Pursglove No. 2 Mine Explosion

Explosion Report
July 9, 1942
Pursglove Coal Mining Company
Pursglove No. 2 Mine
July 9, 1942

An explosion occurred in the Pursglove No. 2 mine of the Pursglove Coal Mining Company, Pursglove, Monongalia County, July 9, 1942, at 4:15 P. M.

This mine is located on the Monongahela railroad on Scotts Run of the Monongahela River, about seven (7) miles from Morgantown.

The forces of the explosion, as indicated on the attached map, prove that the explosion originated in the Twenty and Twenty-four Face Bleeder Section off Fifteen Butts.

At the time of the explosion seventy-three (75) men were in the mine. Fifty-three (53) men in areas unaffected by the explosion escaped from the mine without assistance. Twenty (20) men in the affected area were killed by the explosion.

Charles Andy John Henry Lewis
Oscar E. Barnette Andy Malesh
Gasper Boken Albert Earl McDonald
Mike Borbus Joe Oliverio
Richard Earnest Carr James Gregor Ponceroff
Jennings Bryan Dusenberry Russell John Saffron
Wesley Howard Hickman Leslie John Stanton
Vernon Vencent Hilling Willard Glenn Taylor
Ernest Samuel Lambert Edward Leroy Wilson
Charles Lawson John Thomas Wilson

Description Of The Mine

The Pursgiove No. 2 mine is a drift mine operating in the Sewickley seam. The mine is accessable [sic] through three (5) drift openings. A shaft opening is maintained for ventilation approximately one and one- half (1 1/2) miles from the mine portal but is not used or equipped for any other purpose.

The drift openings are air intakes for the mine. The fan, a Jeffrey centrifugal, operates exhausting at the air shaft and circulates approximately eighty-two thousand five hundred (82,500) cubic feet of air throughout the mine. This volume has been substantially increased since the explosion.

The seam averages about five (5) feet in thickness and the full seam is mined. The immediate roof is generally sandstone, however, in some localities a black shale occurs over the coal but these occurrences do not, as a rule, increase the normal hazard incident to the roof control throughout the mine.

The mine is worked on the usual room and pillar system, the rooms driven to the required depth and the pillars drawn on a suitable line as soon as possible after the completion of the rooms. Barriers for the protection of the various haulageways and air courses are left for the final mining.

The coal is cut with shortwall machines and shot with permissible explosives. All coal is mechanically loaded. The roof is supported throughout the mine on posts and crossbars, however, the number of crossbars used and their disposition is generally not in conformance with the standards of the West Virginia Department of Mines.

Pillar falls are controlled by the use of breaker posts in the conventional manner.

The Sewickley seam, in which the mine operates, is high volatile and the dust is classed as explosive by the United States Bureau of Mines. The Rock Dust Report of the West Virginia Department of Mines shows a rock-dust application of 1.05 pounds applied throughout the mine for each ton of coal produced during the first six months prior to the explosion. This is below the average for the State and the minimum requirements of the standard recommendations of the West Virginia department of Mines.

No sprinkling systems as a means of allaying dust are in operation throughout the mine, however, sprinkling has been repeatedly recommended in the standard recommendations of the West Virginia Department of Mines. A State law should be enacted requiring sprinkling systems where dust is constantly in suspension.

The mine is ventilated by a Jeffrey centrifugal fan which now produces one hundred and two thousand (102,000) cubic feet of air against a water gauge pressure of two and three-tenths (2.3) inches. There are two (2) air splits in the mine which are controlled by the use of regulators.

Overcasts, doors and stoppings constitute the means by which the sections are ventilated. No line brattice was used to conduct the air to the working faces and air locks were not provided on the section in which the explosion occurred. The absence of air locks caused an intermittent flow of air throughout the section and while the volume of air delivered to the last breakthrough of each entry was above the minimum requirements of the West Virginia Department of Mines at the time of the last inspection, the failure to use check doors substantially decreased the volume of air in circulation at the working faces.

