The Cherry Mine Disaster
The air-shaft also penetrated to the bottom seam, and was fitted with a stairway throughout. The coal from the lower seam was hoisted up the air-shaft in a cage which traveled from the lower seam to the middle seam, the engine being at the surface as shown in Fig 7. There it was taken off the age and hauled to the main shaft by mules in either of the directions shown in Fig 6; that is, through the east or the west runaround, the empty trips being returned through the same passageways. At the bottom of the air-shaft there was a movable 6-foot ladder which connected the lower section of the stairway leading to the middle vein with the landing in the lower vein. This could be moved out of the way in order to give a free passageway around the bottom of the shaft. At the middle-seam landing of the air-shaft, entrance was made from the stairway to the landing through a trap door, 2 ft x 3 ft. in size, placed between the rails in the runaround at the west end of the air-shaft. The lower section of the stairway from this point to the surface was hinged so that it could be hung up out of the way in order to provide a clear passage around the end of the shaft for the passage of cars from the south to the north side of the air-shaft.
The mine was ventilated by a reversible, steel, Clifford Capell fan which ordinarily forced air down the air-shaft, the hoisting shaft being the up-cast. The directions of the air-currents about the shaft bottoms in the two seams are shown by the arrows in Fig. 5 and Fig.6. As shown, the air is split at the point where the air-shaft cuts the second seam, the main split going south to ventilate the workings; a small split passing through the stable to the main shaft; and another split going down the air-shaft to ventilate the longwall workings in the third seam.
The main-shaft bottom in the middle seam opened into the stable by three cross-cuts as shown in Fig. 6. In one of these there was a pump room A. The main shaft, west bottom was connected with the air-shaft by the passageway C, in which there were two doors as shown. This passage served as a short cut between shafts for the men, but as the track in it extended for only a part of the way north from the air-shaft toward the main west bottom, cars were taken by either the east or west runaround.
There was a sump in the short cut from the main west to the air-shaft at the entrance to the stable. The water from this sump was pumped to the surface by the pump located in the pump room.
The roof above the middle seam was bad in places, and just south of the main shaft, toward the pump room, the the space from which material had fallen was cribbed with heavy timber as shown in Fig 9. This cribbing was 8 feet wide, 16 feet long and 12 feet high, and it proved a formidable obstacle in fighting the fire around the bottom of the shaft, for the reason that it was difficult to play water on the fire in this timbering on account of its position back of the main-shaft timberlin. The cross-hatched portions on Fig 6 show places where the roof fell as a result of the fire, greatly impeding the work of rescue and the fighting of the fire.
It was customary for the cager and his helper on the south side of the air-shaft to push the empty cars through the runaround at the left of the air-shaft (Fig.8). The cars would then be gotten by the cager and his helper on the north side of the air-shaft, pushed past the switch, and then backswitched upon the cage, the empty car bumping the loaded off the cage.
It was customary for the cager and his helper on the south side of the air-shaft to push the empty cars through the runaround at the left of the air-shaft (Fig.8). The cars would then be gotten by the cager and his helper on the north side of the air-shaft, pushed past the switch and then backswitched upon the cage, the empty car bumping the loaded off the cage.
At the joint investigations, the testimony brought out the train of incidents quite clearly, the only break being the evidence of the cagers Rosenjack and Dean at the air-shaft in the middle seam. A digest of this testimony shows the following as the probably course of events. On the day of the fire, an empty trip had been brought from the main shaft through the east runaround and left on the tracks south of the air-shaft. This was about 1:30 P.M. Friday.. In this trip was a car containing six bales of hay. As was customary, cars were pushed through the runaround to the north side of the shaft to be caged and sent down to the lower seam. The cager and his helper on the south side of the air-shaft pushed the car of hay toward or into the runaround and left it there near a burning torch. The torches used on the shaft bottom at this time were made from gas pipe about 1 1/2 inches or 2 inches in diameter with a nipple on one end, which could be unscrewed for filling the torch with oil. At the other end, the pipe was turned up at right angles and tapered down so as to form a place for holding the wick. The pipe was hung by wire from the timber along the passageways. These torches were being used temporarily, as the electric lighting system about the shaft bottoms was out of commission, owing to a break in the cable. A new cable had been ordered, but had not yet been received.
The helper from the south side of the air-shaft testified that after leaving the car of hay in position for it to be taken by the men on the north side of the air-shart, he returned to his work of coupling up the loaded cars, when he next noticed the hay, he saw it was on fire, and the cager from the north side was attempting to push the car toward the south, away from the shaft. One bale of burning hay-or a part of a bale-it is not certain which, was taken out of the car and left on the track south of the shaft. The cager evidently changed his mind, and attempted to push the car northward through the runaround, past the shaft, and into the sump at the stable entrance. As he could not do this, he pulled the car back toward the air-shaft and then descended to the lower seam to inform the men there that he expected to send the loaded car down to the bottom of the air-shaft so that water could be played on it from a hose placed at the bottom. Meanwhile, the other men and boys about the air-shaft landing in the middle seam attempted to put the car with the burning hay on the cage, preparatory to sending it below. There was evidently more or less calling back and forth from the second to the third, vein at this time but the evidence was contradictory as to just what was done, and on account of the heat and fire, it was impossible to get the car of burning hay on the cage. The cage was therefore raised and the car pushed into the shaft. It fell into the sump at the bottom and water was played on it and the fire soon put out. The dropping of the hay down the shaft into the sump did not, therefore, contribute to the fire as has been frequently stated, and had it been accomplished sooner, the trouble might have been avoided, but in the movement of the burning hay back and forth in the strong air-current, the timbers caught fire and very soon the passageway between the air-shaft and main-shaft bottom was afire.
While the car was standing on the track north of the air-shaft, an effort was made to bring water from the stable in small buckets, but the boys who attempted to do this could not return directly to the car by the short cut leading to the air-shaft on account of the heat and smoke, and they were compelled to go by the west runaround. Meanwhile, the two check-doors in the short cut C, Fig 6, had been opened, thus materially increasing the draft in the section affected by the fire, and by this time the timbers were evidently burning fiercely.