The Cherry Mine Disaster
The Cherry Mine Disaster
November 13, 1909
Descending Air Shaft With Helmets Written for Mines and MineralsThe account of the disaster at the Cherry Mine of the St Paul Coal Co, published in the December issue of Mines and Minerals, was correct in so far as data were available at the time, excepting two statements. In that account it was stated that the fan was ordinarily run as an exhaust and that the main shaft was the downcast. It should have read that the fan ordinarily ran as a blower, and the main shaft was the upcast. The other inaccuracy was the statement that Messrs. Williams and Morris of the Urbana and Pittsburg Testing Stations descended to the bottom seam on Wednesday evening. This statement should have read 'to the upper seam.' Since that article was prepared a joint investigation has been carried on by the coroner's jury, a committee from the State Mine Inspectors, consisting of Messrs Thos. Hudson and Hugh McAllister, and the Illinois Mining Investigation Commission. While the investigation cannot be completed until the mine has been unsealed, so that the conditions about the shaft bottom can be studied, the following facts have been brought out, the only break in the sequence of the story of the early stages of the disaster being the unaccountable absence of Alex, Rosenjack, the cager on the north side of the air-shaft, and Robert Dean, the cager on the south side. These men have mysteriously disappeared, and all efforts to locate them have thus far failed. their evidence, however, cannot materially affect the story as to the cause of the fire.
The accompanying illustrations give the details of the mine workings, all of the plans and sections being taken directly from the maps of the company, excepting Figs 6, 7 and 8 that are taken from sketches made by Mr. Geo S. Rice from the company's maps and here used by his courtest. Two seams of coal were being mined at Cherry; gthe upper, known locally as the 'Second Vein" is 232 feet from the surface. The strata through which the shaft was sunk are of interest on account of the caving about the bottom of the shaft at the second vein, which necessitated the extensive cribbing to be referred to in detail later, and which added so materially to the difficulty of extinguishing the fire. The log of the shaft is as follows: Surface, 6 feet; yellow clay, 4 feet; blue clay, 12 feet; gravel and clay, 27 feet; hard brown clay, 6 feet; sandy clay, 3 feet; silt, 6 feet; green clay, 6 feet; blue clay and gravel, 5 feet; gravel and clay, 6 feet; gravel, 2 feet. Ledge: Limestone, 6 feet; soapstone, 10 feet; limestone, 6 feet; black slate, 9 feet; blue shale, 13 feet; lime shale, 11 feet; blue shale, 15 feet; clay shale, 11 feet; soapstone, 2 feet; lime shale, 10 feet; brown shale, 2 feet; blue shale, 5 feet; red shale, 14 feet; lime shale, 10 feet; limestone, 29 feet; lime rock, 1 foot; sand rock, 21 feet; soapstone, 11 feet; black slate, 3 feet, coal, first vein, 37 feet; fire clay, 5.3 feet; lime shale, 16 feet; sandstone, 9 feet; soapstone, 9 feet; black slate, 3 feet; coal, second vein(323.2 feet), 5.2 feet; fireclay, 8 foot; lime shale, 3 feet; lime rock, 3 feet; limestone, 5 feet; blue shale, 14 feet; soapstone, 52 feet; blue shale, 4 feet; lime rock, 9 feet; black slate, 3 feet; black shale, 5 feet; blue shale, 3 feet; lime shale, 2 feet; sand rock, 21 feet; soapstone, 22 feet; black shale, 7 feet; soapstone, 4 feet; coal, third vein, 4 feet. Total: 485 feet. Sump: Clay and sand, 2 feet; sand rock, 14 feet. The coal is about 5 feet thick, and is worked by the panel method. The roof above this coal varies from black slate to white sandstone, and is very defective in places. The floor is fireclay about 1 foot thick. The extent of the mine is shown by the sketch map. Fig 4 , that gives only the entry development, March 31, 1909. About 300 men were working in this seam at the time of the accident. The La Salle third vein is found 485 feet from the surface. This is 3 1/2 feet thick, and was worked long wall, as shown in Fig 5 , which shows the development at about the time of the fire. The long wall portion of the mine had been opened up only about a year, and at the time of the accident, approximately 200 men were in this section. The room and pillar mine had been worked for about 5 years and workings had reached a distance of 3,000 feet north of the main shaft, about 2,000 feet to the east, about 2,500 feet south, and about 2,500 feet west from the main shaft. It was the original intention of the coal company to work only the lower or long wall mine, as the middle vein is usually not particularly good in the Bureau County coal field in which Cherry is situated, but, owing to the better condition of the middle vein, it was extensively developed and the opening of the third vein postponed. The company had planned to discontinue work in the middle vein in the near future, which will account for some of the apparently temporary connections between the two veins and for the roundabout method of taking the coal to the surface from the lower vein as explained later. The details of the shaft bottom of the room-and-pillar mine are shown in Fig 6 , and section through the two shafts along the broken line XX, Fig 6 is shown in Fig 7 . both shafts extended from the surface to the lower seam, as shown in Fig 7 . The coal from the room and pillar working was hoisted through the main shaft and the cage for hoisting coal was lowered only to this level, where it rested on sump blocks placed across the shaft. On top of the sump blocks was an iron grating to prevent coal from falling to the bottom of the shaft. This grating could be removed if men were to be hoisted from the lower to the middle seam. In the shaft, between the middle and lower seams, there was an auxiliary cage for hoisting men. This could be attached to the underpart of the main hoisting cage by a rope, on the end of which there was a hook so that the end of the rope could be quickly attached to an eye under the cage, and the lower cage thus hoisted to a point just below the sump bars at the middle seam. 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 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 . 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 . 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, 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.