united states mine rescue association Mine Disasters in the United States
Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company Greenback/Buckridge Colliery Fire
August 21, 1884
No. Killed - 8
Eight Lives Lost at the Buckridge Colliery
The New York Times, New York
August 22, 1884
Pottsville, Penn., Aug. 21. -- One of the worst mine accidents that has happened in the Northumberland region for many years occurred to-day at the Greenback colliery, near Shamokin, which has just been purchased by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, causing the death of eight men.
The fire which broke out at the Buckridge colliery yesterday is burning with increased fury, and threatens the destruction of the Buckridge and Greenback collieries. General Manager S. B. Whiting, Mining Engineer Luther, and District Superintendents Booth, Williams, Veith, and Doyle, visited the scene of the fire, and decided that the best means of accomplishing the most good toward checking the progress of the fire would be to drive a hole from the Greenback gangway into the air course of the Buckridge workings, through which a stream of water could easily be forced into the burning mine.
Seven or eight skillful miners were selected, and under the direction of Superintendents Williams and Booth the work was begun. The miners were well aware of the dangers they were exposing themselves to, and consequently worked cautiously. The work was so rapidly and successfully pushed forward that the hope was entertained that the extinguishing of the fire was a matter of only a few days or a week.
This morning, however, after Superintendents Booth and Williams, who were constantly with the men driving the hole, left them for the purpose of examining the fire at the slope, Peter Welker, the stable boss, went down the Greenback slope to feed 15 mules which were working inside.
On the way Welker noticed a peculiar jarring of the car on which he was riding. He became frightened and jumped from the wagon, and was horrified to find the form of a man lying across the track, with out-stretched hands, trying to grasp the rail. Welker signaled the engineer to stop, and, before he could see who the man on the track was, he was overcome by the deadly gas. But fortunately he fell near the car, into which he crawled. He then grasped the bell and signaled the engineer to hoist.
The car soon reached the surface, but Welker, who lay inside, was unconscious. He was taken from the car and restoratives were applied, which had the effect of bringing him to, when he told the story as above.
This was the first knowledge any one had of trouble inside. Frand Wordrop and Valentine Depner, miners, volunteered to enter the slope and ascertain the fate of the men inside. Ropes were securely fastened around their bodies, and they slowly descended into the treacherous hole. They went down several hundred yards, when they signaled to be hoisted up, and not a moment too soon. Almost dead, they were hauled up and properly cared for.
This was conclusive evidence that the eight miners and 15 mules still inside had perished. The cause of the accident, as explained by the experts, occurred by the accumulation of a large body of gas in the old workings, which forced itself down to where the men were at work, choking them to death, the mules meeting the same fate.
The names of the victims, all of whom live at Greenback Patch, a short distance from the mine, are as follows:
William Carl, 38, leaving a wife and three children
William Clark, 38, wife and two children
Patrick Healy, 41, wife and four children
William Shankweiler, 39, wife and six children
William Taylor, 44, wife and one child
George Beek, 36, wife and two children
William Fox, 30, wife and two children
Robert White, 15, son of Inside Superintendent White
The news of the accident was quickly heralded throughout Shamokin and neighboring towns, causing the greatest excitement. Several thousand people soon assembled at the mouth of the slope, among which were the families of the victims. The scene is one long to be remembered -- the little ones, closely clinging to the broken-hearted mothers and wives, who eagerly watched everything that was being done toward the recovery of the dead, which may probably not be until tomorrow.
Much credit is due to General Manager Whiting and his able assistants, who are risking their own lives and sparing no expense to accomplish this, though it is certain death to anyone to attempt to enter the mine, from which issues the deathly gases in large quantities.
As a last resort it was resolved at 4 o'clock this afternoon to open the bottom vein slope at the Buckridge, which would change the current of air at the Greenback, and, by means of a fan, force it back to Buckridge. If this plan can be successfully carried out the bodies may be reached tonight.
The loss to the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company may reach $100,000, and the employes, who number 700 or 800 men and boys, will be forced into idleness for eight or ten months.