found and then turned to determining the cause of the disaster. The two government organizations successfully cooperated during the recovery period, despite a tradition of conflict, but arrived at different conclusions as to the explosion's ignition source. At the coroner's inquest in Morgantown's Circuit Courtroom on July 8, the senior engineer for the Bureau of Mines remarked that the probable cause was a matter of opinion. There was no resolution of these differences because the Scotts Run mine Pursglove No. 2 demanded attention the following day.46

Named for the company's founders, Pursglove, a small village of approximately 350 residents in 1942, lay a short distance upstream from the Monongahela Railroad spur leading to Osage. Joseph Pursglove emigrated from England with his parents in 1881 and began working in the coal mines at age fourteen. Shortly after the turn of the century, Pursglove and his brothers Samuel and David established their own mining firm. In 1908, Joseph Pursglove moved to Cleveland, Ohio, as senior officer of the Pursglove Coal Sales Company. The Pursglove Mining Company maintained its headquarters in Pursglove, although President Joseph Pursglove and the financial department were in Cleveland, and operated coal mines in Logan, Harrison, and Monongalia counties in West Virginia and Belmont County, Ohio.47

Relatives of Joseph Pursglove were active within the company in 1942. Sons Samuel R. and Joseph, Jr. held positions as high-ranking company officials, while brother David served as superintendent of Pursglove No. 2 and Samuel as President of Mines. Apparently the Pursgloves did not enjoy the "common man" reputation of Frank Christopher, as the corporate structure of the Pursglove company placed more individuals between the owners and the laborers. Locals believed the Pursglove operations maintained a more rigid set of rules for the workers than the Christopher company, but employees suggested that "good workers" were well treated.48

Opened in 1918, Pursglove No. 2 mined coal from the Sewickley seam and, by 1942, was fully mechanized. The mine acquired a reputation as one of the best equipped and most efficient operations in the area. West Virginia officials classed the Pursglove mine as "gassy," but miners believed the risk from methane was more severe in the Pittsburgh seam beneath them because most of the major explosions in the area had occurred in the lower coal bed. As a result, miners working the Sewickley feared the opening of fissures in the floor that could allow an unexpected surge of methane from the seam below. One miner recalled that his fear was reinforced by the fact that during the infrequent periods of silence he could hear the movement of locomotives in the Pittsburgh seam.49

Whatever the potential for a sudden release of methane, Pursglove No. 2 enjoyed an excellent safety reputation. Government mine officials applauded the operation's lack of serious mishaps, and in early 1941, the Bureau of Mines presented the company with an award for producing three million tons of coal without a fatality. However, despite government recommendations and the suggestions of the manufacturer of Pursglove's ventilation fan, company officials continued to engage in the unsafe practice of circulating air through abandoned workings before it reached the operating faces and of passing air from one working section to another.50

Ventilation to the mine's working units known as the Twenty and Twenty-four Bleeder sections passed through an abandoned area known as the Twenty Face Headings. These entries released methane into the air before it arrived at the dust-filled operating faces. Knowledgeable mine officials knew that even a small amount of methane could ignite coal dust. Pursglove managers relied on rock dust to lower the combustibility of loose coal particles. Unfortunately, the rock dust applied at Pursglove No. 2 was below average quality and the Twenty/Twenty-four area received significantly smaller applications than the rest ofthe mine.51

On the afternoon of July 9, 1942, two of Pursglove's six loading crews were approaching their assigned sections of Twenty and Twenty-four Bleeder. A majority of the men resided in Scotts Run communities and, during the three-and-one-half-mile rides to their working faces, undoubtedly discussed the recent events at Osage. As the Twenty Face crew turned toward their section, they passed under an area of "bad top" that would soon initiate catastrophe.52

At approximately 4:12 p.m., this area of unstable roof fell onto the haulage track. The fall was thirty-six feet long, sixteen feet wide, and one foot thick, and the impact suspended a large amount of Sewickley seam dust into the air. Torn from its hangers, a 550-volt trolley wire fell on the track, creating an intense electrical arc in a methane-charged cloud of coal dust and igniting coal particles. The explosion, fueled by the suspended coal dust, traveled along the same route the Twenty Face crew used moments before, increasing in intensity.53

Pulling available oxygen to its source, the blast developed a horizontal swirling effect as it turned onto Twenty Face, creating a vacuum that accelerated the release of methane from the worked-out areas of both sections. The explosive force gained momentum when it reached Twenty Face; the men there, still putting away their personal items before beginning work, were killed and the man-trip cars blown from the track. In full fury as it came onto Twenty-four Face, the blast caught the members of that crew dispersed at their various assignments. Leaving twenty fatalities in its wake, the explosion exited the section and continued until it reached adequately rock-dusted areas.54

