Backus, WV Grist Mill Boiler Explosion, Apr 1936



Caught in scalding steam and debris when a boiler exploded on Backus Mountain yesterday morning, a man and two boys were killed, and five others were injured, four of them seriously, in one of the most tragic accidents this section has experienced in years.
The explosion occurred at the combination saw mill and grist mill operated on top of the mountain by Harvey Fox, 59, about 8:30 yesterday morning.
It was grinding day at the mill. Farmers residing on the mountain had gathered with their turns of corn about the mill and were waiting for it to be ground into meal when the 20-horse power boiler blew up.
The dead were:
ROY THOMAS, 35, fireman at the mill.
His son, DELBERT, aged seven.
GLENNIE GWINN, aged 15, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ottaway Gwinn all of Backus.
Injured were:
HARVEY FOX, 59, operator of the mill.
JOHN THOMAS, 11, son of the man killed.
BOB SHIFLETT, 16, son of Mrs. Otis Duty, who lives nearby.
LACY GWINN, 16, brother of one of the dead boys.
ROLAND PUGH, son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Pugh.
All of the victims, both dead and injured, were residents of the Backus community, situated on a mountain about two and one-half miles above the town of Laurel Creek.
The dead were taken to the Rainelle undertaking establishment of Wallace and Wallace, who sent three vehicles -- two ambulances and a truck -- up the well-nigh impassable mountain road to the scene. The injured were taken to the McKendree Hospital, with the exception of ROLAND PUGH, who was able to be taken to his home.
Dr. Gilbert O. Crank, of Laurel Creek, notified of the explosion, got to the scene 40 minutes after it occurred, and remained there until after noon, by which time all of the injured and dead had been removed.
Water Pugh, 49, father of the least injured of the survivors, described the explosion.
"I was standing on the sawdust pile, about 20 feet from the boiler, when it happened," he said.
"I had just stopped to tell my boy ROLAND, to go ahead and haul the hay and come back later for his meal when it was ground."
"He was inside the mill, and had just started out when it came. It blew him outside, blew his overalls off him."
"When it happened, I just shut my eyes, because you couldn't see anything anyway, for steam and dust, and I didn't know whether my boy was going to come out or whether he was dead. But he got through all right, except for a cut on his head and burns about his right arm."
The boiler leaped from its moorings, tore forward through the end of the building, demolished several sections of rail fence near the mill, struck the ground perhaps a hundred feet from the mill site, leaped again, and landed in an orchard, uprooting one fruit tree and breaking off another, 300 feet from the mill.

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