for The Frostburg Express
Runaway on the gravity plane
The famous Mount Savage fire clay was discovered on Savage Mountain, several miles northwest of Mount Savage, in 1839. The manufacturing of brick was at first a sideline for the Union Mining Co. After the failure of the iron industry in Mount Savage in 1847, brick making assumed a more prominent role in the company's business model.
In the 1840s, to reach the top of Savage Mountain west of Frostburg, a 1.5 mile-long gravity plane was built for the Union Mining Co. As with all gravity planes, the empty cars going up the plane helped to balance the weight of the loaded cars going down. A steam-powered engine at the top of the incline turned a bull wheel, which controlled the heavy wire cable that was attached to the mine cars. The top of the incline terminated near the present location of the Big Savage Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage. The plane passed through a tunnel, driven in 1846, to reach the Mount Savage or Johnstown iron ore, immediately overlying the Hardman or Furnace clay. According to Engineering Magazine April-September 1894:"One of the earliest in this country was a line built for the Mount Savage Fire Brick and Mining Company, by Mr. E. G. Spilsbury, who was then the American representative of the Hodgson Wire Rope Tramway Company. Several other lines have since been built from Mr. Spilsbury's designs." According to the Maryland Geological Survey in 1922, this was most likely the longest gravity plane in the world. At the foot of the plane, the cars were attached to a "dinky engine" and hauled to the brick plant at Mount Savage, nearly 2 miles away.
At 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 11, 1887, six workers had ended their shift in the fire clay mine. John Edward Blank, 35; Samuel Reeser, 19, Frank Lotz, 15, William Lemmert, 16, William Sourbrine, 12; and John Gleim, 11, decided to ride the loaded cars down the gravity plane to return to Mount Savage. Reeser was from Sandy Hook, Maryland, near Harper's Ferry. The rest of the miners were from Allegany County. When the cars neared the bottom of the plane, the cable broke; the cars leaped forward at a breakneck pace, carrying with them six terrified miners. Blank and Sourbrine dove off immediately and ended up with only minor scratches. When the cars, derailed at the bottom of the plane, Samuel Reeser was seriously injured with two cuts to his head and fear of internal injuries. William Lemmert was badly cut about the head. John Gleim suffered bruises to his head and body and his tongue was nearly cut in two. Fifteen-year-old Frank Lotz was thrown into the air. The back of his head was bashed against a rock, killing him instantly. In addition to his parents, George and Elizabeth Lotz, Frank was survived by three brothers and three sisters.
John Gleim's family had already faced a gauntlet of tragedy. According to a story in the following day's issue of the Cumberland Daily Times; "Gleim has been unfortunate of late, was badly burned by an explosion of powder some time ago, then had both arms broken." John's father, Paul Gleim, had been run over by tram cars and killed on the Union Mining Co. gravity plane just four months earlier. Although the newapaper reported John Gleim's age to be 12, his World War I draft registration card issued in September 1918 stated his birth date as May 2, 1876; John was only 11 years old at the time of the accident.
John's wages were desperately needed to support his widowed mother and younger siblings. His mother, Christiana Gleim, carried a heavy burden as she endured the ongoing agony of these repetitive and horrific accidents. As difficult as it was for Christana, her young son had to remain in the mines for the survival of the family. Still, the tragedies for the Gleim family did not end. In 1941, John's stepbrother Charles Henry "Henry" Glime (the family's surname now had a different spelling) was killed by a roof fall at the McNitt Coal Co.'s No. 2 Mine in Midlothian. The five surviving miners all recovered from their injuries. William Lemmert died in 1923. John Edward Blank passed away three years later. Frank Lotz's mother Elizabeth "Eliza" Lotz, died in 1929; her husband George Lotz, followed her to the grave in 1932. Frank Lotz, George and Eliza Lotz, William Lemmert and John Blank are all buried in St. George's Episcopal Church Cemetery in Mount Savage. Samuel Reeser died in 1929 and is buried in the Old Brownsville Church of the Brethren Cemetery in Sandy Hook. Samuel left three sisters and one brother. Two of his sisters lived in Allegany County: Mrs. Sadie Rice of Mount Savage and Mrs. Annie Smallwood of Cumberland. John Gleim died in 1942 and was laid to rest in Frostburg Memorial Park. William Sourbrine, in the 1930 census report, was working as a coal miner in Johnstown, Pennsylvania; his presence was found in a 1951 Johnstown City Directory. William's burial place was not discovered. Four of the miners involved in the 1887 Savage fire clay incline accident were between the ages of 11 and 16. Today, after finishing up their summer vacations, these youngsters would be climbing aboard school busses. Young boys were not so fortunate in 1887.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Committee would like to thank Dennis Lashley and Cora Carter of the Mount Savage Historical Society for their help in compiling this Recollection.
“Miner Recollections Volume One 2018” is a compilation of the first 100 Recollections and includes the growing list of miners who perished while mining Georges Creek coal. Proceeds support the installation of a life-sized bronze statue and the educational landscaping that will surround it.
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