Most of the fifty-three men in the other area of the mine remained unaware that anything extraordinary had occurred, but a foreman near the entrance to the sections felt the concussion of the blast and saw dust coming from the affected area. He immediately notified officials on the surface who instructed him to disconnect electrical power, telephone all foremen inside the mine, and remove as many workers as possible.55 With the loss of electrical power, many workers sat beside their idled machinery while, in the subsequent quiet, section foremen could hear their unit telephones repeatedly ringing the "codes" for various sections.56 Advised of the situation, underground officials assembled their crews and started for the surface. One crew walked several hundred feet before the arrival of an emergency man-trip, but unlike the harrowing experience of the Christopher workers who attempted to avoid smoke and poisonous air, the Pursglove survivors traveled the main haulage roads through a relatively clear atmosphere.57

Mine officials on the surface quickly prepared for rescue operations, and many of the survivors reentered the mine to aid in recovery work or assist with the loading of necessary supplies. This abnormal surface activity was soon matched by increased activity along Scotts Run as a continuous procession of rescue squads and officials mingled with the flow of traffic from surrounding communities. Apparently the difficulty of crowd control at Osage provided officials with a valuable lesson because law enforcement officers from other counties immediately augmented the local detachments, and Morgantown's National Guard unit was promptly brought to the scene.58

Although officers proved more efficient with the logistics of early crowd control at Pursglove than at Osage, there were many similarities with the Christopher No. 3 experience. Officials prevented automobiles from approaching the area and hastily established rope barricades to restrain spectators. Red Cross volunteers directed by Morgantown's Minta Ridgeway, Salvation Army workers, and the womens auxiliary of the Pursglove union local established relief stations that provided food for rescue workers and solace for anxious relatives. The throng of employee families and the curious soon exceeded two thousand, with the majority gathered on the hill directly over the mine portal. Groups surged forward whenever locomotives exited the mine or the telephone rang in the mine office.59

Telephone exchangesinside the Pursglove office promptly monopolized the only line into the operation, antagonizing newspaper reporters. Frank Christopher had provided the news media with telephone service at the mine office during the Osage disaster, but Pursglove officials insisted their phone was dedicated to recovery efforts. During the first hours of the disaster, Minta Ridgeway assisted reporters by permitting unlimited use of the emergency telephone in the Red Cross tent. Fred Dunning, manager of Morgantown's Chesapeake and Potomac telephone office, established additional telephone communications, alleviating some of the media's consternation.60

Without effective cooperation between Pursglove officials and the media, much of the information collected by reporters was based on speculation, rumors, or incomplete details. One rescue worker suggested that fire retarded the recovery efforts, encouraging the erroneous speculation that the explosion had caused a mine fire which continued to blaze. With the nation at war, there were insinuations of sabotage, and local gossip insisted that at Osage "there was more to [the] explosion than the strange coincidence of explosive factors," but that the "hard-headed" mining officials would not believe it. The inability of a coroner's jury to reach a consensus concerning the origin of the Christopher No. 3 explosion, coupled with the disaster at the "safe" Pursglove mine, encouraged reporters to assert that government agencies were examining the possibilities of enemy subversion.61 A Fairmont Times editorial epitomized the influence of wartime concerns: ". . . citizens of the Monongahela valley cannot help but feel that there might be something more than `accident' behind the Osage explosion and now the Pursglove explosion . . . [and] the public will feel better about it if the possibility of sabotage is thoroughly explored. . . ."62

While the crowd exchanged rumors on the surface, seven rescue teams working in relays rapidly advanced toward the scene of the explosion. Recovery workers carrying oxygen moved beyond fresh air and established temporary ventilation. Workers encountered mine timbers on fire, the source of outside rumors, and quickly extinguished the small blaze. The rock fall at the mouth of Twenty Face presented an obstacle, but crews continued into the affected sections and discovered the first body beside the haulage track shortly after midnight. An apprehensive crowd on the surface received the first indication that officials had located the victims when a locomotive emerged from the mine. Joseph Pursglove, Jr. confirmed suspicions with an announcement, and an investigator for the state police released a tentative list of casualties.63

Pursglove officers were able to avoid the intermittent procession of bodies and the trauma of on-site identification by family members that pervaded the Christopher disaster. Without rooffalls that concealed victims and restricted access, the Pursglove explosion was less severe in scope. Although some of the fatalities had been hurled against machinery and mine timbers, the bodies were recognizable to underground personnel, and preliminary identification in the mine lessened the necessity of relatives having to view more than one victim. Joseph Pursglove, Jr. announced that all the bodies would be removed from the mine early in the day and identities confirmed at Davison Funeral Home in Morgantown.64

Empathetic community members met in the offices of a local attorney to establish a relief fund, while family members gathered in Morgantown for identification procedures. Most of the officers of the committee had been involved in the Osage project and the plan mirrored the previous effort. Appeals for funds were broadcast on a local radio station, businesses established donation booths in Morgantown, and various individuals canvassed the area soliciting contributions. Scotts Run coal companies also responded. The Pursglove firm opened the fund with a two thousand dollar donation, Frank Christopher provided five hundred dollars, and the Davis-Wilson and Louise coal companies contributed two hundred dollars.65

