Bonanza, UT Mine Blast Kills Eight, Nov 1953

Ruins at the Mine Shaft Debris Blown Out of the Mine




Vernal, Utah -- (UPI) -- A violent explosion, followed by fire, today trapped and killed at least eight men in an open pit mine at Bonanza, Utah.

A Vernal mortuary said the American Gilsonite Co. had advised it the death toll was eight. The Utah Highway Patrol said eight men were caught in the pit by the violent blast and "they definitely are lost."
Gilsonite is a hydrocarbon substance, similar to hard coal, that in dust form is highly explosive. The mine, onlyone of its kind in the world, is situated at Bonanza, 40 miles southeast of here.
Three men were treated in Vernal for injuries. One of them, ORMAN STEPHENS, said he was standing beside the pit entrance when "I heard a terrific roar."
"I started to run as pieces of burning timber and gilsonite fell all around me," STEPHENS said. The fire, he reported, was so violent that it singed the backs of men running "quite a ways" from the mine.
Mine Manager JOHN H. BAKER refused to discuss the blast. His wife said the explosion, at 8:10 a.m., aroused the entire mining community, along the Utah - Colorado border, "and pretty soon fire trucks and ambulances started coming in from all over."
The mine had been closed for three months this summer and fall by a labor dispute but production resumed about three weeks ago when a new contract was signed by the company and the United Steelworkers of America (CIO).
The American Gilsonite Co. is an afiliate of Standard Oil Co. of California and the Barber Oil Co. of New York.

Press Telegram Long Beach California 1953-11-05




Bonanza, Utah (INS) -- Rescue crews groped downward today through a smoke-filled mine shaft in hopes five of eight miners still may be alive at the 300-foot level of the American Gilsonite mine at Bonanza.
An expolsion and fire cut off the mine shaft Thursday. The fire was controlled hours later, but rescuers were unable to enter the shaft immediately because of fumes, steam and smoke, which continued to billow from the mouth of the mine.
Four miners working on the surface received burns.
Rescuers were able to enter the shaft Thursday night using drag-line buckets. Inside the shaft, they thought they heard voices, which may have come from five miners trapped at the 300-foot level. Three other miners were trapped at the 600-foot level of the 750-foot shaft.
Workers stepped up their efforts to reach the lower levels after learning some of the miners may have survived the disaster.
Gilsonite, a highly volatile hydrocarbon, used in the manufacture of battery cases and as a paint and varnish base, is found only at Bonanza.
The explosion, believed caused by gilsonite dust, hurled debris for over a quarter mile area. Fire then broke out, burning support timbers in the mine shaft.

The Lima News Ohio 1953-11-06



Bonanza, Utah (AP) -- Two rescue workers, encased in a giant metal bucket, dropped deep into the smoke-filled maw of a blast-wrecked gilsonite mine Friday but found no trace of eight missing miners.
Little hope was held that the men, trapped 500 feet below the surface by an explosion and fire Thursday, were still alive.
Fellow miners thought they heard faint cries coming out of the explosion debris Thursday night. However, GEORGE COLLINS, day shift boss, and JOE POSTMA, a miner, said only falling rocks and sagging timbers broke the eerie silence when they were lowered to the 300-foot level.
COLLINS and POSTMA were in a metal bucket -- fitted with a steel cover -- which was lowered on a cable. The men wore oxygen masks and carried emergency equipment in the hopes that some of the missing men might be alive.
Rescuers, their faces coated with a white, protective paste, continued digging into the debris. The main fire is out but smaller blazes continued to send fumes out of the giant trench.
The explosion wrecked the hoist house and several hundred feet of the open-cut mine which follows the deep, vertical vein of gilsonite across the northwestern Utah wasteland, about 48 miles southeast of Vernal. Gilsonite, a black, coal-like substance, is a solid form of petrolium used in paints, varnishes and linoleum compounds.
The blast spewed burning timber and rock throughout the choking depths. A huge pillar of smoke mounted into the gloomy, overcast sky. Out of the smoke Thursday night, one rescuer thought he could identify the smothered cries as those of HAL L. COOK, 26, of Vernal, and JAY VAR TIMOTHY, 21, of Bonanza.
They were trapped along with six others when an unexplained explosion ripped through the mine just after the day shift descended Thursday morning. Three mine workers were injured in the explosion.
In addition to TIMOTHY and COOK, the American Gilsonite Co. listed the missing men as JOE K. BAKER, 34; ULIS HARPER, 42; GLENN JACKSON, 37; KENNETH R. RICHINS, 25; JOHN ORVAL SMUIN, 38, all of Vernal, and EVERETT GOODRICH, 31, of Blue Bell, Utah.
Relatives of the trapped miners spent most of Thursday and Thursday night clustered around the pit, but later many of them had been persuaded to return to their homes and wait for word. The wives who refused to leave were put up for the night by Bonanza residents.

Billings Gazette Montana 1953-11-07



Bonanza, Utah (AP) -- Bodies of two men buried in the Nov. 5, 1953, explosion at the American Gilsonite Co. mine were recovered by workers sinking a new shaft Friday.
A crew found the bodies of KENNETH RAY RICHINS, 25, Vernal, and JOE K. BAKER, 25, Vernal. Still missing is the body of EVERETT GOODRICH, 31, Bonanza.
Eight men were killed in the explosion. Five bodies were recovered within a few days, during frantic rescue attempts conducted in hopes some of the buried miners might have survived the blast.

Billings Gazette Montana 1954-03-14


Gilsonite Mine Disaster

My grandfather was Ulis Harper. I recently l learned the mine he was killed in was in Gilsonite mine Utah. I would like to know if there is a memorial at the site.

Alfred (Tarz) Delbert Hullinger

Thank you. My grandfather worked as a liftman for a time and retired working for American Gilsonite. I am his eldest grandson and would love any info of him and perhaps his involvement in any mining records. Tarz (Alf) Hullinger worked in the mines for a long time but I have little information as he past some years ago.
Please email me with any info at: trav1353@gmail.com

Thank you.

It was a sad day.

It was a sad day at Bonanza, I was 9 years old. My Nieghbor was the Timothy's. J Var would always talk to me. I will always remember that day, and cried along with his family.

Gilsonite mine explosion

I was 6 when I attended mu uncle Ulis Harper's funeral. I remember him well. A very nice man. My dad worked for national tank co in Vernal at the time, and my mom, my sister, and I were living in Fruita, CO. and looking for a place to live in Vernal. a few day after the explosion the landlord of the house where my uncle was living let my folks move in for free until they could find a bigger place. it seemed odd living in his house, but life can be odd at times.
Sorry to hear of your family's loss.

Bonanza Mine explosion

Thank you for this....My Uncle was Kenneth (Casey) Richins. My dad William A. Richins worked there, my Uncle Marlo Bowthrope worked there. After this happened, my dad said he could not go back down in there. The mine worked to help him as much as possible. He never did go back down in there. My Uncle Lyle Richins I believed he too worked there. He is the last of my grandparents children to pass away, which he did this morning over in Craig Care Center. He had been in the Care Center for 12 years. What a reunion, the length of time that they had not seen each other.
Thanks again..... lots of thoughts of family today.:)


You are most welcome, and thank you for being a GenDisasters reader
Stu Beitler

1953 Bonanza Explosion

Thanks for compiling this! J Var Timothy was my great uncle, and none of the family will really talk about the explosion. It's interesting to read about long dead relatives.
BTW, Bonanza mine is still going strong.