Testimony Regarding Burton Mine Explosion
By Messrs. Artie Humphrey and Okey Donaldson
Oglebay Norton Company
Sacred Heart Hospital
Richwood, West Virginia
October 31, 1958
Ar1529, Box 11
By Messrs. Artie Humphrey and Okey Donaldson
On October 31, 1958, Messrs. Artie Humphrey and Okey Donaldson, who were rescued from the explosion area of the Burton mine, Oglebay Norton Company, were questioned in the Sacred Heart Hospital at Richwood, West Virginia. The interrogators were W. R. Park, District Supervisor, Health and. Safety District C, U. S. Bureau of Mines, Mount Hope, West Virginia, Jay Philpott, Inspector-at-Large, West Virginia Department of Mines, Beckley, West Virginia, M. A. Williams, General Superintendent, Oglebay Norton Company, St. Clairsville, Ohio, and Charles Ferguson, Director of Safety, United Mine Workers of America, Washington, D. C.
Q. Mr. Donaldson, what are your regular duties? A. Buggy man.
Q. Which side?
Q. What were you doing this morning, Tuesday morning?
A. We had a fall half way up the room on the right and the entry fell across the belt and I was dragging posts from the main line belt up to the fall.
Q. Tell us what happened from the time you went in that morning until the fall or explosion occurred?
A. When we first went in, the whole mountain was on the ride, falling in, and the section foreman and superintendent decided to move both places out of danger of the fall, and each crew was working on their machine until the fall occurred on our side. We had to quit moving, and start timbering, and this happened while we were timbering.
Q. Any idea of about when it fell in 17?
A. I would say 45 minutes before the explosion.
Q. Were you able to load coal on either side that shift?
A. No, on the move when we got in.
Q. You were at the mouth of 17 when the explosion occurred?
Q. Whenever the people helped you out, that's where you were?
Q. Can you give us any idea of what happened right at that time as you remember?
A. Well, just a while before the explosion the air quit, had no air, and the section foreman went to see what was wrong and he came back and said it was all right, we started getting air, the assistant mine foreman went down the other way to check and see what was wrong.
Q. Who was he?
Q. Any idea how long this was that the air was interrupted before the explosion?
A. Something like half an hour - 15 to 20 minutes.
Q. Were you actually performing some duty at the time of the explosion?
A. Had just met another fellow pulling posts and we just met and stopped to talk.
Q. Was there a roof movement before the explosion or a big fall?
Q. How do you remember what happened?
A. Just a big gust of wind.
Q. Was there a noise?
A. Yes, a lot of heat.
Q. See any fire?
Q. You are not burned are you?
Q. You could feel heat though?
Q. After the first one, the explosion when you got heat, wind, and air, was there anything after that that you remember?
A. Yes, I heard the superintendent holler and ask the section boss "where are the respirators". Might have been 3-4 minutes the second explosion didn't hear anything after that.
Q. Do you have any recollection when the engineer was in there and talked to you?
Q. You say Mr. Gates and the assistant mine foreman told you the whole thing was working?
A. They didn't tell me, anybody could see it.
Q. Did you hear any loud thump?
A. Yes, it was doing that all the time.
Q. You say that the fall had closed the machine on the right side and you were going to keep it from coming further?
Q. Did anyone cut the belt?
A. We took one roll off the bottom of it.
Q. Tell us what you remember, what you done? What your job is? What you did that morning?
A. I was late getting down there and I walked after all others get back. Went in and the whole mountain - never heard such carrying on in my life. Four or five were going to leave it, and then decided to go back and help get it out; just a few minutes and slate fell this side of belt, and the section boss told me to start dragging timbers. I had to come to the main-line belt to get them and the other boys were timbering. Just come down next to air course and this Tucker went to get wedges right in front of us. We just stopped and were talking, and it happened. All I can remember, it just was like sand, all the lights went out, seemed, like it hit me in the back first, just a little bit the second one occurred and Tucker hollered "come and get me I'm burned up". I put my hand up to my face and felt blood, just a minute and the next one come and they hollered for respirators, just in a jiffy the other one occurred, and I don't know what happened after that.