All coal is gathered and hauled by means of electric locomotives of a nonpermissible type. The coal is cut by both permissible and nonpermissible types of cutting machine. The permissible types, however, are not kept in a permissible condition. This applies also to the loading machines insofar as they are purchased permissible but not maintained as such. Chicago Pneumatic drills are used and maintained in excellent condition, however, permissible plates are not issued for the type of drill being used at this mine.

Description Of The Explosion

The explosion, as previously stated, originated in the Twenty and Twenty-four Face Bleeder Section off Fifteen Butts.

At the time of the explosion the section was idle, however, the explosion occurred at approximately the time when the second shift should have begun work. The man trips had just arrived on the section and though some of the men had left the man-trip stations for their various assignments the positions of the bodies and equipment indicate that production had not begun. One locomotive with five (5) loads had left the immediate working sections on the way to the sidetrack but had stopped at a supply track some five hundred (500) feet from the working faces. There is no positive evidence that any electrical equipment was in operation within the explosion area when the blast occurred, however, there is a possibility that some equipment outby the faces had been moved in preparation for the beginning of the shift.

As previously stated, the secondary haulage locomotive No. Eleven had left the section for the sidetrack with five (5) loads but had stopped at a supply track on the way out. This is evidenced by the fact that the locomotive was found with the controller in the "off" position and the brake set tight. The locomotive was standing on the supply track switch and the body (No. 2) of Lambert, the motorman, was found inside the breakthrough and along the supply track some thirty (30) feet away. The most probable conclusion as to Lambert's position is that he went into the supply track to check the available supplies on the section before continuing to the sidetrack as it would have been his duty to bring to the section any additional supplies that may be needed should the occasion arise.

The body (No. 1) of Barnette, Lambert's brakeman, was found about fifty (50) feet outby the locomotive along the haulageway. As the explosion forces were outby at this point the body could easily have been blown to this position.

No. Eight gathering locomotive and one (1) empty car were found standing on No. One Heading of Twenty-four Face Bleeder about one hundred and sixty (160) feet outby the nearest working place. Another empty car was found about eighty (80) feet inby the locomotive. Both empty ears were wrecked by the force of the explosion which was inby at this point. The locomotive controller was in the "off" position, the pole tied down and the reverse drum on center. The reverse lever was found in the empty car next to the locomotive and the locomotive brake was set reasonably tight. The conditions above mentioned definitely show that this locomotive was not in operation at the time of the ignition.

The body (No. 3) of Boken, the motorman, was found about ten (10) feet inby the locomotive and the body (No. 4) of Carr, the brakeman, was found about one hundred and twenty (120) feet farther. The forces of the explosion were very violent at this point and the activities of this locomotive crew at the time of the ignition cannot be determined with reasonable accuracy.

The bodies (No. 5) of Dusenberry, a timberman, and (No. 6) Andy, a section foreman, were found together on No. One Heading at the edge of the pillar fall of the farthest working place on that entry. Extreme violence directed inby was in evidence at this point and Andy's safety lamp (severely damaged) was found about thirty (50) feet up on the fall in advance of the body.

It is not unreasonable to believe that Andy was making or about to make an examination when the explosion occurred, and the lamp was blown up on the fall. It was customary for the section foremen of the oncoming shift to examine all working places immediately before the shift commenced work. Dusenberry, in all probability, was with Andy to see what should be done in regard to the timbering of the place as it was known to have been "dangered off" by the foreman of the preceding shift because of bad top.

The No. Four mining machine for the Twenty-four Face Section was standing at the outby corner of No. Two Heading Pillar, about thirty (30) feet from the face, where it had been left by the preceding shift after they had finished cutting the place. The cutting of the pillar and the placing of the machine by the crew of the previous shift was verified and there is no evidence to point toward the machine having been moved by the on-coming shift. This place also had been "dangered off" on the preceding shift because of insufficient timbering and the bodies of four (4) men found in the place indicates that these men were getting ready to timber the place in preparation for shooting and loading. The forces of the explosion were very violent and inby and while the bodies were all reasonably close to each other, what each man was doing at the time of the explosion could not be determined.

