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 Post subject: Hastings Mine Disaster - 1917 - Colorado
PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2015 11:14 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 5:28 pm
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Location: Lakewood, Colorado
1917 HASTINGS MINE DISASTER, HASTINGS, COLORADO “Mining Accidents United States, Canada, Australia & New Zealand”

On a Friday, April 27, 1917, at the Hastings Mine, Hastings, CO, near Ludlow in Las Animas County, Colorado’s worst mine disaster occurred. The mine was owned by the Victor-American Fuel Company, main office in Denver, who also owned the Colorado & Southeastern railroad. The company’s Hasting mining history goes back to before 1871. John D Rockefeller, Jr, owned majority interest in the company. Twenty-three mules and 121 men, all employed by the Victor-American Fuel company, consisting of 93 miners virtually all foreign born, and consisting of about 28 company men were killed in a 1917 explosion. A company man is a man who works for the company by the hour or by the day, such as track layers, timber men, drivers and cagers, as distinguished from miners who work under contract, as by the ton, yard, etc. A company man is usually anyone with a non-miner job title. He also brushes down the wall and roof when apparently dangerous; loads the loose rock & debris into cars and pushes them out to the haulage road. 73 of the fatalities had been employed by the company less than one year. The Hastings miners were paid $0.58 per ton which usually amounted to about $3.24 per day. The breakdown of the 121 fatalities by nationality is 35 Greeks, 33 Austrians, 13 Mexicans, 13 Americans, 13 Italians, 7 Blacks, 3 Polish, 2 Welch, 1 Serbian and 1 Spaniard. The men varied in age from 16 to 58. Dependents of the deceased were 141 orphans under the age of 16 and 62 widows.
The mine was situated three miles up Hastings canyon from Ludlow, at the entrance to the Hastings and Berwind canyons, 16 miles from Trinidad. The mine is on the Colorado & Southeastern Railroad connecting with the Colorado & Southern Railroad at Ludlow and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad at Barnes, three miles east of the mine. The main slope or “B” seam of the Hastings mine was driven straight into the mountain, with only a slight 5% slope, with the far workings back some 3,600 feet from the entrance, about three quarters of a mile. From the peak surface above, the “B” seam is approximately 8,000 feet from the surface. The mine is opened on the “A” Seam by a slope driven on the dip of the seam. At a point about 2,000 feet from the portal of the mine a rock tunnel or slope connects the two seams, the vertical distance between them being about 40 feet. Seven pairs of north and south entries have been opened from the main slope and ranging from 300 to 1,800 feet in length. At the time only the fourth, sixth and seventh north entries, the sixth and seventh south entries and the main slopes were being worked, the others being worked out or stopped.
The mine was ventilated by a Sirocco fan 8 feet by 8 feet. The volume of air varied from 91,000 to 96,000 cubic feet per minute under a water gauge of 2.9 inches. The volume of air entering the “B” seam amounted to 50,000 cubic feet per minute, split at the third and fourth cross entries off the fourth north which were connected with the third north entry; this volume again meeting the main volume below the fourth north. Another split ventilated the fifth south entries. The balance of the workings were on a continuous current.
The mine normally employed about 100 men to a shift and had a capacity of 1,000 tons of coal a day. The Berwind or “ B” bituminous coal seam at the Hastings mine was the lower seam lying above the Trinidad sandstone, and varied in thickness from 5 ½ to 7 feet. Haulage was done by hand, rope and mules. Pumping was done by electric pumps stationed on the intake air. In the main slopes the coal was cut by an electric mining machine. The electric mining machine and duster were down for repair on April 27th. The thumb screws that hold the feed wires in place on the electric cutting machine were not there. The mine had always been considered a gaseous wet mine. The grade was undulating, resembling waves with standing water in all the lower depressions. On top of the higher raises a state of dampness existed. Under such conditions the percentage of gas given off was not considered dangerous.
From the MSHA accident report, the workings are reached by a rock slope. The coal is undercut by hand, except that an electric cutting machine is used in slope entries. All workings are gaseous and fire bosses are employed. Prior to the explosion all places were reported “clear” unless tests with a flame safety lamp gave a cap greater than 5/8-inch in height. A continuous current is used for ventilating the mine. Nonpermissible electric cap lamps are used by all miners, inspectors carry key-locked flame safety lamps, and fire bosses carry magnetic locked Wolfe lamps. The safety lamps being used for testing purposes. The mine is generally quite damp. Two fire bosses made their rounds preparatory for the day shift on that morning and made written reports that the mine was clear of gas. Frank Millatto had made two trips into the mine that morning. A trip of cars on the rope going in by gravity after 9 a.m. had reached a point 1,300 feet in by the mouth when the explosion occurred. The trip rider, Frank Millatto, was making his third trip into the mine and was riding the string of empty coal cars. He neither heard nor felt anything unusual, but the explosion caused the signal wires to cross and rang the bell to stop the trip. He then saw smoke coming up the slope and ran out to give the alarm of fire. He was the only man in the mine who escaped. Smoke issued from the main slope and the south manway, and an investigating party of officials followed fresh air until the affected area was reached.
