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Boone County History

Fatal Boiler Explosion: Two Men Killed and Great Damage Inflicted

Published in the Boone News Republican on Feb. 14, 1883

Hardly had last Wednesday's edition of The Republican got started on the road to its readers before it was reported from mouth to mouth on the streets that the boiler at Shepard's coal mine had exploded with fatal effects.

The explosion occurred between 4 and 5 o'clock. It was the boiler used by the coal company to haul the coal up the incline from the mine at the foot of the hill, and then the coal was dumped into the cars on the railroad track. The boiler was put in last August, and bought of Mr. Weir, foundry man of this city. It was a second hand boiler, but really considered about as good as new, and, we understand, the George Fleming, the engineer, assisted in putting it up, and for that reason is said to have taken pride in the machinery.

The building in which it was located was about 26x30 feet, making quite a large engine house. The boiler was fed from a large tank which was left intact after the explosion, with a twenty-four hours supply of water. When the explosion came it rent everything asunder. The engineer, George Fleming, who seems to have been standing at or near the water cocks, or in the act of firing, was instantly killed. A piece of the boiler, it seems, struck him on the right side of the head, about the temple, almost cleaving the face from the head. He was not otherwise much disfigured, except possibly receiving a fracture of the collar bone.

The next victim was Joseph James, a young man about twenty years old, who was working at the coal chute, and who had gone to get a drink of coffee in the engine room at the time of the explosion. He was also instantly killed, and more badly mangled than Fleming. He is a son of Jonathan James, and old resident of the county and who is one of L.D. Cook's tenants on the farm near the mines.

The third victim was John A. Johnson, of Boonsboro, who was also working at the chute, a little out of range of a line back from the boiler, and about forty feet away. He was thought to be fatally injured, but better now, W.C. Shepard himself, manager of the mines, was in the office building about forty feet from the engine house. This office was badly demolished, a part of the roof being taken off and a missile shot through the building.

George Fleming, the engineer, was for years engineer on the railroad here. He was a son-in-law of Mr. J. Ettinger, of this place, and leaves a wife and two children.

The nature of the explosion is against the theory of a poor boiler, for if there had been a defect in the boiler, it would have simply burst at the weak point.

Old engineers say there can be no such explosion as this was without low water. There was no glass water gauge on the engine. Mr. Shepard says he spoke to George about it a time or two, and George thought it was better not to have it because when he went away at nights and left the engine in charge of the night watch, the latter would be more apt to be deceived by a water gauge than he would by opening the water cocks.

The general conclusion in regard to the whole matter seems to be that the engineer in some way, either by mistake or carelessness, allowed the water to get low in the boiler, and might possibly have been turning on cold water into an almost empty boiler when the explosion occurred. It is in this condition that that peculiar gas, or something, is formed, which, in exploding, is almost equal to dynamite. The explosion was certainly not a steam explosion.

The engine room was torn to atoms, and pieces of the boiler thrown nearly a quarter mile. Two horses hitched in the engine room were killed outright.

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