San Jose to Santa Cruz, CA Railroad Tunnel Explosion, Nov 1879

Narrow Gauge RR Tunnel No. 3.jpg




San Francisco, Nov. 18. -- An explosion occurred in tunnel No. 3, on the Narrow Gauge railroad from San Jose to Santa Cruz, early this morning. From the meagre accounts thus far received it appears that a blast was let off about 2,700 feet from the mouth of the tunnel, which caused an explosion of the gases generated by the filtering of coal oil through the roof and sides of the tunnel.
Twenty-one Chinamen and two white men were at work in the tunnel at the time. Immediately about twenty more Chinamen rushed into the tunnel with torches to aid their comrades, and when they had penetrated about 1,500 feet their torches caused a second explosion more violent than the first, shaking the mountain to its centre.
The white men, LINDLE and JOHNSON, were brought out terribly burned and about ten Chinamen, all seriously injured. As near as can be learned some thirty Chinamen were killed. The second explosion wrecked the engines and works. Physicians have been dispatched to the scene from San Jose, and everything possible is being done for the sufferers.

Later -- It appears that three explosions occurred. The first took place at 11:50, the second at 11:55 p.m., and the third at 12:20 a.m. The men were changing shifts at the time the first explosion took place. Seventeen Chinamen have been taken out, all horribly burned. Twenty-four dead remain in the tunnel. A Chinaman named AH WO was taken out burned about the chest and injured internally. He was found dead in his cabin an hour afterwards, strangled with a silk scarf. The Chinamen say that he hanged himself, but the indications are that he was strangled by his friends to put him out of his misery. There is a terrible scene of suffering in the camp and all around the mouth of the tunnel. The engine for pumping air is disabled, pipes broken, sheds wrecked, and broken timbers scattered all around.
The gas prevents any attempts to recover the bodies at present. Work will be delayed for months. No blame is said to be attached to the contractors. It is believed that the white men who were taken from the tunnel will live, but several of the Chinamen who were brought out are fatally injured. The scene of the disaster is almost on the top of the Santa Cruz mountains, in a region where coal oil abounds and where boring for wells is actively prosecuted. There is a vein of oil running right through the tunnel, and the soil can be ignited in places and will burn freely. Explosions of gas and fires resulting therefrom have been of frequent occurrence there, and have already resulted in the loss of several lives. The utmost precaution has been necessary in working there, and only by the use of air compressors has progress been possible. It is expected, however, that with a clear tunnel the natural current of air will be sufficient.

National Republican District of Columbia 1879-11-19