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The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster

Bonnie E. Stewart

Publication Year: 2011

Ninety-nine men entered the cold, dark tunnels of the Consolidation Coal Company’s No.9 Mine in Farmington, West Virginia, on November 20, 1968. Some were worried about the condition of the mine. It had too much coal dust, too much methane gas. They knew that either one could cause an explosion. What they did not know was that someone had intentionally disabled a safety alarm on one of the mine’s ventilation fans. That was a death sentence for most of the crew. The fan failed that morning, but the alarm did not sound. The lack of fresh air allowed methane gas to build up in the tunnels. A few moments before 5:30 a.m., the No.9 blew up. Some men died where they stood. Others lived but suffocated in the toxic fumes that filled the mine. Only 21 men escaped from the mountain.

 No.9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster explains how such a thing could happen—how the coal company and federal and state officials failed to protect the 78 men who died in the mountain. Based on public records and interviews with those who worked in the mine, No.9 describes the conditions underground before and after the disaster and the legal struggles of the miners’ widows to gain justice and transform coal mine safety legislation.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Front Cover

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Cover Flaps

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pp. v

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pp. 1-4

When I came to West Virginia University in 2005, I knew nothing about coal mining. I had never seen a coal mine, and I did not know anyone who labored underground so that I could turn on my lights and run my beloved central air conditioner...

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Good Night, Dad

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pp. 5-9

Emilio Megna had one more shift to work in the Consolidation Coal Company No.9 mine before he would retire and open his own service station in Worthington, West Virginia. Just eight more hours, 600 feet underground inside the cold and dark tunnels, then he would no longer...

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Dangerous History

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pp. 10-18

No one should have died in 1968 in the No.9 mine. When Emilio Megna and his buddies went underground for the last time, the coal industry and its regulators knew well what causes mine disasters and how to prevent them. They had learned the hard lessons over and over again...

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How Such Things Happen

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pp. 19-32

On November 13, 1954, shortly after Consolidation Coal Company bought the No.9 mine, section foreman George C. Alberts and his crew were shooting stumps in 4Right-2North. He took a dangerous shortcut in his work. As a result, more than a dozen men died after an explosion ripped...

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Rules of Survival

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pp. 33-36

No.9’s management failed to learn an important lesson from the 1954 explosion: always keep bleeder entries open and gobs well ventilated. At 9 a.m. on Friday, January 3, 1958, the mine’s ventilation problems had grown so critical that the union miners filed a complaint with the United...

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A Beautiful Mine

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pp. 37-41

Consol invested a lot of money in the No.9. Its underground rails were straight and easy to travel and its equipment modern. Some miners thought it was the most beautiful mine in the state. Bill Bunner was one of them. “They had the biggest motors in West Virginia. Westinghouse, big...

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Methane Madness

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pp. 42-53

After a long downturn following World War II, coal was back in demand in 1968. Some of the industry’s biggest customers were public utilities that were stoking their plants with coal to produce electricity for homes and new businesses. Annual U.S. bituminous coal production...

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Dry and Dusty

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pp. 54-57

Year round, No.9 miners battled coal dust. It clogged machinery, and the finer dust, called “float dust,” settled in the crosscuts and airways. Float dust was particularly dangerous if there was a fire or explosion in the mine. A layer of float dust the thickness of a sheet of paper lying on top of...

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Warning Signs

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pp. 58-64

No.9 miners were working in extremely dangerous conditions in the weeks and days before the mine exploded. Many of them knew it; some sought help from their managers, from the union and even from state mining officials. Nonetheless, safety issues were not resolved, and...

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The Last Shift

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pp. 65-79

That morning, three of the regular section foremen were absent, and the company had replaced them with contract foremen. Most of the men were laboring on the mine’s west side. One crew was mining coal on the east side at A-Face. Two teams of motormen were pulling trips of coal cars over...

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The Disaster Hits Home

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pp. 80-89

He had been a metal smith in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He loved the work, loved the Navy. Sometimes he wondered if he should have made a career in the service. Instead, he came home and took a job with the Consolidation Coal Company. He worked a few other places, too, but...

