Huntington, WV Steamer J.C. Rawn Explodes, DEC 1939



The body of Lloyd MAYES, 37 years old, of Henderson, W.Va., second engineer of the steamer J.C. Rawn which was shattered when its boilers exploded while at its Twentieth street landing on the Ohio River here yesterday, was recovered today. Three United States steamboat inspectors began an investigation to determine the cause of the explosion.

Rivermen, employees of the Ohio River Dredging Co. which owns the Rawn, brought the body to the surface at 10:15 A.M. after several hours of dragging.

The body was located in the river a short distance outside the wrecked steamer near the spot witnesses had reported Mayes fell when blown from the craft by the explosion.

Dr. F.X. SCHULLER, coroner, said Mayes had died instantly of a fractured skull.

The body was removed to the Steele Funeral home.

Recovery of Mayes' body brought the known dead to two, while one is missing, two are seriously injured, and several others suffered less severe hurts.

All the more seriously injured are at St. Mary's Hospital, where they were rushed in ambulances yesterday.

Working in four yawls, the rivermen continued dragging in an effort to locate the body of the other missing man, Fred G. Gebhardt, 51 years old, mechanic, of 516 Thirtieth Street.

Jesse Franklin Plants, 60, fireman of Point Pleasant, was killed instantly.

Most seriously injured was Robert Smith, 27, pilot, of Gallipolis Ferry W.Va., whose recovery remains in doubt today.

He suffered the most extensive burns of any of the injured. The front of his entire body was seared and the attending physician, Dr. E.E. Schafer, said he may also have suffered internal injuries when he fell some distance while trying to make his way out of the wreckage of the shattered steamer.

Smith was to be given a blood transfusion today.

Captain W. Mack Wright, 54 years old, of 916 Tenth Street, master of the steamer, had burns on his legs, feet and back and was suffering from shock, but his condition was reported good today and his recovery was said to be virtually assured.

"Captain Wright's burns were in patches, and though extensive, did not take all the flesh off of any great area," Dr. Shafer explained. "He is recovering very well."

Thomas Ash, 25, deckhand, of Robertsburg, W.Va., was being examined for possible head injuries today. He suffered bruises of the shoulder and back, and slight burns.

J.E. Beaver, 34, mate of Grimm's Landing, W.Va., and Mrs. Myriam Kirkpatrick, 52, chambermaid of Chesapeake, W.Va., who suffered shock and slight injuries were in good condition today, and Beaver was to be discharged from the hospital this afternoon.

Other crew members who escaped unhurt or whose hurts were not serious are the following:

Warren Virgin of Parkersburg, W.Va., fireman, scratches and bruises.
Walter Martin, New Richmond, Ohio, chief engineer, scratches and bruises.
Clemmy B. Hedrick, Sattes, W.Va., fireman, unhurt.
Paul Starcher, watchman, unhurt.
Arnold Buck, St. Albans, W.Va., deckhand, scratches and bruises.
Rex Casto, Gallipolis Ferry, W.Va., deckhand, unhurt.
Mrs. Maude [ ]usin, cook, of Henderson, W.Va., suffering from shock.

The government inspectors, continuing their examination of the wreckage this afternoon, said they would not make a statement on their findings until after a formal report is submitted to the federal steamboat inspection service at Washington.

They are Harry Layfield, supervising inspector, of Pittsburg, and Harry H. Pullem and John W. Lozler of the Point Pleasant inspection office.

E.V. Rawn, president of the Ohio River Dredging Co., said the steamer would be rebuilt and that most of the work would be done here.

A.B. Rawn, president of the Wilson Sand & Supply Co., of which the Ohio River Dredging Co. is a subsidiary, said the "Rawn" was carrying only 149 pounds of steam at the time of the blast, though its allowance was 240 pounds. Company spokesmen said the boilers had been repaired this year so that they were virtually new.

"Most persons who were in the vicinity when the Rawn's boilders exploded at 3:25 P.M. yesterday, agreed the blast caused a distinct shock but that the report was not loud.

Preparing to resume its trip down the river to Ironton, Ohio, with a tow of six barges of coal, all of the steamer's superstructure forward of and including the pilothouse was completely wrecked or blown off the hull.

Some large pieces of wreckage were blown several hundred feet, striking the earth near the top of the river bank.

One of the most harrowing experiences was suffered by Captain Wright, who was asleep in his room at the time of the blast.

"The concussion awakened me," Captain Wright related today from his bed in the hospital, "and I knew I was being blown some distance into the air. Trying to realize what was happening, I decided I must be dreaming."

"I came down on my back, landing on top of a pile of floating wreckage between the boat and the shore, and a large piece of the boiler or mud drum, I don't know which, followed me down and plunged into the river beside me."

I was still uncetain of what was happening when I saw Mr. Beaver, the mate, and some other members of the crew coming to me. They carried me ashore."

"Immediately following the explosion there were quick calls by nearby workers for ambulances, firemen, and policemen.

Firemen and police assisted rivermen in removing the dead and injured and searching the wreckage.

The body of Fireman Plants, was blown clear of the wreckage, was removed to the Shelton Funeral Home and was taken to Point Pleasant last night.

An excited but quick-witted spectator who was unidentified called St. Mary's Hospital and enabled its staff of physicians, nurses, and interns to be ready to meet the emergency when the injured began arriving.

Among the first to reach the scene of the disaster were Patrolman Cecil Kessick, who was walking west along the riverfront, off duty, and Patrolman George Bowman, on duty at 20th Street and 3rd Avenue.

Mrs. Maude Austin, cook, who was in the kitchen in the after end of the boat peeling potatoes when the explosion occurred, remained aboard for more than an hour and a half to assist in rescue work. She said:

"It knocked me down and I was almost blinded by steam, but I got up and started forward. The steam was terrible. I could not see so I turned and went back to the recess at the stern of the boat. Someone had told me that if a boiler ever blew up I would be safest there. After a few minutes, when the steam wasn't thick, I went forward and started to call the men. Most of them had been in bed."

Mrs. Austin was taken off at 5 P.M. by two men who came from shore in a skiff.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick, the chambermaid, was able to walk up the bank unaided but was suffering from shock and was taken to St. Mary's Hospital, for treatment, with the others.

Arnold Buck, deckhand, of St. Albans, who was standing aft of the boilers, was thrown through a doorway and landed on his back in the engine room. He said two of the boilers were blown to pieces and the third was shoved off its base and moved a distance of several feet to the center of the boiler room.

He told of seeing Pilot Smith blown into the water and supporting himself by a hawser until resued and taken to the hopsital.

The Rawn had come in early yesterday morning from Harwood, on upper Kanawha River with a tow of coal and landed here to clean its boilers.

Steam had been raised to continue the trip down the river, and Captain Wright said today he had been told:

"They were just rolling her wheel over slowly, ready to back out and get under way."

The steamer, which was fully insured, was rebuilt at Paducah, Ky., in 1926 from another steamer after which it was listed by the United States registry as a new boat, 135.5 feet long, 30.1 feet wide, and 4.3 feet deep. The hull is steel but the superstructure was of frame construction.