Despite generous support by contributors such as the Riggs-Distler Company at Morgantown's Ordnance Works,66 the Pursglove project had difficulty raising funds equivalent to the Osage drive. On July 24, officers of the fund decided to extend the period for collecting donations, and by August 3, the committee declared the $6,700 figure comparable to the Osage effort.67

The UMWA provided one hundred dollars for each family as it had at Osage, and government agencies dispatched personnel to establish social security and compensation claims centers in the Pursglove offices. Governor Matthew Neely arrived at the Pursglove mine on July 11, his second journey to Scotts Run in sixty days, and promised the miners families the governmental assistance necessary to prevent financial suffering.68

While government relief agencies conducted their efforts much the same as they had at Osage, the teams of mine inspectors were perplexed by their investigation of Pursglove. The fact that no machinery was in operation at the time of the explosion increased the difficulty of establishing the cause of the disaster. Pursglove officials defended themselves during the first hours after the explosion by pointing out that a "fireboss" examination declared the mine safe just before the detonation. Official references to explosives probably encouraged the continuing rumors of sabotage. After intense analysis of the affected sections, both federal and state agencies arrived at the same conclusion. The differences of opinion regarding Christopher No. 3 resulted in a coroner's verdict of "undetermined origin," but the consensus concerning Pursglove produced a condemnation of company procedures. A Monongalia County coroner's jury agreed that the explosion had resulted from a fallen trolley wire in a methane-charged atmosphere and ruled that the disaster "could have been obviated if the proper care and precautions had been taken."69

The findings of the coroner's jury suggested the Pursglove company had failed to maintain the mine properly. One of the governmental criticisms of the operation's fire precautions proved prophetic. Inspectors noted that "no fire-fighting equipment organization functions at the mine and little or no fire-fighting equipment facilities, excepting rock dust, are available for use in an emergency. . . ." Recent misfortune should have increased the safety awareness of Pursglove officials, but within six months, events at the Pursglove No. 15 mine demonstrated that the warning concerning preparation for fire emergencies went unheeded.70

Certainly, during the 1940s, the Pursgloves' expenses from both misfortune and increased development were substantial. The disaster at Pursglove No. 2 resulted in several days' lost production, and Pursglove No. 15, operating beneath the former, closed down until July 13, 1942. Financial adversity had previously struck Pursglove No. 15 on May 28, 1941, when an estimated one hundred thousand dollar loss resulted from a fire that destroyed the coal preparation facilities. Expensive ventilating costs to offset high methane emissions at No. 15 encouraged the Pursgloves to invest in a modern exhaust fan system. Joseph Pursglove, Jr. suggested that the power efficiency of the new fan would return the fifty thousand dollar investment in electrical costs alone within eight or nine years.71

Despite the new ventilation equipment, mine inspectors voiced concern about the mine's potential for disaster. Government investigations revealed that the high emissions of methane at Pursglove No. 15 resulted in explosive gas concentrations more than double the recommended limits.72 The mine's history of near disasters increased apprehensions. In 1938, three men died when a rooffall struck a moving man-trip, and a 1935 methane ignition resulted in three fatalities. However, the most prophetic incident occurred in 1927 when three members of a mine rescue team were killed while fighting a mine fire.73

A confusing series of events early on January 8, 1943, again brought rescue teams into Pursglove for fire-fighting duty. At approximately 3:00 a.m., during the midnight or "hoot ow" shift, motorman Frank Robinette approached a curve near one of the mine's track intersections. Clarence Hakin, the brakeman on the end of the twenty-three-car trip, saw an electricl arc in the distance and noticed the train slowly come to a halt and begin to drift backwards. Detecting the odor of burning rubber and electrical insulation, Hakin walked a few feet toward the front of the trip where he discovered the haulage locomotive on fire. Robinette was nowhere in sight and the brakeman hurried away to find assistance.74

Although the official recommended response was to direct the bad air away from the working sections, midnight foreman Guy Quinn assembled his available employees and attempted to reach the burning locomotive. The intensity of the smoke forced Quinn's team to retreat, but an assistant foreman advanced to see the locomotive and the coal beneath it on fire.75 The probability of the remaining eighteen inches of "top coal" igniting and smoke entering the working sections increased the seriousness of the situation. Positioned midway between two intake fans and the new exhaust fan, smoke from the fire combined with high velocity air to carry lethal gases rapidly toward the men in the operating faces. Although the blaze continued to emit the odor of burning rubber and not coal, Quinn instructed three workers to inform section crews to leave the mine.76

With three separate units to notify, the "alarm" detail divided near the entrance of Section 15 West while Quinn and fireboss Okie Hillberry attempted to approach the burning locomotive from another direction. As Brad Gainer and Charles Jones moved toward Sections 16 and 17, Les McGee attempted to negotiate the smoke and advise Section 15. McGee believed his own situation perilous and wrote the message "go to Section 17" on the inside of a ventilation door at the entrance to Section 15. Quinn realized that circumstances exceeded his available resources and instructed Hillberry to "go for help" while he returned to see if "the men were out." McGee informed Quinn of his inability to reach Section 15. Quinn decided to return to the smoke-filled area to open ventilation doors that would short-circuit the air and prevent toxic gases from overwhelming the working sections.77