The fan was not injured as the force of the explosion did not reach the surface, having spent itself on the intake at the third north entry, and on the return at about the second north; at this point there was a very wet zone.
Helmet parties worked 400 feet ahead of the rescue crew. The rescue parties were hampered by a lack of air and by falls that had torn down the brattices in important places and made ventilation almost impossible until the breaks had been repaired. Lumber and canvas for this repair work were carried by the men on their backs for more than three-quarters of a mile. Rescue crews worked continuously in short shifts. The rescue crews reported that damages to the mine interior was great, timbers blown out, heavy falls of rock obstructed the passageways, and pit cars were turned across the tracks. These obstructions proved to be effective barriers to entering the places where the men had worked. On account of the destruction of stoppings and falls of rock materially affecting the air current, all the workings below the fourth north being full of gas, the work of recovering the bodies progressed very slowly. In order to get into the different entries with the volume of air at hand, each pair of entries were bratticed off as soon as the bodies in sight had been removed.
By nightfall, a gathering of relatives had occurred. The walling of bereaved widows, sons and daughters, many shouting and praying in foreign tongues, could be heard through Hastings. Hastings, Colorado, at the time had a population of about 1000. The mining camp of Hastings was adjacent to the mine operational buildings. Five bodies had been found by 11:30 pm. The bodies were laid in a row on burlap on the brick floor of the machine shop. Fortunately a weekend snowstorm kept the women and children in their homes and prevented confusion.
On Monday, April 30th, a Bureau of Mines Rescue car arrived from Golden at Trinidad. A mine rescue car usually was equipped with mine rescue equipment and consisted of a mining engineer and three rescue miners well trained in mine rescue. On May 7th the car was moved to Hastings at the request of the mining company President, G. F. Bartlett and for the mine car crew to be more involved in the rescue. The mining company had felt previously that they were able to handle the rescue themselves.
Oxygen-breathing-apparatus crews were then required, as practically all stoppings in the “B” seam were totally wrecked and heavy fall had occurred. Gas and dust had spread the explosion to every section of the mine.
One apparatus man, Walter Kerr, age 26, married with 3 children, from the nearby Berwind Mine and in charge of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company’s Helmet Crew, died about May 6th. While carrying a body out of the mine, he suddenly left his crew and was later found dead in a crosscut at the face of the seventh north entry. It was found that he had a defective heart, and over-exertion caused heart failure. Another man, a Mexican, collapsed from overexertion but recovered. Rescuers were called from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s camp across the hill from the scene of the accident and from Dawson, New Mexico, where a blast four years earlier at the Phelps Dodge mine killed 263 persons. The bodies of those killed were scorched. Their hair burned off and their skin and flesh blackened, but not otherwise in bad condition, indicating that most of the men died of suffocation after the explosion indicating that a sheet of flame swept through the mine after the explosion, probably killing all of the men in the mine instantly. In many cases identification was possible only by the numbered brass checks carried by each miner. A temporary morgue was set up in the power plant until the bodies could be moved to Trinidad by a special train. The bodies were laid out on long tables. By May 10th, 101 bodies were recovered. The remaining 20 bodies were recovered when ventilation was restored and the falls were cleaned up well into the following year. Most of the victims were buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Trinidad, the Masonic Cemetery in Trinidad and in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery two miles north of Aguilar or about four miles from Hastings. Today most of these victims have no gravestones on their graves. Most Greeks were buried in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery. The Knights of Pythias is a male fraternal organization and secret society which provides for “worthy Pythias’s in distress” and other worthy causes.
Both state officials and company officials felt that every safety appliance had been utilized and that every precaution had been taken to make the mine safe for operation prior to the disaster.
There was no visiting from house to house in Hastings to express sympathy because every household had a terrible grief of its own. However, men did congregate in the Social Club.
Shortly after the disaster, an imposter claiming to be an Austrian consul working for the interests of the Australian people robbed the families of several of the Austrian victims of paper and money. One case was reported that $1700 was taken from a trunk together with papers brought from the old country.
Henry Haines who was a regular miner on the day crew missed the disaster because he was sentenced on April 6th to jail for 60 days for discharging a gun. Two of the victims were Charles and Bruno Niccoli, Italian brothers, both originally charged with the death of an Australian coal miner during a melee in the camp almost two years earlier. The Noccoli brothers were twice tried in District court, and twice the jury could not reach agreement. Jack Tomsick, a brother of Emil Tomsick, the man that Niccoli was accused of killing also perished, and their bodies were found two feet apart.
