1945: War winds down, but death stalks coal mines
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
While 1944 was almost all about the effects of World War II on the local area, events within Carbon County in 1945 would take the cake for headlines throughout the first half of the year.
And one story in particular would overshadow even much larger local events, a story that would be legend unto the present time.
It was the death of Marion Bliss, the Carbon County Sheriff who had been in office since the 1930s and was up until recently, the last Republican elected to office in the county.
That winter and spring death became common in the area. War news was at the front of it, with numerous young men from the area losing their lives as the Allies drove Germany back in Europe and Japan continued to resist in the Pacific Theater. But at home death was common too. The mining business plugged along, with one or two men a month in various mines dying from falling rock, runaway rail cars or other causes. But on March 14 that number increased dramatically. A blast at the Independent Coal and Coke Company mine near Kenilworth almost immediately killed three workers and within a week ended the life of three more who passed away from their burns. Then another passed away a few weeks later.
The dust blast was apparently set off when a direct current power line broke and the arc from the break ignited the dust. Altogether 16 men were on the crew and 12 of them were injured. One was able to return home almost immediately while three others stayed in the Kenilworth hospital rather than being transported to the Price Hospital. The men who died in the explosion and from injuries were David Bennett, Arthur Williams, Ivan Jensen, Gilner Nielsen, Clem Hawks and Ivan Russell Jackson. The final man who died was never identified in the Sun Advocate at the time.
But the angel of death wasn't done with Carbon County's miners. Only two months later, a mine blast at Utah Fuel mine in Sunnyside killed 23 miners. At 3:15 p.m. on May 9 a "terrific explosion"occurred in the mine. The blast took place as the day shift at the mine was preparing to leave. At the time 87 men were working in the mine. As searchers looked for other bodies as well as individuals who might have survived, methane gas became a problem.
The blast was so powerful that flames and dust were forced out of the ventilating shafts and even at the tipple, two miles away, fire and dust could be seen. It was the biggest loss of life in over 20 years in a single accident in a coal mine located in the area. The investigation started right away, but before a report could even come out in the next week's paper another miner, this time at the U.S. Fuel Company mine at Hiawatha, was killed by a coal fall. Fred Walker died while trying to remove loose slabs of coal from the face of the room he was mining in.
Those who died in the Sunnyside mine included Joe Padilla, Jim Bailey, James Gilmore, Clell Forsyth, Nick Sandoval, Jim Jardine, Pedro Gabaldon, Cornelius Corte, Henry Vradak, Virgil Stamperm Charles Nitterson, Joe Montoya, Tom Virgil, James Wycherley, John Martinez, Warren Hotchkiss, Laurence Figmora, Manuel Trujillo, Efram Manzanares, Ira Hill and Irvin Leonard. Some were not accounted for at the time of the accident.
Sadly, only three weeks later in the same mine James Chapman was killed when a mine train hauling timbers derailed and one of the timbers was forced through the cab killing Chapman instantly.
In was, however in April, that the Bliss shooting took place. He lost his life in the incident along with two ranchers, one of which was the person that originally was thought to have killed Bliss.
But the investigation revealed something different; very different from what was supposed on the day of the sheriff's death.