The body (No. 18) of Stanton, machineman, was at the face of the pillar, the bodies of (No. 8) Wilson, trackman, and (No. 7) Malesh, scraper, were between the face and the machine, and the body (No. 9) of Borbus, shot firer, was found alongside the machine. Inasmuch as the No. Two Heading Pillar was the next place cut and otherwise ready for the loading machine, with the exception of the timbering and shooting, it is not unlikely that all these men had been assigned to the hurried preparation of this place.

At the time of the explosion No. Twenty-four Face loading machine was standing in a breakthrough at the corner of a pillar between No. Two and No. Three Headings. The pillar was practically intact and no falls around it, the first cut having been partly taken from the No. Three Heading side in preparation for the removal of the pillar. The drive chain on this machine had been broken near the end of the previous shift and before additional coal could be loaded it was necessary to splice the chain. The machine operator, Saffron (No. 19), had been instructed by the shop mechanic to make the repairs insofar as the mechanic had a more important assignment in another part of the mine. From the known position of the machine at the end of the previous shift, it appears that Saffron, on reaching the section, had immediately gone to the machine, straightened it up, swung the boom parallel to the track and picked up the loading head. The machine was then in position for repairing and found so after the explosion but no repairs had been made. The nip and return wire for the machine had been attached to the power and return circuits on No. One Heading about one hundred and fifty (150) feet away and the possibility of an ignition of gas from an arc from this nip is eliminated since it is known that the No. Eight and No. Eleven locomotives had been operating in the immediate vicinity of the nip for some time prior to the explosion and had gas been present at that point would have without doubt already caused an ignition. There was no indication at any point between the nip and the machine that the machine cable had short-circuited and fired, and on close examination by inspectors for the United States Bureau of Mines and the West Virginia Department of Mines, the machine was found to be in such a good state of repair that the possibility of an ignition from this source was dismissed. The machine controls, when examined after the explosion, were all found in the "neutral" position but the safety switch had been changed from the "stop" to the "running" position. It would have been necessary for Saffron to change this switch before moving the machine so the position of the switch is not significant. Saffron's body was found beside the machine but the forces of the explosion made it impossible to determine his actions immediately preceding the ignition. The forces of the explosion at this point were varied.

The No. Four mining machine of the Twenty Face Section was standing in No. Five Room off Twenty Face Bleeder. The machine had been trammed back from the pillar face a distance of about one hundred (100) feet and left there by the machine crew on the previous shift after they had cut No. Five Room Pillar. All evidence points toward the machine not having been touched by anyone since the previous shift. All controls were in neutral and the machine operator was nowhere near. This machine was definitely eliminated as a source of ignition.

The No. Six gathering motor of the Twenty Face Section and five (5) empty cars were also standing at the man-trip station in No. Five Room some distance outby the cutting machine. The controller was found in the "off" position after the explosion. The bodies of (No. 10) McDonald, foreman, (No. 15) Lewis, the Twenty Face loading machine operator, (No. 13) Taylor, timberman, (No. 14) Hilling, Scraper, (No. 16) Hickman, brakeman, and (No. 17) Wilson, motor-man, were found in various positions alongside or near the trip. Dinner pails, coats, et cetera, carried by the men, were found at this place and from the mine routine there seems to be no question as to these men having recently gotten off the man trip and at the time of the explosion being engaged in putting away their coats, lunches, et cetera, and otherwise preparing to commence work. The forces of the explosion at this place were very violent, all of the mine cars were wrecked and blown out of position, as well as other damage, and the forces were very definitely inby toward Twenty Face Pillar line as well as toward the Twenty-four Face Section.

The Twenty Face loading machine was at the corner of No. Seven Pillar off Twenty Face Bleeder, no one was near the machine and the machine had not been moved in any way since the previous shift left the section; this was verified. The forces of the explosion at this point were of extreme violence and definitely inby toward the pillar line; a loaded car had been blown between the loading machine and the corner of the pillar and wedged tight. The controls of the machine were found in the "loading" position but had been forced to this position by the loaded car jammed alongside.

The body of (No. 11) Ponceroff, the cutting machine operator, was found near the face of No. Seven Pillar Split and as this place would have been the first for him to cut, it is assumed that he had gone there to see about the condition. The forces at this place were the same as at No. Seven Pillar.