Among the bodies recovered was that of George F. Brown, a coal miner, who was found on his knees with his coat over his head, indicating that he may have lived for some little time after the explosion and had thrown his coat over his face to keep out the deadly fumes of the afterdamp. The rescue crews have reported several instances of this kind. A Slavish coal miner was found sitting erect with his back against the side of the working place in the most peaceful attitude possible, as if he had quietly sat down and waited for death or had been sitting down when he was overtaken by death. The body of every Greek miner killed in the disaster at Hastings had, upon searching, yielded a substantial sum of money. On the leg of one was discovered, securely tied, a portion of a girl’s stocking, in which was $1,700 in currency, equivalent to about $20,000 in todays’ dollars. Most of the Greek miners carried on their own persons, in that fashion, all their mobile wealth. One of the Hastings Mine recovered bodies had $3000 on it, but they could not find any relatives. Although newspaper articles state these items, it should be noted that at the inquest, Coroner J T Bradley testified that he was present when 101 of the bodies were removed from the mine, and in his testimony he does not mention large amounts of money being recovered from the bodies. However, on page 38 of the federal accident report, it is stated that because the explosion was very violent in some parts of the mine, especially in the main slope, some of the bodies were practically naked, being stripped of their clothing by the explosion.
After 101 bodies had been recovered by May 10th, an inquest was held beginning May 16th. Because of the ventilation scheme, most of the gas given off in the seventh south back entry was at the face of the entries. The shift that went on at 1 a.m. on the morning of May 10th, found the body of David Reese on the main seventh south entry, opposite the second last cross cut. The jury’s verdict was that the explosion was caused by the Mine Inspector and Instructor of Safety, David H. Reese, striking a match to relight his Wolf safety lamp. The oil vessel was disconnected from the other parts of the lamp about 120 feet from the face of South entry. An accumulation of methane was ignited by a match used to relight the flame safety lamp. Reese’s safety lamp in pieces was found not far from his body. A spent match was not found, but twenty-two matches were in the pocket of the dead inspector, David H. Reese. State Law demanded that in safety lamp mines, no matches be allowed in the mine. It was evident that he either did not know, or did not care, what extinguished the flame of his safety lamp. David Reese was one of the best known men in the coal mining industry of Southern Colorado and was considered a most capable mine inspector.
Kin of Hastings Blast Victims received $147,650 of which the company paid Workmen’s Compensation Insurance. The maximum sum of death in each instance was $2,500 and each man was insured for this sum. Under the law, dependents only were entitled to the insurance, J. A. Warren, secretary of the State Industrial Commission, said. The State Industrial Commission issued an uncompleted official report in mid-May, 1917, on the compensation due the dependents of the men killed in the mine at Hastings operated by the Victor-American Fuel Company. The dependent family of each of forty-one victims who were Americans citizens received $2,500 ($30,000 in today’s dollars). The dependent family of each of fifty-four victims who were not American citizens, either living in the U.S. or in a foreign country, received $800, about one-third the capital sum of $2,500. Twenty-six of the men had no dependents and their burial expenses were paid to the extent of $75 each ($900 in today’s dollars).
Hastings mine production in 1917 was 74,221 tons of coal and fell to 11,944 tons in 1918. By 1923 production fell to 7,049 tons, and the mine was then abandoned and the portal sealed with concrete. Final cleanup of the site was done in 1952, and the railroad was torn up. Today only concrete foundations, deserted half-ruined coke ovens and a granite monument mark the site. In 2011, there were more than 50 coke ovens still standing. Coke ovens were used to turn coal into “coke.” The volatile constituents are driven off by heating coal as high as 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Coke is used as a fuel and as a reducing agent in blast furnaces used to make steel. Most of the coke briquettes were used at the Colorado Fuel and Iron steel company in Pueblo. To go to the site, from the intersection of County Road 44.0 and County Road 61.5 located about one west of I-25 (U.S. 85,87 & 160), take 44.0 Road across the railroad tracks westward about two miles to the coke ovens. There is a small memorial monument on the site.
At the Hastings mine in 1912, there was an explosion of gas due to a defective lamp which killed 12. George Cgontos was the only Greek killed in this 1912 disaster. During the time period 1896 – 1917, there were at least 181 mine fatalities at the Hastings mine. 1917 was the last year of any reported fatalities at the Hastings mine. The 35 Greeks who died in this 1917 Hastings mine disaster leaving 17 widows and 36 orphans, must have been a real tragedy for the Greek community in Las Animas County. The Australian community also suffered greatly leaving 13 widows and 31 orphans.

1. “Hastings Mine Explosion”
2. ... s-apr-1917 “Hastings, CO, Coal Dust Explosion Kills Scores, Apr 1917”
3. “Hastings Mine Explosion”
4. ... ort/ad/asc “Denver Public Library Digital Collection – Hastings Mine”
5. “Hastings Mine Video of Today’s Site”
6. Trinidad Chronicle News, 1917Apr27 – 1917Jul8
7. The Evening Picket wire, a Trinidad newspaper, 1917Apr27 – 1917Sep25
8. Fifth Annual Report of the Colorado State Inspector of Coal Mines, pages 68 – 75
9. Harrington, D., Report of the Hastings, Colorado, Mine Explosion, April 27, 1917, 67 pages
10. Testimony of Witnesses at Coroner’s Inquest, Hastings, Colorado, May 1917, 133 pages

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