for The Frostburg Express
by Polla Horn
Sullivan Brothers Mine No. 3 was located on the north bank of Braddock Run, across from the hamlet of Clarysville. A tram road crossed Braddock Run to connect to the tipple on the Eckhart Branch of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad. The mine, in operation from 1916 until 1935, had shipped a total of 297,789 tons of coal, the most of any mine in the Clarysville vicinity.
On January 5, 1832, Markely Robertson, Richard LaRue, and Oscar LaRue went to work on the day shift at Mine No.3, loading coal into cars to be sent to the tipple. A machine with a mounted cylindrical grinder had been used by the previous crew to break coal away from the seam. The three men worked all day in room #3, using open flame lights for visibility. Their work day was over at 3:30 PM, and they left the mine. The mine remained quiet until 11:30 PM when machine runner Henry Stafford and his helper, Marshall Long, entered the mine to cut coal from the 5th right heading. As they advanced toward room #3, Mr. Long began sanding the track to keep the grinding machine from slipping. He had gone approximately 50 feet into the room before lighting a lamp. During the seven hours of inactivity in the mine, a pocket of methane gas had formed. When the lamp was lit, the gas exploded, blowing the doors off of the main heading and the 5th right heading. A door was blown off of room # 3, and the door to room #2 was damaged. Marshall Long, badly burned, survived. The violent explosion killed Henry Stafford.
These men were equipped with a safety lamp which was found, unused, hanging on the grinding machine. They failed to inspect for gas before entering the work space, as they had been instructed to do.
The Bureau of Mines had been endeavoring to secure the introduction of approved electric cap lamps in the Sullivan Mine for the three years preceding this disaster, but had been unable to persuade the management to do so.
“Hind sight is always 20/20.” IF the safety lamp had been used, and IF a gas inspection had been completed, this accident could have been prevented. IF electric cap lamps had been provided, the open flame lamp would have been removed. After Mr. Stafford’s death, electric cap lamps were installed before work resumed in Mine No. 3.
The hazardous conditions of mining were often magnified by the complacency of miners and the callousness of owners, creating potential disaster. A large family was left to grieve for Henry Stafford that included his wife, Margaret (Wenk) Stafford; five children under the age of twelve; his mother, Mrs. Robert Rizer; one brother, and three sisters. All were left to ponder the “what IF’s” of this preventable tragedy.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”