The body of (No. 12) Oliverio, trackman, was found in No. Six Room near the end of a short spur track in a breakthrough from No. Five to No. Six Rooms, A car of rock dust had been blown off the end of this track into the middle of the room by forces coming from No. Five Room toward No. Six Room. As previously stated, the man trip was in No. Five Room and Oliverio's body could either have been blown from No. Five Room through the breakthrough toward No. Six Room or he may have gone into the breakthrough to see if the car standing there contained track supplies.

The body of (No. 20) Lawson, shot fireman, was found at the powder magazine near the mouth of No. Four Room off Twenty Face Bleeder. There is no evidence that powder exploded because the magazine remained reasonably intact considering the violence of the explosion, however, a considerable amount of the powder had been spilled from the magazine and one case had definitely burned. The forces of the explosion at this point were varied.

The powder magazine for No. Twenty-four Face Bleeder Section was in No. Two Heading at the fourth crosscut outby the pillar line. There was no one near this magazine when the explosion occurred. The forces of the explosion were very violent at this place and definitely outby. The magazine was, with the exception of the lid, practically destroyed and its contents scattered and partly burned but there was no crater, or material impinged on the roof or ribs, to indicate that the explosives in the magazine had detonated.

The Sewickley seam is above the Pittsburgh seam and in mines in this vicinity, as well as in the Pursglove No. 2 mine, bottom disturbances have occurred causing large cracks or bursts of various sizes to suddenly appear. In some instances gas has been liberated in various quantities for a short duration. Numerous bottom cracks were observed near the pillars in the explosion area and the possibility of a sudden liberation of gas was recognized but on close examination of these cracks none were found which would not ordinarily be expected in pillar work and no dangerous liberation of gas was detected. The Fire Boss Reports of the previous shift showed no gas detection and only about one hour and fifteen minutes had elapsed since the last fire boss run had been made preceding the explosion.

The haulageway for the Twenty Face Bleeder Section is maintained in the No. Three Heading of Twenty Face Bleeder with a sidetrack extending through the fifth crosscut inby Fifteen Butts between No. Two and No. Three Headings and a short distance along No. Three Heading. At the time of the explosion eight (8) empty cars were standing on this sidetrack just in the clear of the haulageway.

The forces of the explosion struck the outby end of these empty cars with such violence that as the cars were blown toward No. Two Heading all were wrecked and two (2) of them blown against the rib of the chain pillar between No. One and No. Two Headings. In the crevices and angles that faced toward No. Three Heading, of the wrecked cars, coke deposits were found. The disposition of the coke and position of the cars definitely show that the greatest violence came from No. Three Heading.

After the explosion a roof fall was discovered on No. Three Heading at the third crosscut inby Fifteen Butts. This fall occurred after the man trip had passed and at or immediately before the time of the explosion. Coke deposits in the cavity in the roof caused by the fall bear out this conclusion as it is obvious that had the fall occurred after the explosion no coke would have formed. Near the fall which pulled down the trolley wire a rail was found to have been severely burned by an electric arc, the burn extending well into the ball of the rail. The edges of this burn were not beveled as would have been the case had there been many cars passed across it, therefore, it is assumed that this burn occurred at the time of the fall and was caused by the trolley wire contacting the rail when pulled down by the slate.

After the explosion exhaustive tests were made in an effort to locate any possible source whereby methane could have entered the section and should this have occurred, the extent to which the ventilating current may have become charged. During these tests gas feeders were found in the ribs along Twenty Face Headings, which were the air intakes for the explosion area, and it was found that the methane liberated was of sufficient volume to charge the ventilating current to approximately one (.1) per cent as it entered the section.

These entries were inactive and connected through to Twenty-four Face Headings and map extension dates show that the area involved in the methane liberation had been driven six (6) months prior to the explosion.