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A Paralyzed Community

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pp. 90-108

No one went to school the day after the No.9 exploded. Marion County’s 12 public schools closed. Many children joined their mothers and other relatives who gathered in the small red brick church nestled in a hollow not far from the company store. Their prayers drifted skyward all...

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Bungled Investigation

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pp. 109-120

An inquiry began a few days after the No.9 was sealed. The state summoned 84 people to testify, but only 47 people took the oath and answered questions over a period of three days. The hearings were scheduled to continue another week, but they were canceled. Although officials announced...

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Widows and Wildcat Strikes

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pp. 121-133

Two weeks after President Nixon told Congress to make mines safer and four months after her husband, Pete, died deep inside the No.9 mine, Sara Lee Kaznoski put on a black suit and a pair of black gloves and asked Congress to stop the slaughter. By that time, 44 more coal miners had died...

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Body Production

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pp. 134-142

David H. Davis sent a “personal & confidential” memo to his top managers in March asking them to formulate their own ideas but to keep everything confidential. He told them not to “discuss matters that pertain to No.9 with any Tom, Dick or Harry with whom you meet. . . . I expect you to...

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In Search of Justice

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pp. 143-152

No.9 widow Sara Lee Kaznoski’s testimony before Congress helped forge a new law, and it emboldened her to join the revolt against UMW president, Tony Boyle. Kaznoski began attending Jock Yablonski’s rallies in his bid to overthrow Boyle...

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Three More Men

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pp. 153-158

In the summer of 1970, Sara Kaznoski began her own letter-writing campaign. She asked the U.S. Bureau of Mines to take total control of the No.9 recovery effort because the coal company was moving too slowly. The Bureau’s James Westfield replied that it was satisfied with the work that...

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Hidden Evidence

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pp. 159-168

Kenneth Yablonski, the son of slain Jock Yablonski, had agreed to represent the widows and filed a lawsuit in Marion County, West Virginia. An identical lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania, where Consol was headquartered. The widows were each seeking $113,000 for a total of just...

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Ungodly Work

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pp. 169-179

They asked him to come to the Morgantown office for an interview. The morning of his interview, Pete asked his wife to make him a sandwich to take along because he was not sure when he would be home. He did not need the sandwich. When he arrived at the office, a company manager...

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Inundated by Death

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pp. 180-186

The No.9 was full of roof falls, some creating openings 30 feet high, blocking the tunnels with rock and coal. To clean them out, the men had to scale the falls and secure the roof with jacks and roof bolts. It was dangerous work. The rocks and coal could slide out from under...

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Who Can Stop Us?

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pp. 187-196

As they had been from the beginning, Consol officials were more interested in coal production than finding the men who had died in their mine. The problem was ventilation, the same problem the mine had before it exploded. The company was struggling to find a way to seal...

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Business Is Business

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pp. 197-203

No bodies came out of the No.9 in 1975 or 1976. Instead, Consol drove new tunnels—one parallel to 7South and another that opened a new path between 8North and 9North—which allowed the company to mine coal. In 1975, 64 miners were working underground, bringing out...

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Widows’ Last Stand

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pp. 204-212

Mary’s parents, like her husband Frank’s, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. Her mother had died at a young age, and she and her two sisters were placed in a convent because her father, a coal miner, had a drinking problem. Eventually, she again lived with her father. At 14, she was...

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pp. 213-215

I owe a great debt to the families who lost loved ones in the No.9 mine disaster, particularly those who trusted me with their personal histories. John Toothman not only shared his father’s story, he took me into a coal mine so that I could experience the world in which he works and...


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pp. 216-226


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pp. 227-256


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pp. 257-261


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pp. 262-278


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pp. 279-289

About the Author

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pp. 290

E-ISBN-13: 9781935978220
E-ISBN-10: 1935978225
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202778
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202785

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 38 images, 10 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mine fires -- West Virginia -- Farmington.
  • Coal mine accidents -- West Virginia -- Farmington.
  • Mine explosions -- West Virginia -- Farmington.
  • Farmington (W. Va.).
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