Midwest Coal Mining Disaster Remembered

Updated on October 1, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (Active AF Civil Air Patrol).

Coal Miners' Tribute in Shawnee. Ohio. A miner working on the low ceiling of a mine.
Coal Miners' Tribute in Shawnee. Ohio. A miner working on the low ceiling of a mine. | Source

Changes in the Job Market and Industry

"Coal mining equipment operation is a declining job category in America, meaning that it is offering fewer and fewer job openings and will ultimately disappear, as did "elevator operator" in the late 1960s, and as "doorman" did in most regions.

Jobs disappear when there is no longer a need for them and technology eliminates their functions. Coal mining outside China is a good example of this decline and elimination, despite efforts at "clean coal" extraction.

Decline In American Mining

The US Department of Labor says the job category of "mining equipment operators" will have fewer and fewer openings every year through 2014.

This decline is understandable, not only because the trend is toward more sustainable energy resources and opening of more "green jobs," but also because the occupational dangers and hazards of coal mining have become apparent.

More and more mining disasters occur daily as mines such as coal mines become over-excavated and more unsafe.

We have currently lost six miners in Utah, plus three of the rescue workers on that scene. China lost 183 men in a mine that filled with water during a flood. People there are near the riot stage over this catastrophe and the families of the deceased are uncontrollable and inconsolable.

My great uncle Roy Miller survived the biggest mining disaster in Ohio, the Millfield Coal Mine Disaster in his hometown (near Athens, Ohio), which I describe below. He worked at least four decades bent over in the mines -- he was 7' tall -- and later died of Black Lung, along with lung and rib cage cancer.

Miners are subject to a number of adverse health conditions, injuries, and illnesses in their work, including carbon monoxide poisoning,decompression sickness ("the bends", like deep water diving), Black Lung, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, other respiratory conditions, crush injuries, explosions, cave-ins, floods, trolley crashes, methane gas inhalation, and some others.

if you might like to read about the day to day life of coal miners and their families, read any of Homer Hickam's books about Coalwood, West Virgina. That includes Rocket Boys -- and see that movie, too. I think that story, based on facts, shows that coal miners, engineers, and astronauts are equally important.

The Coalwood Way

Mr. Hickam has his own website and puts out a newsletter at homerhickam.com. One of Hickam's more recent books is about a woman apprentice mining engineer who earns a regular miner's hat in the Coalwood mines: Red Helmet (named after the rookies' helmets - red so that everyone else can see when they are in trouble and help).

Deadly Millfield Mine Disaster

Millfield, Ohio Coal Mine Disaster: 1930
Millfield, Ohio Coal Mine Disaster: 1930 | Source

Details of the Gas Explosion

A cave-in occurred at the long-time mining grounds in Southern Ohio north of Athens on a Wednesday.

A mine suffered an enormous explosion at the back of the line of coal car rails, likely caused by the accidental ignition of carbon monoxide (CO) gas that is often present with coal. Workers were foolish enough to use open-flame lamps in the mine, even though they knew about the gas. Nearly 100 years later, mine workers and homeowners that use coal oil and natural gas heating must still be warned about carbon monoxide and open flames.

At midnight no survivors had been found.

Mining and Poverty

A cave-in occurred at the long-time, unsafe mining grounds in Southern Ohio north of Athens on a Wednesday, killing many workers who had no other means of income.

A mine suffered an enormous explosion at the back of the line of coal car rails, likely caused by the accidental ignition of carbon monoxide (CO) gas that is often present with coal. Workers were foolish enough to use open-flame lamps in the mine, even though they knew about the gas. Nearly 100 years later, mine workers and homeowners that use coal oil and natural gas heating must still be warned about carbon monoxide and open flames.

At dusk on November 5, 1930 during The Great Depression, thousands of people gathered on the lot of Sunday Creek/Millfield Coal Mine #6. The Ohio National Guard began establishing order there as quickly as possible and feared a riot.

Ambulances shuttled bodies back and forth to makeshift morgues.

Anyone with a horse and buggy was called to help. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army served coffee and sandwiches to the rescue workers, while the roads were all jammed with traffic. Nurses and doctors came with the Red Cross to help.

Rescue teams could only work an hour at the time, because the air was so bad after the gas explosion that killed 82 people down in the mine, including the company's top executives who were there to inspect safety equipment!

At midnight no survivors had been found.

A
Millfield OH:
Millfield, OH 45761, USA

get directions

B
Sunday Creek:
Sunday Creek, Ohio, USA

get directions

Three rescuers heard cries from within the mine after midnight and finally found 19 men alive and fighting fumes. They suffered severe carbon monoxide poisoning, burns, and fractures.

A total of 82 men died, including a few company officers and four visitors. One family lost their father and four of their sons that worked in #6 beside their dad.

This disaster occurred after the mining union broke under a prolonged strike. The men who died were "scabs" - they worked non-union and probably had been starving before that. This showed the public the problems that working class people were facing.

These old first aid kits are not often updated.
These old first aid kits are not often updated. | Source

Aftermath of the Explosion

The United Mine Workers Union struggled at Mine #6 after the disaster and gained publicity, with the result that mine safety conditions across the nation began to improve after this 1930 disaster.

The Millfield case does not appear on "big lists" of famous American mine disasters, many with fewer deaths than in this Ohio case. That is a mystery, but a marker stands at the explosion sight. Owners decided never to rebuild the ruined mine.

Today, townspeople talk about the site being haunted, as described in Ohio Ghost Hunter Guide.

A memorial service is held at the site of the former mine every year for the families and descendants of those who died in the explosion. My great uncle just missed being at that mine in his long career as a miner in Millfield.