Dust samples taken and tested after the explosion show the dust in this area is easily ignited and tests made by the United States Bureau of Mines proved that as much as eighty (80) per cent inert material must be mixed with these samples to make an ignition impossible. It is known that the introduction of even a small amount of methane into a dust-laden atmosphere greatly increases its explosibility, consequently it is not unreasonable to believe that had a considerable amount of dust been thrown into suspension in this area and a source of ignition been present an explosion would not have occurred.

It is known that a fall of roof approximately thirty-six (36) feet long, sixteen (16) feet wide and twelve (12) inches thick occurred at or near the time of the explosion and that this fall brought the trolley wire in contact with the rail, as evidenced by the burn, causing a large arc, and it is also known that a fall of this size would throw a great amount of dust into suspension, therefore, it is most probable that the explosion occurred as the result of this arcing in a dust-laden atmosphere already slightly charged with methane.


The hazards that caused this explosion, as well as other explosions, exist and are going on in nearly all of the coal mines in the State every day, every hour and every minute. The miners, the operators, and the members of the West Virginia Department of Mines do not know their responsibilities as to what extent safety should be applied in the coal mines to prevent disasters and other accidents. These responsibilities should be settled by the Legislature, It is not possible at this day and time to entirely eliminate explosions but they can be materially reduced.

Explosions are generally the result of numerous dangerous conditions and practices which, singly or collectively, culminate in the ignition of gas or dust. All mines are potentially dangerous because of explosion and other accident hazards. Very few, possibly not more than five (5) per cent, are maintained in a reasonably safe condition, measured in the light of present-day knowledge of coal mining safety practices.

This mine has almost twice the average number of hazards found in mines throughout the State, It is an accepted fact that in almost all explosions a combination of circumstances, any one of which is potentially a source in itself, exists, and generally speaking, the presence of the individual circumstances, with the possible exception of methane, is known well in advance of the catastrophe. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that if the many and varied conditions that contribute to an explosion are corrected singly, the combinations would cease to present a problem.

The following is a list of the violations of the standard recommendations of the Department of Mines found during the last inspection preceding the explosion:


(1) Daily reports of conditions and practices in the mine are not made by assistant foremen (or the foreman).

(2) Unsatisfactory conditions and practices reported by mine foremen, assistant foremen, and fire bosses are not repeated on the Daily Reports until corrected.

(3) Mine Foreman Certificates are not held by all mine officials and a record is not kept at the mine.

(4) All persons required to use flame safety lamps do not undergo examinations once each year to check eyesight and competency.

(5) The record of the original examination of machinemen for competency to detect gas is not mailed to the Department of Mines at Charleston.

General Practices

(6) Two safe travelways, unobstructed and properly drained, from the last breakthrough of each place, to surface outlets, are not maintained for all persons employed in the mine.

(7) Mine officials are not competent to assemble and use flame safety lamps.

(8) The trouser legs, sleeves, and clothing of men working on or around moving machinery are not confined against the body.

(9) Visible locking devices are not kept on arms and chains of loading head on machines -- cutting or loading -- when not in operating position,

(10) The mine is not kept clean and orderly inside.

(11) Lights, illuminating and signal, are not kept in good condition.

(12) Gears, belts, and revolving parts of stationary machinery are not properly guarded and metal guards are not used inside the mine.

(13) Inside structures, substations, shanties, et cetera, are not constructed of incombustible material,

(14) Rock dust, fire extinguishers, or other fire-fighting equipment are not available in the mine.

(15) Rock dust, fire extinguishers, or other fire-fighting equipment are not available in the tipple.

(16) Oil and grease are not carried into and kept in the mine in substantial covered containers.

Roof and Timbering

(17) The foremen do not see that working places are properly timbered so that workmen are thoroughly protected at all times.

(18) Loose coal, slate and rock overhead on haulageways and travelways, is not removed or securely timbered. (19) Safety posts or crossbars are not set as the coal is removed.

(20) Safety posts or crossbars are not set when starting new places or slabs.

(21) The roof is not examined and the place is not made safe after each shot.


(22) Explosives and blasting caps being taken into or removed from the mine are not carried in nonconducting receptacles in good condition.

(25) Persons return to the face after a shot before the smoke and dust have cleared away.

