Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charles Walton's Story

I have a wonderful grandma who loves to research. She's spent years searching for stories and information on our relatives. And I thank her for that.
I've shared this story in the previous post, but at the time I didn't have all the info, nor did I have the story written in my relatives words. Now I do. The story below is an account from my Grandpa Charles Walton.
 Top left to bottom right: Estelle, Danie, Sarah, Tillie,
Arthur, Hattie, and Charles. (Andrew, the oldest, isn't in the picture)

The Scofield Carbon County Mine explosion

The year of 1900 a terrible event happened which changed the direction and lives of the whole family.  The Sunday School was in the process of gathering to braid the Maypole and enjoy the day, when a man on horseback rode up to the crowd crying at the top of his voice, "Number four mine has been blown to hell,"  The picture of two hundred black faced, some mangled bodies laid all over the school floor was a sight unforgettable.  Two Walton brothers, Andrew and Danie were working at the mine.  This is Danie' Walton's history of that disaster.

At the time of the disaster I was nineteen years of age.   It was May Day,  May 1st 1900.  The miners  went to work at 7:00 AM as usual but being May Day,  they anticipated the celebration which was to take place in the afternoon.   A celebration to most miners was to get out into the sunshine and fresh air or gather at their favorite saloon. 
     I was especially happy that day for being a miner myself, instead of taking my usual place on the fifth level of the No. 4 mine,  I had to go into the thick underbrush of peavine and quaking aspen trees to look for our milk cow and her new calf.   To our family this meant a fresh supply of milk and I was to find the cow and calf and bring them back home.  Mother had packed a lunch as I was not expected to be home until late in the evening. 
     I was happy to be on my way, climbing the trails, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air and the welcome signs of spring and at the same time listening for the tinkle of the bell which we had tied on the cow's neck.  Just as I passed over the area which I later learned was almost directly above the fifth level of the mine, I felt the earth tremble.  I recall wondering to myself what it could be and remember looking at my old Ingersoll watch which read ten o'clock.  Not being able to figure out what had caused the tremble, I continued on my way without giving it any futher thought.  I searched most of the afternoon before I finally heard the tinkle of the bell.  The new calf had to be carried most of the way home so I did not arrive until after dark.
   As I neared the town, I was struck by the unusual amount of activity.  The entire town was lit up and nine special railway cars had been left on the main line near our home.  As I came nearer I could see that coffee, milk and sandwiches along with flowers were being distributed to the dozens of heart stricken people I met everywhere.  I found out the earth tremor which I had heard and felt earlier that morning was one of the worst mining disasters ever recorded.  Two hundred and eight men and boys lost their lives in the 'dust' explosion at the No. 4 mine in Scofield, Carbon County, Utah.
   Our home was a hive of activity, serving food and giving aid where possible.   Instead of the reception I had anticipated,   I was very unceremoniously shoved into the kitchen, given a dish towel and told to get busy.  My sister Libbie, managed to give me the details.  Our older brother Andrew was in bed unconscious and not expected to live.  To my sadness I was told that Louis Lychem , a great friend of mine who had taken my place at the mine that day was still missing.  Miraculously Andrew regained consciousness and gave his account of the explosion.

Andrew was a driver on the first level - a driver being one who handles the horses which pulls the empty cars to the miners, who in turn blast the coal loose and loads about 2200 to 2500 Pounds of coal into each car.  These loaded cars were then taken to the main entrance where they were  literally dropped down the half mile track to the exit by an electric hoist.  He had just taken empty cars to all of his men  and was waiting at the switch about a quarter of a mile from the main entrance.
Superintendant Parmely and General Foreman Andrew Hood happened to come along just at that time making an inspection tour.   Seconds later they felt the blast and were almost knocked off their feet.  They all knew it was a serious explosion and the Superintendent instructed my brother Andrew to get word to as many men as possible on his level to hurry out a safe exit and not the usual exit which would be in the direct path of the explosion.  Andrew ran two mile through the mine telling all the men on this level what had happened and where to make a safe exit.  They were successful in saving the lives of all the men on the first and few of the men on the second level, but we finally overcome themselves by the after-damp and all of the men on the third, fourth and fifth levels perished.
The term 'after-damp' is the term used when the oxygen has been burned out of the air.  Dozens of men lost their lives not knowing where the explosion had taken place, or where to get out as there was absolutely no way of communicating with them inside the mine. 
The persistent and heroic efforts of the Superintendent, the Forman, and Andrew to save the lives of the miners almost cost them their own. Andrew was finally carried home and that was where I found him on my arrival.
I went to see Louis Lychen's mother the next day and I shall never forget the anguish and sorrow in her eyes as she said " Oh, if you had only gone to work, my boy would be alive"   I could only weep with her as that was a fact.  Her boy had taken my place.  I promised her I would assist in getting his body out as soon as the air pumps had been replaced.
The mines were very dry and dusty and very little watering was done to keep down the coal dust which clung to everything about an inch thick.  This was especially true on the fifth level where the explosion was believed to have taken place.  We do not know what caused the explosion exactly but I believe it was started by an open twenty- five pound keg of black powder which was intensified by the accumulation of fine coal dust.  After the disaster many precautions were taken to prevent such a tragedy from re-occurring, but this was little solace to the widows and fatherless children of the 208 who perished.  It was three months or more before all of the bodies had been recovered, for many of them were buried under great rock cave-ins caused by the timbers being completely blown out.
I recall Superintendent Parmley shaking my hand warmly knowing as I did I was indeed fortunate being alive.  I obtained permission from him to go to the fifth level and with the help of others we finally located the badly burned body of Louis, lying by my horse.  I could not help weeping again for the finest friend a boy ever had - 'the one who had taken my place.'
Andrew Jackson Walton survived the mine explosion, but he was totally deaf the rest of his life.

Pin It

1 comment:

Pam Williams said...

That's a pretty gripping story, Christine. My husband's relative was 15 years old, and it was his first day in the mine. He and his stepfather were both killed.

Pin It button on image hover