Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Only six months after the first Macbeth explosion on March 11, 1937, the Macbeth Mine blew again killing eighteen men. As a March rain fell, scenes from September past were being replayed. Some of the men who helped carry out bodies in the first explosion were now mangled corpses in the same entries they had trudged over bearing stretchers.
Again, family and friends rushed to the gaping black mouth of the Macbeth Mine. The women could only imagine how the entries and rooms looked where their loved ones were lying hurt or dead. The miners knew the dead bodies would be sprawled where they fell . . . lying in complete darkness until a rescuer's light fell upon them.
Florence Gay Browning was a seventh grader at Dehue Grade School, and went to school with many of the victims children. She remembers the dark dismal days following the explosion. Her father, Ed was on the safety team that helped recover the bodies. "No one attended school, and we just stood around the mine entrance in the pouring rain like immovable objects. I'll never forget the mournful whine of the cable bringing another body to the surface, and the screams that followed when the miner was identified. If I had taken color pictures they would have turned out black and white. Day after day . . . all I remember is grey and black tones."
Like the first explosion, the blast hit only one section of the mine about a mile from the bottom on 2 West and 18 Right. Several men escaped without injury. Some by walking up the slope, and some by a screw-type escape ladder with 152 steps. The authorities soon knew where the explosion occurred, and had a list of men in each area.
The bodies of Joe Fry and Troy McCoy were located about a mile and a half from the foot of the slope. They were hurdled a hundred feet from the motor in which they were riding. Floyd Fields' body was found hundreds of feet away from Fry and McCoy. All of their bodies were badly burned, and apparently they were killed by the force of the blast. Fields was formerly employed by the Lyburn Mine, and had worked at Macbeth Mine for three days when he was killed.
Mrs. R.B. Kimball came to the scene carrying her baby of a few months, and her other three children were hanging to her dress-tail. She remarked she had faith her husband would make it out alive. Her brother, Tom Tiller had died in the first explosion, and she knew her husband was working in the section that blew. Finally, a body was brought to the surface. As rescuers passed by Mrs. Kimball with a blanket-covered miner, she was told it was the body of her husband. She collapsed. Women came to her aid, and onlookers stuffed fingers in their ears to block out her screams. She was led away sobbing, "He was so good to me."
Fred Tiller, another brother of Mrs. Kimball was on the rescue team of this explosion, and stated the second blow was much stronger than the first. He said timbers were blown out, and that slate had fallen in the main haulage ways. It took two hours per corpse to recover a body over the mountains of rock falls.
Fourteen bodies were removed during the first five days following the explosion, and funeral services were quickly arranged. R. B. Kimball and Gazel Vankovich both had six children. Tuphon Podlaska's funeral was held at the home of his friend, Joe Orloff. Podlaska was from Russia, and had one relative in America. At the time of his funeral his cousin had not be reached. Heavy slate falls four feet wide and two-hundred-fifty feet high hampered rescue efforts. The last four bodies recovered were Hubert Fleming, George McCormick, and twins, August and Jack Tusek. Fleming, a native of Kentucky had recently divorced his wife on grounds of desertion. He planned to marry Margie Lovelace in the spring.
Jack Tusek's was the fifteenth victim to be recovered. His body was taken to the Harris Funeral, and sealed in a vault. His twin, August was the last body to be removed from the blast torn mine. The twins bodies were placed in a double coffin and they were laid to rest in one large grave. It had taken rescue teams of sometimes forty men working eight hour shifts sixteen days to recover all eighteen men.
Fire Bosses had reported the Macbeth Mine free of gas and safe for the men, and yet the cause of the explosion was blamed on methane gas. Methane gas is colorless, odorless, and flammable. It is formed when plants decay in places where there is little air. It is the primary cause of mine explosions. The Macbeth Mine blew with such force and intensity that no small amount of gas could have caused so much damage.
Macbeth was the third mining town on Rum Creek. It was located about eight miles southeast of the city of Logan. Dehue was the neighboring mining town, and my parents lived there when both disasters took place. Dad often talked about the terrible disasters, and how unsafe he thought the mine was. However, Macbeth went on to produce millions of tons of coal without another major disaster.
During the mining boom in the fifties there were seven or eight mining towns on Rum Creek. All the mines have long since closed. Most of the houses and all of the tipples have been torn down. Still, the ghosts of these once thriving mining towns haunt me.
Tom Brodocko
Floyd Fields
married - 3 children
Hubert Fleming
Leonard Forbes
Sam French
single - colored
Joe Fry
Earl Gearheart
Mike Gimo
Roland Karns
R.B. Kimball
married - 6 children
Troy McCoy
George McCormick
Fred McCrosky
married - colored
Tuphon Podlaska
August Tusek - twin
Jack Tusek - twin
married - 3 children
James Wiley
married - 1 child
Gazel Vankovich
married - 6 children
Resources: They Died in the Darkness by Lacy A. Dillon, copyright 1976 in Ravencliff, West Virginia, and the Logan Banner microfilm.
I have discovered many typos of names of the victims when doing research on mine disaster stories. Sometimes, the errors are corrected in later issues of newspapers, but not always. Many times ages and family information are incorrect. Many of the victims were foreign-born with hard to spell names. Even on the death certificates of victims the information is not always correct. So, if you find a name misspelled or an age listed incorrectly please inform me it can be corrected