Backus, WV Grist Mill Boiler Explosion, Apr 1936
When the blast was heard, persons in the neighborhood hurried up and helped drag the dead and injured from the wreckage. The building, of slight frame construction, had in part tumbled down upon them.
A scene of confusion and horror existed.
ROY THOMAS, fireman of the boiler, was instantly killed, his brains being knocked out, and at his feet lay parts of the body of his young son, DELBERT, aged seven, another of the dead.
GLENNIE GWINN, 15, had his head crushed almost flat, dying instantly.
So great was the force of the explosion that it threw ROY THOMAS' shoe, ripped from his foot, a hundred and fifty feet from the mill.
A poplar log, 12 feet long, 13 inches in diameter, was hurled 75 feet when the hurtling boiler struck it.
Corn which had been brought for grinding was broadcast over a hundred foot radius about the site.
A part of one of the victim's caps was left hanging almost in the top of a tree.
Mr. and Mrs. Otis Duty, whose house stands not more than 200 feet from the mill site, hurried out and did what they could to aid the injured. Mrs. Duty spread quilts for them and assisted Dr. Crank after his arrival.
Vernon L. Tucker, Beckley Newspapers route man, trailed the Wallace ambulances to the scene and assisted in loading the injured people on to them.
It was noon before the dead were gone. The injured were taken to the McKendree Hospital, to which they were admitted about 1 o'clock, more than four hours after the accident.
As to the cause of the explosion, those at the scene afterward were in virtual agreement that it resulted from water being injected into a too-nearly-empty boiler, possibly because a defective pressure gauge may have prevented the fireman, THOMAS, from realizing the low level in the boiler.
Water admitted into the extremely hot boiler was converted into steam faster than a safety valve could discharge it.
The hurtling engine scattered parts of itself along the 300-foot course it took. The water gauge was found 150 feet away.
At the hospital physicians could not say definitely that any of the injured would recover with the possible exception of JOHN THOMAS.
His father, ROY THOMAS, and his son, DELBERT, are survived by the wife and mother, Mrs. Elsie Thomas, 29, and three other children, Rachel, 14, Mildred, three and Jessie, a boy of six months.
GLENNIE GWINN leaves his parents Mr. and Mrs. Ottaway Gwinn, and one brother, Lacy, also severely injured.
Sunday Register Beckley West Virginia 1936-04-19