for The Frostburg Express
by Polla Horn
Shimer and Clark: The Power of Electricity
A significant challenge for all who worked the underground coal mines was darkness. The ability of our miners to safely perform their duties depended heavily on illumination. The first attempts to make a safety lamp that would not trigger an explosion began around the turn of the 20th century. Carbide lamps were used until electric lighting became a feasible alternative during the first half of the century.
The Georges Creek Coal and Iron Company used incandescent electric lights as early as 1900. However, the lights only reached about a quarter of a mile into the mine where the horses were hitched to mine cars. In remote parts of the mine, oil lamps were still used. Around 1905, the Consolidation Coal Company opened an electric plant near its Ocean No. 1 Mine, providing light and power for the mine as well as a lighting system for Midland and other nearby towns. The advent of electricity in mines, while bettering safety and production, created another hazard: electrocution.
Thomas Shimer, born January 20, 1917, was the son of James Allen Shimer and Lora (Ross) Shimer. He grew up in Eckhart, where his father was a carpenter in the mines. Thomas married Dorothy Grant, and in 1940 they were living in Eckhart, with his widowed mother, in his childhood home. He supported the family by working as a laborer in Mine No. 10 of the Consolidated Fuel Company. Thomas had worked in this mine for ten years. He and Dorothy had three children: daughters Dorothy and Wilma Lee, and son Allen. Allen remembers his father working the night shift at the mine. There wasn’t much time for other activities, but he remembers gathering walnuts with his father in the fall, and spending winter evenings cracking and picking the meats from them.
On January 9, 1952, Thomas went to work at the mine and began placing extra sections of conveyor chain along the conveyor. He was working with three other men, and had placed the chain on the clearance side of the conveyor where there was sufficient room to work. Several minutes later, his buddies heard him cry out. When they looked up, they saw Thomas on the narrow side of the tunnel between the conveyor and a mine post. He was lying directly under an unguarded energized trolley wire, with his right arm against the side of the conveyor. His buddies immediately attempted resuscitation, but to no avail. The mine foreman and mining inspector were notified, and an evaluation of the accident site was done. Their recommendation, after the inspection was complete, stated: “When work is to be done near a power wire which is less than six and a half feet above the top rail, the wire should be de-energized or shielded properly by a guard.”
At home, ten year-old Dorothy, seven year-old Allen, and two year-old Wilma Lee were sleeping soundly. A loud knocking on the door wakened them. Upon investigating the commotion, the children saw men from the mine telling their mother that her husband had been electrocuted. Mrs. Shimer received a small pension from the mining company. To make ends meet, she began working at the County Nursing Home, where she remained until her retirement at the age of 62.
Thomas Schley & Sarah Robertson Clark
Thomas Schley Clark was born on July 15, 1898, the son of Samuel Jefferson Clark and Emily Jane (Miller) Clark. He married Sarah Robertson in 1919. The couple moved to a home on Stoney Run Road in Westernport, where their eight children were born. Thomas worked as a farmer and coal miner to support his large family. It is said that Thomas had a wonderful sense of humor, enjoyed reading the funny papers, and was always ready with a joke. He was a man of faith, attending the Westernport Assembly of God Church. His strong faith supported him when his oldest son, Thomas, Jr., was killed in France, in 1944, during WW II.
On June 19, 1953, Thomas was working in the Stoney Run Mine with his nephew, James Lambert. The two were working in separate areas of the mine, repairing the wires of a signaling system. Near quitting time, James went looking for his uncle and found him slumped over a live electric wire, about 150 feet inside the mine heading. James jerked the wire out of the plug and ran for help. Arthur Braithwaite, who lived near the mine, returned with James to the scene of the accident and removed the wires from Thomas’s badly burned hands. The mine inspector’s report surmised that Thomas had seen a broken signal wire lying on the haul way and bent over to pick it up, not realizing that it was live. He was apparently grounded to the rail through his damp feet. Thomas Clark was 54 years old with 27 years of mining experience.
The tragic deaths of Thomas Shimer and Thomas Clark, victims of electrocution, were less than 18 months apart. Even in the early 1950s, our miners were in need of heightened safety measures and a deepened respect for the power of electricity.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at email@example.com
Bucky Schriver at firstname.lastname@example.org
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”