Last Survivor: Sigmund Kozma

A memorial service is held at the site of the former mine every year for the families and descendants of those who died in the explosion. My great uncle, Roy Miller, just missed being at that mine in his long career as a miner in Millfield.

Today, Ohio miners participate In safety competitions. Here is the mine rescue team from Hopedale Mining in Harrison County, Ohio.
Today, Ohio miners participate In safety competitions. Here is the mine rescue team from Hopedale Mining in Harrison County, Ohio. | Source

Major Mining Disasters Occur Globally

The most recent US mine disaster to date is the one in Utah. The co-owner, Bob Murray, is from a Cleveland-based mining company, eerily linking this disaster with Ohio and bringing up memories of the Millfield Mine Disaster.

A recent comment from Murray were words to the effect that rescue workers searching for the lost miners will dig a sixth borehole into the "evil mountain."

Reuters news agency reports that Chinese rescue workers pumped water from mine shafts where 182 miners are trapped in Xintai, in the east coast province of Shandong, China. A river dyke burst and poured water into mine shafts on Friday 8/17/07. It is China's fourth deadliest mining disaster.

Sago Mine, W. Va.  - Coal Mine Disaster in 2006
Sago Mine, W. Va. - Coal Mine Disaster in 2006 | Source

Others coal-related disasters include:

  • April 26, 1942, up to 1,572 people were killed in a coal dust explosion at the Honkeiko coal mine in Japanese-occupied Manchuria.
  • April 1991. A gas explosion killed 147 coal miners at the Sanjiao River mine.
  • November 2004. 166 miners are killed in a gas explosion after being ordered back into the state-owned Chenjiashan coal mine after the pit caught fire.
  • February 2005. 214+ people were killed in a gas explosion at the Sunjiawan mine of the state-owned Fuxin Coal Industry Group.
  • November 2005. 169 workers are killed in a gas explosion at the state-owned Dongfeng coal mine.

The list of disasters continues, especially in China, through the 2010s.

"Black flowers grow in my yard." flowers in yards of coal mining towns are often covered in soot and coal dust.
"Black flowers grow in my yard." flowers in yards of coal mining towns are often covered in soot and coal dust. | Source

"BlackFlowers" - Lynn Miles

Black Flowers - Lyrics*

I live beside this dark coal mine

the whistle blows everyday on time

when the rain pours down and the wind blows hard

black flowers grow in my yard

.

When I lost my man

down that old coal shaft

I swear I heard the devil laugh and

the angels left and they took my heart

now black flowers grow in my yard

.

and the undertaker is a busy man

he's got a clean blue shirt, he's got soft pink hands

got a paved driveway and a brand new car

black flowers grow in my yard

.

When the baby cries, I sing hush little one

but I swear that I'm gonna come undone

'cause when the rain pours down

and the wind blows hard

black flowers grow in my yard

*Quoted accurately; copyright of Lynne Miles

Coal Mining Job Market Declines

Jobs Decreased by 90% From 2007 to 2018

Coal mining jobs advertised numbered 5,000 in 2007. By Autumn 2018, the number had decreased to approximately 500.

Highest Demand Jobs:

  1. General Electricians
  2. Maintenance Electricians
  3. Field Service Electricians
  4. Material Handlers
  5. Heavy Equipment Operators
  6. CDL-licensed Truck Drivers

Coal Mining Jobs Decreased from 2009 Through 2015, with a moderate rise after January 2015, followed by another decrease.
Coal Mining Jobs Decreased from 2009 Through 2015, with a moderate rise after January 2015, followed by another decrease. | Source

In March 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 54% of mines employ fewer than 10 people. Almost 75% employ fewer than 20 workers.

Mining crews are generally very small in the USA.
Mining crews are generally very small in the USA. | Source

Top 10 Revenue-Producing American Mining Companies in 2018

  1. Newmont Mining Company
  2. Peabody Energy
  3. Arch Coal Company
  4. Consol Energy
  5. Compass Minerals International
  6. U.S. Silica Holdings
  7. Suncoke Energy, Inc.
  8. Warrior Met. Coal
  9. Foresight Energy
  10. New Wei Inc.

Sources

  • Indeed.com and Simplyhired.com. Listings of coal mining jobs in America. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  • Inglish, P. Interview with Roy Miller. August 15, 1968.
  • Statista. Leading U.S. Mining Companies Based on Revenue. www.statista.com/statistics/726601/leading-united-states-mining-companies-based-on-revenue/ Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Work Related Injuries, Illness, and Fatalities. www.bls.gov/iif Retrieved October 1, 2018.

Questions & Answers

    © 2007 Patty Inglish MS

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      • profile image

        Dan 

        10 years ago

        Interesting post. I would say move to Australia. We seem to have a booming population at the moment especially in the Hunter Valley, NSW because of the Mining Industry.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        Wow! What a great career, except for the remote sites sometimes. I think geology would be fascinating.

        That's great job information for anyone that would like to move to Australia! I must investiagate this more. Thanks so much for posting all this material.

      • Lissie profile image

        Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

        10 years ago from New Zealand

        That's an interesting view especially the job figures declining for geologists/mining engineers. Now I used to be a geologist - not coal - but underground and open pit metals exploration. I say used to be because I got out of the industry in 1996 because there were very few openings unless I was prepared to keep working in remote locations. Today I live in Perth which has a huge mining boom going on: not coal but iron ore, base metails, gold, uranium, oil & gas too and the construction to try and support the industry. I just got called by a recruitment agency - I quote " I could place you at a remote site tomorrow as a geologist if you wanted it" - I last worked as straight geo in 1989! I have done no further relevant training. So any unemployed geos or mining engineers or any skilled trades - check out getting an Australian visa - they need you!

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