(24) Magazines for more than a day's supply are not three hundred (300) feet from mine openings or buildings used or occupied by persons.


(25) Clearance - twelve (12) inches from car on "tight side", twenty-four (24) inches from car on "safety side" is not maintained along haulageways.

(26) Refuge holes are not maintained along haulageways where clearance from cars is less than six (6) feet.

(27) Refuge holes are more than eighty (80) feet apart.

(28) refuge holes are not provided on both sides of all permanent doors -- on "safety side".

(29) Clearance "on safety side" is not level with the track.

(30) Conspicuous lights are not placed on both front and rear of each mechanically operated trip.

(31) Conspicuous lights are not placed on both front and rear of all equipment trammed or parked on tracks used by other equipment.

(32) A suitable lifting jack and handle, capacity not less than one half the weight of the locomotive, is not provided for each locomotive.

(33) Mine cars are not in good condition.

(34) Inside track is not properly maintained.

(35) Switches on haulageways are not complete with throws.

(36) Standing cars are not blocked made fast - with substantial blocking devices.

(37) Protection, guards or trenching, is not provided for trolley and bare power wires less than six and one-half (6 1/2) feet above the rail where men regularly work or pass under.

(38) Trolley and all other permanent power wires (bare or insulated) are not properly spliced.

(39) Trailing power cables for electrical machinery are not provided with fused nips.

(40) Trailing power cables for electrical machinery are not in good condition and free from extensive cuts or abrasions.

(41) Trailing power cables for electrical machinery are not properly spliced -- mechanically strong and adequately insulated.

(42) Hooked nips are used in such manner as to endanger motormen.

(43) Electrical machinery is not provided with switches or controls, covered to protect the operator against arcs.

(44) Grounding is made to unbonded track.

(45) Plugs, junction boxes, or switchboards are not used to make power connections at working faces where two or more electrical units are connected to the same power circuit.

(46) Resistance is not guarded.

(47) Telephone wires at the entrance to the mine are not provided with lightning arrestors.

Dust and Drainage

(48) The mine, or sections thereof, at working places -- inby the last breakthrough is not kept constantly rock dusted where the dust on the floor, ribs, or roof is not thoroughly wet at all times.

(49) The mine, or sections thereof, along haulageways is not kept constantly rock dusted where the dust on the floor, ribs, or roof is not thoroughly wet at all times.

(50) The mine, or sections thereof, in abandoned places is not kept constantly rock dusted where the dust on the floor, ribs, or roof is not thoroughly wet at all times.

(51) Sufficient rock dust is not applied to provide at least sixty-five (65) per cent incombustible material.

(52) Coal dust and other dust in suspension in unusual quantities at working faces is not allayed by sprinkling or by other dust-allaying devices.

(53) Coal dust and other dust in suspension in unusual quantities on haulageways is not allayed by sprinkling or by other dust-allaying devices.

(54) Coal dust and other dust in suspension in unusual quantities in tipples is not allayed by sprinkling or by other dust-allaying devices.


(55) Ventilation is not conducted through rooms by means of check doors or other means.

(56) Dead-end places are permitted.

(57) Main doors are not constructed in pairs to form air locks.

(58) Doors are provided with latches.

It is the conclusion of the Department of Mines:

(a) That an explosion of gas and dust occurred, as evidenced by coke and streamers.

(b) That from careful investigation the source of the ignition was an electric arc.

(c) That the are most likely occurred when the trolley wire, pulled from its support by a slate fall, came in contact with the mine track.


(1) Frequent tests at regular intervals should be made with a methane tester or by sampling throughout the mine, including the working faces.

(2) The mine should be kept free of accumulations of coal dust throughout; haulageways, airways, working places, and abandoned places, and be kept thoroughly rock dusted at all times.

(3) The roof along haulageways should be examined frequently and maintained securely.

(4) Doors should be constructed in pairs to form air locks.

(5) Haulageways should be maintained on intake air.

(6) Places should not be worked on an air current which has passed through abandoned sections not regularly examined.

Alex Bryce, Inspector
P. J. McGraw, Inspector
Peter T. McLinden, Inspector at large


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