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American Gilsonite Mine Explosion

Bonanza, Utah
November 5, 1953
No. Killed - 8



From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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8 Killed as Fiery Blast Rips Utah Mine
Press Telegram, Long Beach, California
November 5, 1953

Vernal, Utah -- (UPI) -- A violent explosion, followed by fire, today trapped and killed at least eight men in an open pit mine at Bonanza, Utah.

A Vernal mortuary said the American Gilsonite Company had advised it the death toll was eight.  The Utah Highway Patrol said eight men were caught in the pit by the violent blast and "they definitely are lost."

Gilsonite is a hydrocarbon substance, similar to hard coal, that in dust form is highly explosive.  The mine, the only one of its kind in the world, is situated at Bonanza, 40 miles southeast of here.

Three men were treated in Vernal for injuries.  One of them, Orman Stephens, said he was standing beside the pit entrance when "I heard a terrific roar."

"I started to run as pieces of burning timber and gilsonite fell all around me," Stephens said.  The fire, he reported, was so violent that it singed the backs of men running "quite a ways" from the mine.

Mine Manager John H. Baker refused to discuss the blast.  His wife said the explosion, at 8:10 a.m., aroused the entire mining community, along the Utah - Colorado border, "and pretty soon fire trucks and ambulances started coming in from all over."

The mine had been closed for three months this summer and fall by a labor dispute but production resumed about three weeks ago when a new contract was signed by the company and the United Steelworkers of America (CIO).

The American Gilsonite Company is an affiliate of Standard Oil Company of California and the Barber Oil Company of New York.


Hopes Held for 5 Trapped Miners
The Lima News, Ohio
November 6, 1953

Bonanza, Utah (INS) -- Rescue crews groped downward today through a smoke-filled mine shaft in hopes five of eight miners still may be alive at the 300-foot level of the American Gilsonite mine at Bonanza.

An explosion and fire cut off the mine shaft Thursday.  The fire was controlled hours later, but rescuers were unable to enter the shaft immediately because of fumes, steam and smoke, which continued to billow from the mouth of the mine.

Four miners working on the surface received burns.

Rescuers were able to enter the shaft Thursday night using drag-line buckets.  Inside the shaft, they thought they heard voices, which may have come from five miners trapped at the 300-foot level.  Three other miners were trapped at the 600-foot level of the 750-foot shaft.

Workers stepped up their efforts to reach the lower levels after learning some of the miners may have survived the disaster.

Gilsonite, a highly volatile hydrocarbon, used in the manufacture of battery cases and as a paint and varnish base, is found only at Bonanza.

The explosion, believed caused by gilsonite dust, hurled debris for over a quarter mile area.  Fire then broke out, burning support timbers in the mine shaft.


Rescue Teams Abandon Hope
Billings Gazette, Montana
November 7, 1953

Bonanza, Utah (AP) -- Two rescue workers, encased in a giant metal bucket, dropped deep into the smoke-filled maw of a blast-wrecked gilsonite mine Friday but found no trace of eight missing miners.

Little hope was held that the men, trapped 500 feet below the surface by an explosion and fire Thursday, were still alive.

Fellow miners thought they heard faint cries coming out of the explosion debris Thursday night.  However, George Collins, day shift boss, and Joe Postma, a miner, said only falling rocks and sagging timbers broke the eerie silence when they were lowered to the 300-foot level.

Collins and Postma were in a metal bucket -- fitted with a steel cover -- which was lowered on a cable.  The men wore oxygen masks and carried emergency equipment in the hopes that some of the missing men might be alive.

Rescuers, their faces coated with a white, protective paste, continued digging into the debris.  The main fire is out but smaller blazes continued to send fumes out of the giant trench.

The explosion wrecked the hoist house and several hundred feet of the open-cut mine which follows the deep, vertical vein of gilsonite across the northwestern Utah wasteland, about 48 miles southeast of Vernal.  Gilsonite, a black, coal-like substance, is a solid form of petrolium used in paints, varnishes and linoleum compounds.

The blast spewed burning timber and rock throughout the choking depths.  A huge pillar of smoke mounted into the gloomy, overcast sky.  Out of the smoke Thursday night, one rescuer thought he could identify the smothered cries as those of Hal L. Cook, 26, of Vernal, and Jay Var Timothy, 21, of Bonanza.

They were trapped along with six others when an unexplained explosion ripped through the mine just after the day shift descended Thursday morning.  Three mine workers were injured in the explosion.

In addition to Timothy and Cook, the American Gilsonite Company listed the missing men as Joe K. Baker, 34; Ulis Harper, 42; Glenn Jackson, 37; Kenneth R. Richins, 25; John Orval Smuin, 38, all of Vernal, and Everett Goodrich, 31, of Blue Bell, Utah.

Relatives of the trapped miners spent most of Thursday and Thursday night clustered around the pit, but later many of them had been persuaded to return to their homes and wait for word.  The wives who refused to leave were put up for the night by Bonanza residents.


Shaft Workers Find Bodies of Two Bonanza Utah Miners
Billings Gazette, Montana
March 14, 1954

Bonanza, Utah (AP) -- Bodies of two men buried in the Nov. 5, 1953, explosion at the American Gilsonite Company mine were recovered by workers sinking a new shaft Friday.

A crew found the bodies of Kenneth Ray Richins, 25, Vernal, and Joe K. Baker, 25, Vernal.  Still missing is the body of Everett Goodrich, 31, Bonanza.

Eight men were killed in the explosion.  Five bodies were recovered within a few days, during frantic rescue attempts conducted in hopes some of the buried miners might have survived the blast.



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