Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

May 11, 2006

Coal mines in the Rathbun area

By Bill Heusinkveld

Last week I told you about the first mine in Rathbun, which was the Star Coal Co. just west of Rathbun. In 1908 Fowler & Wilson bought the Star Mine and called it their Mine No. 1. It was in operation until 1928. There was a spur track curling around the south edge of Rathbun thence northwest to the tipple west of town (just west of the church). The coal mined was in a huge area of 520 acres mostly south and west of the tipple.

A very bad accident happened in Fowler & Wilson Mine No. 1 in 1918 with the result that Jury Haggerty and Mr. Garinger died and four other miners were scalded and burned. All six were rushed to the St. Joseph’s Hospital in very serious condition. The other four were Winfred Hurt of Jerome, Chas. Vance, James Hodson and Nova H. Sanford of Missouri. Garinger died about 7:30 in the morning after suffering terrible agony all night.

The accident occurred late in the afternoon at the big Rathbun mine. Originally there were four very large slag piles. By 1918 there were two left, one still alive and burning and the other being burned out and cold. The men were a special crew, working with a steam shovel on a Milwaukee work train, and going beyond the burning pile to load the slag onto box cars from the old pile. The slag would be used in building up the railroad.

The slag had become very compact, and it was necessary to use dynamite to loosen it. The slag had been cleared away until a straight surface 75 feet in height was exposed. Previous to this, water had been pumped up onto the still smoldering dump to put out the fires and make the stuff cool enough to be handled, and this stream of water, it appears, was still running into a crevice high up on the dump above the men on the track. This continuous run of water probably undermined and loosened a projecting shoulder of the slag on the pile.

The men had dug from under this precipice for a small distance when, all of a sudden, the slag from the top began to slide and an avalanche of fine smoldering powder-like cinders together with burning slag and a supply of liberated gas and steam descended on top of the workers as they worked on the track below. As the slag began to slide it uncovered some gas pockets which immediately exploded setting everything in flames. Sometimes the slag will burn for two or three years inside a big pile.

Before the men realized what was happening, they were surrounded by debris and flames. A few of the men had time to escape, but the other six were caught directly in the path of flame and steam. Some of the men were almost buried in the pile. Garinger and Hagerty, the two men most terribly burned, had their clothing burned off, their flesh scorched and their very skin peeled from their bodies in several places. The other four were in a similar, but not quite so serious, condition when they were dug out by their fellow workmen. Some of the men swallowed the flames, and it is a wonder that any could survive. .One or two were reported to have jumped into a nearby pond to quench the fire in their clothing and this but added to their burns by the resulting steam.

The catastrophe and resulting deaths cast a pall over the entire Rathbun and Mystic vicinity where all the men were well known. It is believed that Nova Sanford also died at a later date.

In 1909, Fowler and Wilson started their No. 2 mine a little east of Rathbun. It was a slope mine on the east edge of Walnut Creek with an overhead tram across the creek and back to the railroad. This mine also had its share of fatalities. In 1920 John Miholovich, age 35, died from injuries in the mine followed by pneumonia. In 1916, Dominic Pernal, age 28, was killed by falling timbers. The timbers had become dislodged when the motor, pulling a string of cars, jumped the tracks. This mine lasted for 19 years until 1928 and undermined 18 acres.

New Enterprise Coal Co. began a mine in 1932 using the same rail spur going west of town as the Fowler and Wilson Mine No. 1. This mine took in 25 acres toward the north of the tipple and lasted until 1949. In 1930 Joe Kauzlarich, age 27, was killed in the New Enterprise Mine. He had been oiling the fan which pumps air into the mine and got caught in the fan. Maintenance of the air fan could be a very hazardous operation because of the high speed and power of these large fans.

Rudie Blozovich, age 91 recently showed me the location and scanty remains of Fowler and Wilson Mines No. 1 and No. 2 as well as several of the other mines in the area. Rudie had started in the small Water Lily Mine (1932-1942) S.E. of Rathbun. His father, Tom Blozovich, had come from Yugoslavia in the 1890’s.

It seems there were an abnormal number of fatalities and serious accidents in the mines in the Rathbun area, but it was not always possible for me to determine from the news clippings exactly which mine in Rathbun these fatalities occurred. Thee fatalities are as follows: In 1898, Philip Swab, an immigrant from Austria, died from injuries sustained two years earlier in a Rathbun mine.

In 1904, George Nevill, age 60, died from heart failure in a Rathbun mine. This type of accident could happen anytime anywhere. In 1910 Paul Batterstone, age 36, died under a fall of rock in a slope mine in the Rathbun area. This is probably the most common cause of the many fatalities in the coal mines.

In 1913, Joe Pavlich, a 19-year-old Austrian lad, died after being crushed by a mine car in some way. This might be after the car got loose or ran off the rails. There are many ways that a miner could be killed by a fluke accident. Joe Buhanik was killed riding the rails and falling off. His legs were cut off by the train wheels