McGee, joined by Brad Gainer, remained in a safe position, waiting for Quinn. When he failed to return, they went back to the smoke-filled entries and discovered the critically exhausted foreman. Quinn had opened one ventilation door but was unable to reach the other door after depleting his self-rescue oxygen apparatus. With their own lives endangered by the surrounding smoke, Gainer and McGee carried Quinn until their weakness forced them to crawl. Convinced that his own condition was fatal, the foreman advised Gainer and McGee to leave him. They located other workers who carried Quinn to fresh air, but the waiting rescue crew failed to revive him after four hours.78 McGee and Gainer undertook one last attempt to notify the crew of Section 15 and successfully negotiated a route to the section. The absence of the crew and their dinner pails led McGee and Gainer to assume the men were attempting an escape. They retraced their steps to the surface along with the crew of another section.79

Smoke had reached Section 15 at some point during Quinn's efforts to manage the situation. Apparently the crew abandoned the section to find fresh air or, failing this, a suitable position for a barricade. The group, composed entirely of Scotts Run and Morgantown residents, was led by an experienced miner, but he was new to Pursglove and unfamiliar with the mine's airways. Two of the three available avenues of escape led to safety, but it was difficult to choose the appropriate route because of the indefinite possibilities of certain sections being closed and others opened. These factors determined the entries that smoke would follow, as well as the avenues of pure air, and anyone not furnished with this information could make a fatal choice. Consequently, the men of Section 15 traveled directly toward the incoming smoke where the strong air current brought increasing volumes of carbon monoxide and the eleven crewmen suffocated.80

Recovery teams initiated a search for the missing men with scant information as to their possible locations. The missing dinner pails contributed to optimistic hopes that the Section 15 crew may have ecaped and were somewhere in the mine. From the first moments of the crisis, the fate of motorman Frank Robinette was unknown, and various speculations suggested he may have been enveloped by flames before he could withdraw or had managed to discover an entry with fresh air. Locating the missing men took priority over extinguishing the expanding blaze, and the rescue teams, hampered by heavy oxygen masks and air purifiers, slowly negotiated their way in the low visibility of thick smoke.81

While the rescuers inched forward underground, the increased activity on the surface confirmed Scotts Run rumors of another disaster and relatives of the workers rushed to the scene. Unlike the two previous accidents, only a small group of family members and curious spectators waited near the driftmouth. Some individuals speculated that gasoline rationing prevented an influx of spectators, but inclement weather probably discouraged the majority. The Salvation Army, Red Cross, and County Office of Civil Defense provided hot drinks for rescuers and anxious family members. Police officers patrolled the area, but many family members were able to approach some Pursglove officials directly. Mine Superintendent William Reeves could offer no positive information about the missing workers.82

Locating the men proved to be extremely difficult and Jesse Redyard, the new chief of the Department of Mines, expressed increasing concern about the risk to the rescue teams. Rescuers, more concerned with locating the missing workers than with fighting the fire from a safe distance, were hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning.83 The search continued throughout the day, and early the following morning, recovery workers discovered the bodies of three members of the Section 15 crew. Rescue teams located the bodies of the remaining eight crewmen later in the day, but the fire had expanded nearly five hundred feet during the search. Jesse Redyard determined that motorman Robinette would not be found until the fire was extinguished.84 After the failure of a two-day attempt to put out the fire with rock dust and chemicals, officials abandoned the search for Frank Robinette and sealed off the affected area. Company officers planned to resume production after construction of forty or fifty underground seals, but the powerful blaze forced inspectors and the company to reconsider and completely seal the mine.85

Closing the mine was lamented as detrimental to the war effort, but the events surrounding the fire provided the area with a local hero. Guy Quinn's attempt to open the ventilation doors and divert the smoke persuaded community leaders to request that the War Department recognize the foreman's bravery with a posthumous decoration. A Presbyterian social service facility known as The Shack operated within sight of the mine portal, and when Eleanor Roosevelt visited the building on January 12, she was advised of the appeal for government recognition of Quinn's efforts. The first lady requested that The Shack's director Reverend Richard Smith prepare a history of the foreman's life that she could present to the president. The War Department pointed out that military decorations were reserved for those in active service, and government officials suggested that the community seek the Carnegie Hero Medal from the Carnegie Commission in Pittsburgh.86

Another fund drive was organized to supplement government subsidies, and compensation and social security officials returned to Pursglove to provide on-site assistance. The UMWA forwarded the customary one hundred dollars per family, and Frank Christopher was again among the first contributors to the Pursglove No. 15 Disaster Fund. The aggregate amount of the fund increased slowly compared to the former endeavors. Although the Pursglove company promptly contributed $2,000 following the previous disaster, twenty-seven days passed before it donated $650 to the families of the fire victims. By March 12, continued community support raised the total to more than $3,000.87

