Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

February 28, 2007

Tragedy at the Shamrock Mine

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

Today’s article will conclude my 18-month long series on coal mines. It has been quite a challenge. Since I have accumulated so much material and pictures and have interviewed so many people, it would be a shame to throw all these resources away. So I am working to preserve this history by putting it all into a book.

Continuing with the remaining coal mines in the northeast part of Centerville in a clockwise direction, the next mine is the Neal Coal Co., locally known also as the Knapp Mine. It was located immediately south of Cooper Creek on the east side of Old Hwy. No. 5. It was built in 1936 and lasted only one year. Nothing is left.

The Rock Valley Coal Co. was built in 1895 and lasted until 1943 with 18 acres mined using an 80 foot shaft. It was on the north side of Rock Valley Road, about two blocks west of Shamrock Lane. Delbert Engle showed me the location near some homes, but there is nothing left to see now.

The Shamrock Mine is the last one to be described among the list of almost 300. Shamrock was located a short distance east of the intersection of Rock Valley Road and Shamrock Lane. It was a slope mine, in operation from 1925 to 1953. About 22 acres were mined. There is nothing but a wooded gully there now.

Shortly after the mine was closed there was a terrible tragedy in this slope mine. The fans were shut down and there was no longer any supply of fresh air. Three boys, Carl Hobart 14, Charles Dunham 15, and Mickey Coulter 14, all good friends, decided to go exploring in a cave. The boys were standouts scholastically, well-liked and all took an active interest in school extra-curricular activities. They were seen that morning walking north, taking them toward the Shamrock Mine, which had closed down earlier that year.

The boys were missed and a search party was organized. The search party that actually found the boys included Walter Adams and Larry, his 18-year old son, Craig Coulter, father of Mickey, and Hugo Johnson. They went directly to the Shamrock Mine and Walter Adams directed a spotlight into the slope entrance. The boys were easily visible. Mickey was only about 10 feet from the entrance, and it was believed he may have made an attempt to get out of the mine. A few feet further down the slope shaft, Carl Hobart’s body was found. Still further back, probably 35 feet from the exit was the body of Charles Dunham.

It was shortly after 6:30 p.m. when the discovery was made. Dr. E.F. Ritter said the boys had been dead several hours. Death was attributed to carbon monoxide which means the absence of oxygen. Coulter and Walter Adams had gone into the shaft momentarily, and then Coulter had gone into town for a rescue car, while Walter and Albert Adams brought the bodies of the boys outside. Albert Adams said he could tell the air was bad, and he detected a smell which seemed rather moldy. The boys probably sensed that and may have been trying to get out.. Walter Adams was affected by his rescue efforts, and when the rescue car arrived, they administered oxygen to him. He recovered rapidly and suffered no lasting ill effects.

T.C. Chapman was in Centerville to make a routine report on the incident. He said that he was certain it was Black Damp. This often starts right at the entrance way, and is rather common in unventilated mines. No barricades barred the entrance to the mine, nor were they required according to state law at that time.

Before concluding my articles on coal mining entirely, I want to correct a serious error of mine concerning the Scandinavian Mine in the southeast part of Centerville. I have stated that it was located along the hike and bike trail, just north of Cottage St. and have even promoted a commemorative sign to be placed in that location when I was Sesquicentennial Chairman in 1994.

If it were not for Larry Freeborn, I would still be under that delusion. Larry lived in a home on West Cottage St. as a young lad. Apparently he and buddies wandered all over that part of town and got into all kinds of trouble. Once he stood on top of the bridge just west of the Burlington depot and made a huge snowball. He dropped it on the train engine below and it happened to fall right into the smokestack.

I asked Larry to show me exactly where the Rathbun Coal Co. No. 2 mine had been. This is the one just northwest of the present water plant. He showed me, and then told me there was a narrow gage rail track between the mine and a coal dumping station just north of Cottage St. The mine cars would be taken out of the mine and hauled directly to the dumping station to load the coal into trucks on one side or into rail cars on the other side. The dumping station was located exactly where I thought the Scandinavian mine was and there was black residue all around that area. The rail line that I had seen was for the dumping station rather than the Scandinavian Mine.

So I asked Larry, “If the mine was not here, where was it?” We then happened to see, in an old 1896 plat book, that a “coal shaft” was shown south of the main line railroad track and just west of South Main. We went there to look and found a low area behind the Jehovah’s Witnesseses Church, which may have been the location of the pond for steam. The mine was probably just south of the gate located at the north entrance to the trail. There was probably a very short spur track there to service both the Scandinavian Mine and the Gypsum Plant.

So much of the history of the coal mining days has been preserved in the Appanoose County Coal Mining Museum through the huge efforts of Leon Kauzlarich, one of the members and scion of a large coal mining family at Diamond. He has also made wood replicas of Diamond and Mystic and other exhibits and has produced a video-tape of a re-union of some of the older miners discussing the old days. He has made the museum the repository of many of the coal mining artifacts. The video-tape “The Last Pony Mine” can also be viewed there.