Q. What time do you go to work?
A. Leave outside at 8.
Q. As you remember was there any coal at all loaded?
A. No. Went down and everything was on the ride, everybody was trying to keep from getting the stuff caught.
Q. Was there movement in ahead of the belt?
A. On the right side ahead of the belt on the left side. Ahead of the equipment.
Q. Ahead of the main entry belt?
A. Back in old workings. Could hear it roaring in the left.
Q. Most of the movement seemed to be on 21 room side and started ahead of rather than 17?
A. (Donaldson) I would say the whole place the right side also.
A. (Humphrey) I was scared and wanted excuse to try to get out and I wanted to see how far could run went with Eddie when he went to check the air. After you get about half way No. 1 belt you couldn't hear it. Half way on down to the left as you went in No. 1 belt it was all carrying on.
Q. When were the stoppings removed between 1 and 2 entries? Were you there?
Q. Did. you hear anyone knocking the stopping out?
A. Yes, they told us they were going to try, they asked Gates about belt in 17 and Gates said how do you think you can get the belt out. Their intention was to bring it out on the left. That was their intentions.
Q. You did discuss that among yourselves?
A. Yes. That's what Gates and maybe Harry said they were going to do.
Q. How were they going to do that?
A. Brought up through air course and crossed over like always.
Q. (To Donaldson) How do you move the miner from No. 1 to No. 3?
A. We have not moved it too many times, but usually around the tail of the belt.
Q. Did you talk to any of the people removing the belt at the crosscut where the miner from the left side was?
Q. Did you hear discussions about bringing miner from 21 to No. 3 side?
A. Just what he told you.
Q. You understand they were going to bring the miner over?
A. Yes. They planned to bring it down No. 3 air course and across the belt in below 17 room and start a new room 15 left belt.
Q. Where were you when you could tell there had been a stoppage of air?
A. Right in the air course intake air and Harry said we couldn't work there because of no air. Went out and called and there was a little air then and Harry said he believed the fan was down and they had just started it. There was air when we got back like always. One thing I couldn't understand I always turned the belt around and walked in and that morning there was air just whipping right up No. 1 belt on the left. Don't know why it hadn't done that before. Hitting me right in the face, and I asked what was wrong with the air. All air going up the belt entry.
Q. Moving from mouth of 15 to the tailpiece 15 belt?
A. From the tailpiece coming out to the main line. Never felt it like that before and I walked in every morning.
Q. Ever get far enough along that you moved past the strong current?
A. When I got there all the air stopped.
Q. How long did the air seem to be stopped?
A. Not over l5-20 minutes. Maybe about 10 minutes.
Q. When did you hear the beating on the stopping, before the air stopped or after?
A. Believe it was after the best I can remember.
A. (Donaldson) It was bound to have been.
Q. How long after you were on the section did you have the interruption of the air, you thought you had no air at all?
A. Around 45 minutes, I would figure.
Q. What time did it happen?
A. Around 10:30.
Q. You know when you have good ventilation?
Q. You usually have good air?
A. Yes, used to having good air. You can tell when the fan goes down.
A. (Donaldson) 600 feet, half way back before we were in good air.
Q. On the entry you do have good air?
Q. Can you account for Adams being behind the fall in the room you were in?
A. No. Last load of posts took up there he come back and met Okey and got his posts that was maybe 30-40 feet help to do the timbering come back after more posts and don't know what happened to him, that was the last time I saw him.
Q. Any cutting with torch or welder any time this day?
A. Not that I know of. Wasn't on left side.
Q. (Donaldson) were you on the left side during the shift?
Q. Did you see the miner at all from the left side during the shift?
Q. You helped Adams timber?
A. Davis, Tucker, Weese, Anderson, Section Foreman Fletcher, don't know if he was there then, and Mr. Gates.
Q. Did you folks take any timbers to the room where it fell in?
A. No, we had been taking them up.
Q. To the best of your recollection, it fell in about half way back from the face?
A. Yes. Couldn't see over the top of it and couldn't get over the top of it, it fell back on the belt and could get out one roll.
Q. Start moving away from the face?
A. No, some of the boys went in there and it got bad, they come out, and then they started to take the belt off and it fell. They got about one roll off the bottom was all they could get.