Jesse Redyard proposed that company procedures were responsible for the thirteen deaths at Pursglove No. 15. The chief inspector distributed posters throughout the coal industry which staed that "the period between the time of the ignition and approximate time of their deaths was ample to allow a warning to be given and an orderly escape to be made through an area unaffected by the fire, but such warning was not given nor escape directed." On February 4, 1943, a coroner's jury in Morgantown agreed with Redyard's assessment.88

The financial strains caused by the disasters affected the solvency of the Pursglove company. Officials endeavored to avoid flooding mine fires because of the destruction of expensive mine equipment and long periods of non-productivity. On January 24, despite the obvious costs, Pursglove officials agreed to flood the mine with water from nearby Scotts Run and Wades Run. Samuel Pursglove, Sr. suggested that the fire was already out, but he supported flooding as a precautionary measure to save both time and coal.89

Human and financial misfortune continued to plague the Pursgloves as they attempted to reclaim No. 15. On June 9, 1943, during efforts to repair a damaged air shaft, a welding spark ignited a gas explosion that killed one worker. Unable to absorb the cost of rehabilitating the mine, the Pursgloves obtained a conditional $250,000 advance from Consolidation Coal Company. In consideration of this sum, Consol became the exclusive sales agent for coal produced at Pursglove mines and required the Pursglove company to reorganize. Consol demanded that all executive offices be located at Pursglove and Joseph Pursglove, Jr. became the new company president. Pursglove apparently learned from the disasters. With added coal holdings, the productive life of Pursglove No. 15 was projected to fifty years, and to insure that disasters would not limit further operations, the company intended to install special fire fighting equipment and "stress safety above all else."90

The investigators' failure to arrive at consensus regarding the ignition source of the Osage explosion obscured much of the Christopher Coal Company's responsibility for the accident. Inadequate attention to various coal mine conditions resulted in condemnation of the company. Government agencies understood that these conditions could lead to a chain of circumstances with lethal results, and the series of mine explosions between 1940 and 1941 inspired a national law that required the United States Bureau of Mines to conduct coal mine inspections and publish its findings. The legislation provided no authority for enforcing those recommendations, but officials believed published findings would encourage compliance.91

Although mine executives accepted governmental safety theories, most failed to adopt them in actual practice. During the annual Coal Convention of 1941, one mine executive warned operators that continued use of political influence to resist compliance with government recommendations would result in severe problems for the coal industry. Eugene McAuliffe of the Union Pacific Company agreed and cautioned that failure to employ the recommendations for adequate ventilation, clean roadways, and rock dusting would lead to total government control of the coal industry.92

Other executives refused to accept the wisdom of these warnings. Consulting engineer James F. Brophy contended that operators possessed the inalienable right to manage their mines according to their own interests. In a ridiculous statement that exhibited Brophy's inability to comprehend the implications of coal mining's terrible disaster record, the engineer suggested that bestowing a mine foreman with the authority of a "ship's captain in the olden times" would provide the greatest advance in mining safety.93

It is doubtful that either Frank Christopher or the Pursglove family embraced the philosophy of total autonomy that Brophy advocated, but neither operated in full compliance with governmental recommendations. Perhaps both operators suffered under the common assumption that mining disasters were an unavoidable risk in mining. Many members of the coal industry continued to insist that mining disasters resulted from "the unpredictable stroke of misfortune which may fall in any human endeavor, no matter how well run." In 1942, Scotts Run acceptance of this contention was exemplified in the observaton that "[miners] know that there is the threat of almost unexplainable explosion in even the best protected mines."94

Members of the United States Bureau of Mines believed operators were often sincere in their safety efforts, but the pressures of daily production inhibited those efforts. Undoubtedly, increased production demands of World War II influenced procedures at the Christopher and Pursglove operations. Joseph Pursglove, Jr. complained that the federal government consistently demanded advances in total production without providing assistance to overcome the industry's labor and material shortages.95

Pursglove continued his complaint after the disasters by adding that the majority of mine machine failures resulted from the ignorance or neglect of workers, but his attempt to implicate miners could not reduce the company's responsibility for the disasters. While Frank Christopher demonstrated a visible concern after the Osage catastrophe and extended cooperative efforts to the public, the Pursgloves remained officiously separate and reticent. Public acceptance of "inevitable disasters" depended on industry and community cooperation, and Pursglove No. 2 made the Scotts Run populace aware of the contrast between the operators. Noting the difference, one newspaperman observed that "it wasn't until recently that we had occasion to really appreciate [Frank Christopher]."96

Whatever the potential social and political ramifications of the loss of eighty-nine lives in nine months, Scotts Run coal production remained an integral component of national efforts to defeat the Axis powers. Clarence E. Smith of the Fairmont Times suggested that Washington should recognize the sacrifice of the Scotts Run miners. He insisted that coal miners waged war against the elements, but their war contribution was not in vain. They were part of a generation called to sacrifice life for a great cause. Perhaps Smith's patriotic images provided a romantic rationalization for the Scotts Run disasters, but he concluded with a conjecture that when the world was older "things [would] be done differently." Indeed, Eugene McAuliffe's warning finally came to fruition in the late 1960s, when legislation empowered government mine inspectors to issue citations for unsafe conditions and provided the authority to halt mine production if certain safety requirements remained unfulfilled. The coal industry had demonstrated that, even with individuals as genuinely concerned as Frank Christopher, it would never adequately regulate itself.97


1. Black Diamond, 25 July 1942.

2. Morgantown Dominion-News, 1 August 1942; James R. Sutphen, "How To Reduce Absenteeism," Practical Coal Mining Methods (New York: Coal Age, 1944), 219.

