Monday, February 16, 2009

Centralia Mine Fire

Centralia Mine Fire Looking Down into Centralia

Yesterday, Feb. 15, 2009 I was coming home from a District 12 VFW meeting held in Mt. Carmel. On the way I was looking to get some pictures of the wind Generators up on the Ringtown Mountain. When I got to Centralia the mine fire was putting out some good steam clouds and it was such a nice day I decided to photograph them. It is strange I have been there so many times but never seem to have my camera. But luck had it and I got some interesting pic's.

Still is a very strange site to see.

One of the old vents.

If you want to read a real good book on this subject check out David DeKok"s book Unseen Danger. This is from David's Web site on the Mine Fire.

Anthracite coal was mined in Centralia, Pennsylvania, for more than a hundred years. What we today call the Centralia mine fire is a direct legacy of the environmental devastation of that era and the failure of either government or private industry to face up to the damage that had been done and the risks that remained. In my book, Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire, I tell the story of how an underground fire destroyed Centralia. I witnessed much of the second half of the story and researched the rest.

Centralia was a pleasant community of about 1,435 souls in 1962. On May 27 of that year, with the best of intentions, a fire was set in Centralia's garbage dump by firemen hired by the borough council. They had always done this, because the dump had always been next to one cemetery or another, and with Memorial Day and many grave visits approaching, they wanted to get rid of the offending odors as best they could.

The firemen piled the trash in one corner of the pit, set it afire and later washed down the smoldering ashes with fire hoses. But this year it went horribly wrong and the fire found its way through a hole in the pit into the vast, black labyrinth of abandoned coal mines that lay beneath Centralia. The borough council tried desperately to put out the underground fire, but after a few days it was beyond their reach. Soon enough, the true origin of the fire would be forgotten--conveniently or otherwise.

Over the next two decades, the people of Centralia watched as repeated state and federal efforts to stop the fire failed either for lack of sufficient funding or political clout. In 1979, after one particularly ill-conceived engineering project, the fire broke through an underground barrier installed in earlier years and moved under the town itself, sending dangerous gases into one home after another and causing the ground itself to collapse. A once pleasant and neighborly community was torn apart by dissension between those who were terrified and wanted to leave, and those, betting the fire would never get to them, who demanded to stay and ridiculed the others for their fears.

In the end, repeated and hard-hitting press coverage of the town's plight by me and many other journalists forced a resolution. The federal government announced in 1983 that it would simply cost too much and destroy too much of Centralia to put out the fire. Congress then appropriated $42 million to relocate anyone who wanted to leave and the fire was allowed to burn. Today, fewer than 20 people remain and much of the town has been demolished. Centralia and its mine fire symbolize the folly of the notion that man can abuse the environment without consequence.

The Wind Generators up on the Ringtown Mountain. Sort of Science Fiction looking when viewed from a distance. It's as if they are from the "War of the Worlds" invasion.

It seems all true blue Coal Region Butty's, Skooks etc, have a beater truck to run up in the hills with, this is my beater.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009



Shenandoah Herald July 22, 1891

An Engineers Race Through Town To Prevent A Disaster.
He succeeds in Arresting the Runaway.

At four o’clock this morning the Empire freight train of the Lehigh valley railroad drawn by Engine No. 557, in charge of Engineer Pete McCarthy, left Packerton for this town.
When about two hundred yards from the red bridge, east of this town, the engine was cut loose and was run to the Emerick st. crossing to allow one of the cars to be side tracked.
The car was detached in charge of a brakeman and at the switch between the bridge and the crossing at which the engine stood, ready to receive the balance of the train.
As the detached car passed under the bridge the brake chain broke and the man on top of the car lost control.
The grade from the bridge to the crossing is quite heavy and the released car was given additional speed every few yards. The engineer took in the situation at a glance and signaled the brakeman at the switch to allow the runaway car to follow his engine. McCarthy then put on a full head of steam and started westward at a fifty mile gait, blowing constantly as he sped along for a clear track.
The freight car with the brakeman clinging to the brake, followed on the same track at a speed of over forty miles an hour.
McCarthy sped through town, sounding the alarm, and the railroad was soon lined with thousands of people, who were unable to understand the situation. It was a thrilling race ad those who knew the circumstances were sure it would end disastrously. But McCarthy the engineer is a man of good judgment and nerve. He stood at the lever like a hero, running ahead of the runaway car like the hero on horseback who sped through Conemaugh valley when the Johnstown Flood took place.
By skillfully manipulating the speed of his engine he gradually decreased the distance between his charge and the freight car and finally at, Shenandoah Junction, where the Pennsylvania and Lehigh valley railroad connect, but few yards separated the two. A few yards further, and the bumper of the freight car was against the engine. The speed of both was then decreased. A few minutes later. McCarthy backed up to Emerick St. crossing with the runaway car in charge. The car was sidetracked and McCarthy proceeded with the balance of the train to Mt. Carmel.
McCarthy’s presence of mind saved the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company considerable loss and perhaps saved many lives.
The runaway was one of the most exciting events ever witnessed on this local branch of the railroad. Had the runaway car been switched it would have crashed into the yard of the Shenandoah Feed and Lumber Company and the brakeman on top of the car would have been crushed into a shapeless mass. Had the car been given a free track, it’s hard to imagine what would have been the result. It would certainly have been disastrous. There was only one method to avoid the two evils, and that was the one suggested by McCarthy’s presence of mind.


Shenandoah Herald August 18, 1891

He is suspected of placing Dougherty under a train
The dead mans head was cut from his body.

Centralia, Pa. As the Empire Freight of the Lehigh valley Road came down the grade from Mount Carmel at 1 o’clock yesterday morning the engineer saw a man lying on the track in the main street of this village and another man standing near him. He signaled, but they paid him no attention, and in another moment the man on the track was crushed to death. His head was severed from the body and rolled down upon the street.
The other man made off but was intercepted. He proved to be Michael Burns, a mine foreman and a trusted employee of the Riley Coal Company. He said that the dead man was a Anthony Dougherty, a pioneer resident of Centralia, and that he was going to notify Dougherty’s family of his death. He was released and did not notify the family. Since then he has disappeared.
Burn’s disappearance contradictory of statements made by him to his neighbors after the death of Dougherty and the finding on the track were Dougherty was killed of pieces of rope with which Dougherty may have been bound. Raised suspicion that Burns may have deliberately place Dougherty on the track to kill him. A coroner’s jury has failed to agree and an investigation is being made. Burns has been tracked to Shamokin, but there all trace of him has been lost.


Shenandoah Herald September 28, 1891


Complaint is made that an unknown man is making a practice of lurking about the streets at night and shadowing young women. At times, it is said, he is daring in his insulting conduct. Most of the complaints come from young women residing on South Jardin St. and west streets and the descriptions indicate that all parties are victims of one man.
A few nights ago he persistently followed a young girl down South Jardin Street and when under the shadow of a tree, he threw a cloth or blanket over her head and attempted to wrap it about her.
The girl was rescued by people attracted by the noise of the struggle, but the miscreant made his escape.
Two young ladies residing on South Jardin St. were followed for over half a dozen squares one night last weekend not until two men approached did the shadow give up.
Several people complain of a strange man sitting on their porches, alone, late at night and during the early morning hours; and is believed to be the party complained of. The individual who has earned the title of “Jack the Wrapper”.