Q. (Donaldson) Of the two that you heard, which one seemed more violent?
A. I would say the second one.
Q. Can you again (Donaldson) thinking back give us how long a period of time there was between the two?
A. 3-4 minutes.
Q. It was at least that much?
Q. Do you remember it that way Mr. Humphrey?
A. Just about.
Q. Where did the wind and noise appear to come from out of right or where, as I understand it, they found you in the mouth of 17 room?
A. Just come in 17 room from the belt.
Q. Do you remember it that way, Mr. Humphrey?
A. Yes, couldn't get it just exactly.
Q. The room that had the fall in it?
A. Don't believe it did, couldn't tell, wouldn't say.
Q. Did there seem to be any fall at all from the time you got on the section immediately before the air stoppage, fall of roof, I mean?
A. Never heard any.
Q. The falls that you heard occurred afterward?
Q. On the last trips you made in there, did you talk to any of the fellows removing the belt?
Q. Did you pass anybody taking collars from the air course 17 side over on the belt entry?
A. No (both answered).
Q. Had you any difficulty with the belt previous to the explosion, 15 left belt?
Q. Have you had any gas at the faces of either 17 or 21 during working?
A. Not that I know of.
Q. Any idea who had flame safety lamps on the section that day?
A. I believe the operators and the mine foreman and section boss. (Donaldson)
A. I don't think Eddie had any, section boss and machine man had one.
The section boss done all the checking. (Humphrey)
Q. Did either of you have occasion to go in the right hand rooms inby 17 during the past several days previous to the explosion?
Q. What kind of shape were they in?
A. Fall in 18, had it shut off.
Q. Were you in 18?
A. I believe the fall was in 17 and 19 too.
Q. How far off the belt entry could you get into 18?
A. I would say 200 feet.
Q. Were you closing all crosscuts in 17 as place advanced with canvas?
Q. You always do that?
Q. As much as possible, going back to the first explosion or fall, did you feel the heat at that time and was the dust in the air, did you think it was an explosion or a fall?
A. I felt heat. Thought it was an explosion, knew it was.
Q. You had never been in one before?
Q. How did you know it was?
A. Never been anything like that before.
Q. Were you concerned or worried at all that there might be an explosion in this section because of the area all working?
A. If I had been I wouldn't have been there.
A. (Humphrey) Afraid it was going to fall on us.
Q. (Donaldson) Why were you so sure it was an explosion?
A. Such terrific force and heat.
Q. You said Gates said something what did he say?
A. Said "Oh my God where are the respirators".
Q. Was there dust?
A. Not too sure. Opened my mouth wide to get enough air.
Q. Could it have been dust?
A. Couldn't see or tell what it was. Everybody's light was blowed out.
Q. Remember any of the second blasts any of the effects, noise?
A. I felt it, heat.
Q. It was much greater than the original?
Q. See any flame?
Q. Make more noise?
Q. You are sure there was more heat?
A. Yes, I felt it more.
Q. Appear to be smoke then?
Q. (Donaldson) When the foreman went back to check the air there was some mention made they thought he called outside, who did he call?
A. I only know what Artie said, I don't know what they talked about. The section boss called outside. Eddie went to check the air. And the section boss was checking air.
Q. What did they tell him about the fan?
A. Said it was running. Harry said he believed it had been down and they started it again.
Q. Understand that there was some discussion that you moved miner from left to right side and tried to get machine out that was blocked?
Q. In these rooms? Know whether they got to this location?
A. (Donaldson) Weese was there, had an old buggy in there and he went and moved it so it wouldn't fall and said didn't think they were going to get the junk out.
Q. Is that where the tanks were left and when were they left when the machine was rebuilt?
A. Yes, about 10 days ago.
Q. Is there anything else that occurred in any way that we might be interested in that might have contributed to this explosion?
A. No, if there was I would sure like to tell you.
Q. Ever seen any movement of the whole section like this before?
A. I never have. Been in mine 21 years and never heard it like that before.
Q. Have been in sections that chased you out?
Q. This first blast, what did you think it was? (Humphrey)
A. I didn't think much, figured it was explosion, when second one come, I knew then.
Q. There was a difference in the two?
A. Yes, felt like the other was harder, couldn't tell much about the second one that was the end of me. After the first one whenever Gates hollered that Tucker was burned so bad and he is burned up almost.