3. "Public Relations: Coals No. 2 Job," Practical Coal Mining Methods, 20. The "No. 1" job was winning the war.

4. Morgantown Dominion-News, 5 May 1942.

5. Interview by the author, Paul E. Brown (Electrical Inspector, West Virginia Department of Miners Health, Safety, and Training), Oak Hill, 18 December 1992; West Virginia Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942 (Charleston: Jarrett Printing, 1942), 33. All Department of Mines reports are hereafter cited by year.

6. H. B. Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions in the United States, 1810-1958 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1960), 167; United Mine Workers Journal, 15 July 1942, hereafter referred to as UMWJ; Eugene McAuliffe, "Certain Aspects of Coal Mine Safety," Coal Mine Modernization Year Book, 1941 (Washington, DC: American Mining Congress, 1941), 22. The yearbook is a report of various paper presentations and panel comments during the Eighteenth Annual Coal Convention.

7. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 18-20, 26-36; U. S. Office of Civil Defense, Protection of Industrial Plants and Public Buildings (14 August 1941), 4-5.

8. U. S. Bureau of Mines, Final Report of Mine Explosion, No. 3 Mine, Christopher Coal Company, Osage, Monongalia County, W. Va., May 12, 1942 (Pittsburgh: Bureau of Mines, [1942]), 2; interview by the author, Stanley Solomon, Osage, 29October 1992.

9. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 2; Fred R. Toothman, Great Coal Leaders of West Virginia (Huntington: Vandalia Book Company, 1988), 13; interview with Stanley Solomon.

10. Interview with Stanley Solomon; Fairmont Times, 13 May 1942.

11. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 29; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 18; Fairmont Times, 13 May 1942.

12. Keith Dix, What's a Coal Miner to Do?: The Mechanization of Coal Mining (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1988), 104-06; R. H. Nicholas, "Safety with Mechanical Mining," Coal Mine Modernization Year Book, 1941, 21; UMWJ, 15 May 1942.

13. Dix, What's a Coal Miner to Do?, 84, 106; Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 15; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 8. Obviously, the long-term effects of breathing coal dust would later produce respiratory diseases.

14. UMWJ, 15 May 1942.

15. Interview by the author, James Lively (Superintendent, Meadow River Mine), Lookout, 23 October 1992; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 8; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 18.

16. Government agencies failed to arrive at a consensus concerning the ignition source. Both agencies supplied convincing evidence for their conclusions. See Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 17-18 and Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 38; Morgantown Dominion-News, 9 July 1942.

17. N. P. Rinehart, Mine Foreman's Examination Guide, 1937 (Charleston: Jarrett Printing Co., 1937), 8; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 16-18 and map of "Mine No. 3 First Right Section Explosion Area" following page 18; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 8, 36-38, 43; interview with James Lively; UMWJ, 1 August 1942; J. J. Forbes and G. W. Grove, Mine Gases and Methods for Detecting Them (Washington, DC: GPO, 1954), 17. Evidence suggests that at least twelve men survived the initial explosion on 1 Right but quickly suffocated in the poisonous atmosphere.

18. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 35-38; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 16-18 and map of "Mine No. 3."

19. Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 30.

20. Forbes and Grove, Mine Gases, 17; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 3, 30.

21. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 3, 31. Return airways are those entries where ventilation currents, having passed through the working areas, exhaust toward the outside.

22. National Mine Rescue Association, Questions and Answers on Rescue and Recovery Operations Following Mine Fires and Explosions (Pittsburgh: Mine Safety Appliances Co., 1938); Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 30-31; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, map of "Mine No. 3."

23. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 3, 31.

24. Ibid., 31-32. Frank Christopher probably feared that without ventilation potential post-explosion fires could ignite another blast.

25. Mine Rescue Association, Questions and Answers, 23; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 32.

26. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 32-33; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, map of "Mine No. 3"; Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942; Fairmont Times, 13 May 1942; UMWJ, 1 June 1942.

27. Mine Rescue Association, Questions and Answers, 17-18; Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942; Fairmont Times, Extra, 12 May 1942; UMWJ, 1 June 1942; interview with Stanley Solomon.

28. UMWJ, 1 June 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942; Fairmont Times, Extra, 12 May 1942.

29. Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942.

30. UMWJ, 1 June 1942; Fairmont Times, 13 May 1942.

31. Fairmont Times, 13 May 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 May 1942; interview with Stanley Solomon.

32. Morgantown Dominion-News, 14 May 1942; Fairmont Times, 14 May 1942.

33. Modern-day miners have a metallic identification tag attached to their mining bets.

34. UMWJ, 1 June 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 14 May 1942; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 44; Fairmont Times, 14 May 1942.

35. Morgantown Dominion-News, 14 May 1942; Fairmont Times, 14 May 1942.

36. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 34; Morgantown Dominion-News, 14 May 1942; Fairmont Times, 14 May 1942.

37. Morgantown Dominion-News, 15 May 1942; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 31; UMWJ, 1 June 1942.

38. Morgantown Dominion-News, 23 and 30 May 1942. Eleanor Roosevelt informed the Osage community she would advise the president that Christopher No. 3 was a well-mapped, modern mine.

39. UMWJ, 15 July 1942.

40. Fairmont Times, 14 May 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 15 May 1942; UMWJ, 1 June and 15 July 1942.

41. UMWJ, 15 July 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 15-30 May, 31 July, and 4 August 1942.

42. UMWJ, 1 June and 15 July 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 15 and 28 May and 4 August 1942; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 32.

43. Morgantown Dominion-News, 23 May 1942. The dismembered casualty was probably that of an unfortunate shot-fireman who was transporting explosives in the "powder bag" at his side. This situation led to one unusual theory concerning the origin of the explosion. See Morgantown Dominion-News, 9 August 1942.

44. Morgantown Dominion-News, 16, 22, 30, and 31 May 1942; UMWJ, 1 June 1942. Even the final report of the Bureau of Mines lamented the loss of fifty-six skilled miners who were "greatly needed for the war effort." Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 29.

45. Practical Coal Mining Methods, 93; Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 2, 29, 34; Morgantown Dominion-News, 25 May 1942. This 1944 explosion cost estimation was based on sixty-one fatalities.

46. Bureau of Mines, Final Report, 2, 38; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 20; Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 160; UMWJ, 1 August 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 9 July 1942.

47. UMWJ, 1 August 1942 and 15 May 1951.

48. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 126; interview with Stanley Solomon.

49. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1941, 126-27; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 26-27; UMWJ, 1 August 1942; Black Diamond, 11 August 1923; Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, passim; interview with Stanley Solomon.

50. UMWJ, 1 August 1942; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 26-27 and map of "Mine No. 2, 20 & 24 Face Bleeder Sections Off 15 Butts, Explosion Area, July 9, 1942" following page 28; Engineering Department, Jeffrey Mine Handbook, Number 380 (Columbus, OH: Jeffrey Manufacturing Co., 1924), 103. Inspection reports in all areas of the state indicate the frequency of this practice. An industry-wide summary is available in Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 162-63.

51. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 27, 32-38, and map of "Mine No. 2"; Rinehart, Mine Foremans Examination Guide, 1937, 88; UMWJ, 15 September 1942.

52. Morgantown Dominion-News, 11 July 1942; Fairmont Times, 11 July 1942; West Virginia Department of Mines, Quarterly Report, Coal Mining Section, July-September, 1942 (Charleston: Department of Mines, 1942), 20-22; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, map of "Mine No. 2."

53. Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 186; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 32-33 and map of "Mine No. 2"; UMWJ, 15 September 1942. The author is indebted to Safety Instructor Allen Van Horn of the West Virginia Department of Miners' Health, Safety, and Training for explaining the physical behaviors of a coal-dust explosion.

54. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 28-31 and map of "Mine No. 2."

55. Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 July 1942; Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 186. There is no adequate vidence that the workers, other than the night foreman, were totally aware of the situation. Although some individuals reported various sensations after the fact, they could easily have been associated with heavy pillar or rooffalls.

56. Before the advent of "voice paging" systems, mines used "crank" telephones and assigned a series of "long" and "short" rings for each section. It is certain that the continual ringing in the stillness during the power failure aroused suspicion that something unusual had occurred.

57. Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 186; Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 July 1942.

58. Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 186; UMWJ, 1 August 1942; Fairmont Times, Extra, 10 July 1942; Fairmont Times, 10 and 11 July 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 July 1942.

59. Fairmont Times, 10 and 11 July 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 July 1942; UMWJ, 15 September 1942.

60. Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 and 16 July 1942; Fairmont Times, 10 July 1942.

61. Fairmont Times, 10-12 July 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 July 1942.

62. Fairmont Times, 11 July 1942.

63. Morgantown Dominion-News, 10 July 1942; UMWJ, 15 September 1942; Fairmont Times, 10 and 11 July 1942; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 28-31 and map of "Mine No. 2."

64. Morgantown Dominion-News, 11 July 1942; Fairmont Times, 12 July 1942.

65. Morgantown Dominion-News, 11 and 14 July 1942; Fairmont Times, 12 July 1942; UMWJ, 1 August 1942.

66. Workers at the Riggs-Distler Company gave often and generously to the Osage fund. See Morgantown Dominion-News, 15-25 July 1942.

67. Ibid., 12 July-3 August 1942.

68. Ibid., 14 July 1942; UMWJ, 1 August 1942; Fairmont Times, 12 July 1942.

69. Fairmont Times, 11 and 12 July 1942; Morgantown Dominion-News, 14 July 1942; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 32-36; UMWJ, 15 September 1942.

70. UMWJ, 15 September 1942.

71. "Fire Destroys Pursglove No. 15 Tipple," Coal Age 46(July 1941): 131; "All-Out Fan Drive Tops Ventilation Work at Pursglove No. 15," Coal Age 47(August 1942): 56.

72. Morgantown Dominion-News, 1 August 1942.

73. Ibid.; U. S. Bureau of Mines, Final Report on Major Explosion Disaster, Bunker Mine, Trotter Coal Company (October 15, 1951) (Fairmont: Bureau of Mines, [1951]), 4.

74. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1942, 13; Morgantown Dominion-News, 12 January and 5 February 1943. The reason for the fire is unclear and two opinions were voiced at the inquest: the trolley wire came in contact with the motor by a rooffall, or the locomotive controller experienced an electrical explosion. Hakin believed the controller "blew-up."

75. Rinehart, Mine Foremans Examination Guide, 1937, 93; Morgantown Dominion-News, 5 February 1943. In fairness to Quinn, the extent of the fire was probably greater than he first imagined and ascertaining Robinettes condition constituted a reasonable priority.

76. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1943, 13; Fairmont Times, 10 January 1943; Morgantown Dominion-News, 12 January and 5 February 1943.

77. Morgantown Dominion-News, 5 February 1943.

78. Ibid, 9 and 12 January and 5 February 1943; Fairmont Times, 12 January 1943; Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1943, 14.

79. Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1943, 14; Morgantown Dominion-News, 5 February 1943. The annual report and inquest testimonies contain several contradictions concerning the events surrounding Quinn, McGee, and Gainer.

80. Fairmont Times, 10 and 11 January 1943; Morgantown Dominion-News, 12 January and 5 February 1943; West Virginia Department of Mines, Quarterly Report, Coal Mining Section, January-March 1943 (Charleston: Department of Mines, 1943), 22. Superintendent William Reeves speculated that the Section 15 crew followed their oute because they entered the mine that way. This probably has some validity, but it seems apparent that the company did not regularly inform section leaders of daily ventilation changes. See Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1943, 15.

81. Morgantown Dominion-News, 9 January 1943; Fairmont Times, 10 January 1943.

82. Fairmont Times, 10 January 1943; Morgantown Dominion-News, 9 January 1943. The Dominion-News erroneously reported that eleven fatalities were brought to the surface.

83. Rinehart, Mine Foreman's Examination Guide, 1937, 93; Fairmont Times, 10 January 1943.

84. Fairmont Times, 10 and 11 January 1943.

85. Ibid.; Mine Rescue Association, Questions and Answers, 12; Rinehart, Mine Foreman's Examination Guide, 1937, 91; Morgantown Dominion-News, 12 and 13 January and 4 February 1943. Mine inspectors complained about the procrastination of Pursglove managers to reach a decision concerning sealing the mine.

86. Morgantown Dominion-News, 13 January 1943, 1 March 1943.

87. Ibid., 18 January-13 March 1943; UMWJ, 15 January 1943.

88. Department of Mines, Quarterly Report, Coal Mining Section, January-March 1943, 21; Morgantown Dominion-News, 4 and 5 March 1943.

89. Rinehart, Mine Foreman's Examination Guide, 1937, 93; Morgantown Dominion-News, 25 January 1943. Pursglove incorrectly assumed the fire had been extinguished. Apparently it was late spring before tests indicated success. See Morgantown Dominion-News, 27 July 1943.

90. Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 170; "New Pursglove Organization Plans to Rehabilitate," Coal Age 48(August 1943): 131-32; Morgantown Dominion-News, 27 July 1943.

91. John Braithwaite, To Punish or Persuade: Enforcement of Coal Mine Safety (Albany: Univ. of New York Press, 1985), 34; Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 227.

92. McAuliffe, "Certain Aspects of Coal Mine Safety," 16-18.

93. Ibid.

94. Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 1; Loren Pope, Bituminous Coal Annual (Washington, DC: National Coal Association, 1951), 169; Morgantown Dominion-News, 14 May 1942.

95. U. S. Bureau of Mines, Bituminous Coal Mine Safety-Inspection Outline, information circular 6829 (Pittsburgh: Bureau of Mines, 1935), 1; Humphrey, Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions, 229.

96. Morgantown Dominion-News, 16 and 21 July 1943.

97. Fairmont Times, 1 July 1942 and 10 January 1943; William Sievers Graebner, "Coal Mining Safety: National Solutions in the Progressive Period" (Ph. D. diss., University of Illinois, 1970), 1.

Paul H. Rakes is a graduate student in history at West Virginia University and worked twenty years as an electrical troubleshooter for the Pittston Coal Corporation.

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West Virginia History Journal

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